Advancing a college basketball program doesn’t happen overnight. Just ask the fans of the Providence Friars – they know that to be all too true. Older Friar fans will remember the elite teams from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but more recent fans have been waiting to see the Dunk hang a few new banners.
And wouldn’t you know it, with the Ed Cooley era in full swing, fans have seen just that. Four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. A Big East Tournament championship. A top five draft pick. Nationally ranked teams and recruiting classes. In short: everything has been coming together for the Friars recently.
But were these simply bright moments after a bleak era, or has the culture changed a bit more permanently? I believe it’s the latter, but then there’s a new question I’ve been debating: is Providence an elite program?
The recent commitments of both Makai Ashton-Langford and A.J. Reeves is another bit of evidence supporting Providence as an elite program, both regionally and nationally.
In order to determine whether or not Providence has truly become an elite program, I’ve taken a look back at what the program has accomplished, the work the Friars have left to do, and where this team is headed.
The Friars’ Foundation of Success
In order to even have this discussion about being elite, they had to build a body of work to make their case. In this, Ed Cooley and the Friars have succeeded. A quick look at their past body of work includes:
NIT Quarterfinals Appearance
This gets overlooked because of the greater successes the Friars have had since then, but I think it’s an important first point in this conversation about being an elite program. The Friars hadn’t had any postseason success since the early 2000s. And when I say “postseason success” I really mean “win a game in a postseason tournament.” Simply put, the Friars didn’t know how to win in March. That changed with Cooley when he proved he knew how to find postseason success. It was an early indication that the Friars had a coach who could do something special.
2014 Big East Tournament Championship
‘Win one more and we’re in’ was the mantra of 2014. The Friars hadn’t danced in 10 years, and they were right on the cusp of making it to March, they just needed to win one more game…after every game it seemed. The Friars had to beat Marquette at home, which they did to get to 20 wins in a thrilling double OT game. Then they had to beat St. John’s in the BET, which they did. They then had to take down Seton Hall to be considered…which they did. Finally, after hearing that still wasn’t enough, the Friars decided to win it all and beat a heavily-favored Creighton team in the Big East Championship game.
4 Straight NCAA Tournament Appearances
It wasn’t always easy making it to the Dance. The Friars had to win their conference tournament just to make it one year. In another year the Friars had to go 6-0 to finish out the conference schedule in order to make it to the First Four. Whatever the Friars had to do, however, they did – and that’s what matters. The Friars have had an unprecedented 4 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a primed for a fifth.
Nationally Ranked Teams
The Friars have cracked the Top 10 nationally under Ed Cooley’s watch. They’ve consistently earned their way into the national polls. Even when they’re not ranked they’re making noise that the national media can’t help but acknowledge and praise. Need I say more?
Nationally Ranked Recruiting Classes
Do a roll call of prominent Friars in the past six years and you’ll notice how significant these players were…not just to the program, but for recruiting attention as well.
Players like Ryan Gomes and Bryce Cotton are adored because of how they made the most of their opportunity to play with the Friars, but they weren’t major recruits coming in. With players from Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo, to Ashton-Langford and Reeves, the Friars are grabbing top talent in the country and are being acknowledged for it.
Work Left to Do
The Friars have no doubt built a case for being considered an elite program, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely there yet. Ed Cooley and the gang still have work left to do to fully cross that threshold. Specifically:
Win and Win Big
It’s foolish to think Cooley hasn’t kept his promise from his introductory press speech about winning and winning big, because the Friars certainly have done that. But they need to build on that success, and the only way to build on winning is by winning more. The Friars have made it to March consistently, now they need to advance in March consistently. A Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight appearance used to be dreamed of, but now that’s become the next hurdle for success.
Stop Losing Winnable Games
If I have to watch the Friars lose at Boston College one more time I’m going to snap. That goes for a lot of their games as well. DePaul is another example. Simply put: the Friars need to win games they’re supposed to win. I can stomach a close loss against the likes of Villanova, Xavier, or a top 10 OOC team. I cannot abide another loss to Boston College. And neither should anyone who supports or is a part of this program. Want to be elite? Don’t lose to garbage teams.
Keep Recruiting at a High Level
The Friars have advanced leaps and bounds in their recruiting game under Ed Cooley. But recruiting never stops in college basketball, and for every success the Friars have had there’s always going to be a “next recruit” they’ll need to focus on. Cooley works incredibly hard, and that can’t slow down anytime soon.
A Bright Future
Building an elite program is not an overnight process, and the Friars have made strides and done what they’ve needed to do thus far. Luckily, the Friars have built a strong strong foundation for success – and the future is looking bright because of it.
Early Commitments from Top Players
One of the biggest pluses in landing Reeves isn’t just the talent that he’ll bring to the Friars, it’s the talent that will want to join him in the black and white. Elite talent David Duke has wanted to play with Reeves in college, and the idea that they may come to Providence together isn’t just enticing, it’s realistic. Should the Friars land Duke, who else will want to join this program and be remembered for bringing the Friars to the next level?
Increased Interest From Fans
Attendance has gone up. Students are turning out in droves. New fans and old fans are showing up at the Dunk to see the Friars play, they’re reading updates, and they’re participating in discussions about Providence. The fan support can bring new heights to the program, and everyone from fans to Cooley and the athletic department have acknowledged this. To see it happening and continue to happen is promising for the future.
The new athletic complex for the basketball team is huge. This benefits the team, the program, the optics, recruiting, and even the student body. These facilities are a step in bringing Providence to a level playing field with some of the best programs in the country. It’s absolutely fantastic that the school is committing to the program like this for the long term, as it will no doubt have long term benefits.