For the first time in a while (maybe even the entire season) Friar fans are breathing easy knowing that their NCAA Tournament hopes are secured.
It took an ugly overtime win against the Creighton Bluejays to do it, but the Friars gutted out baskets and defensive stops when they needed it most. The game was thrilling if you were a fan of college basketball, and it was anxiety inducing if you were a fan of Providence, but the victory was sweet not only for the advancement in the Big East Tournament but also the security for Selection Sunday.
Now, the Friars are matching up against Xavier, the number one team in the Big East who the Friars have split the series with this season. The Friars match up well against Xavier, and gave them a good run on the road in Ohio and beat them at home in Providence. Many fans were hoping to get a third shot at the Musketeers because not only are they beatable for this Friars team, it’s a win-win for Providence. If the Friars do beat Xavier they’re playing for their second Big East Championship banner in four years (third in program history) and if they lose it will not be a bad loss or one that would suddenly put the Friars’ NCAA hopes at risk. Xavier too will likely remain a one seed in the NCAA Tournament with a loss to Providence, as their resume already speaks for itself. Both short and long term, these teams have a lot to gain without a ton to lose.
For Friar fans, it’s important to remember how Providence has ended up in this position, and what it says about Ed Cooley and the cultural change he’s brought since arriving to Providence. Yes, the Friars are about to make program history yet again with a fifth straight NCAA berth, but more important is the identity change. All season the Friars have been looking for their team identity (and I’ve written about that extensively over the course of this season) but, in light of yesterday’s win and today’s situation, I think a second type of identity should be observed: a cultural one.
This is a Friars program that does not quit. When their backs are against the wall, they always seem to find a way to win. When their season looks shot, they do something remarkable to not only make up the lost ground, but gain a little extra. For every bad loss the Friars have had, there’s been many more good wins. No matter what, the Friars find a way. That’s been evident since 2014 when the Big East Tournament mantra was “one more win and we’re in!”, referring to the need to continuously win the next tournament game before they were comfortable. The goal posts kept moving in 2014, so Providence kept winning until they won the entire tournament and were an auto-bid. Since then, nothing has changed – the Friars find ways to win when they need to win, and that results in a program elevated to a point that few fans have ever seen before.
This is a special time to be a Friar fan. Sure, on a game to game basis things might get a little roller coaster-ish, riding the highs of beating top 5 teams and the lows of losing to bad ones. But the overall program is continually rising up in every area.
Tonight the Friars will play a tough opponent. They may win. They may lose. It could go either way. But regardless of what happens the Friars have done something, once again, that they won’t quit without accomplishing what they’ve set out to do. And fans are damn lucky to have a team like that.