HAPPY SUNDAY MORNING FRIARTOWN,
This has been 11 days far too long in between us last talking, so welcome back.
Thursday night proved to be yet another pivotal moment for this young, Friars team, a team decimated by injuries, and with so much uncertainty in the air, no one knew how they were going to perform. Would Bryce Cotton play? Would Kris Dunn play? When is Vincent Council coming back? This was the build up to the game the other night, in addition to, “We can’t wait for the transfers and future recruits,” a similar statement in both Providence and Kingston on that night.
However, to pretend this game just didn’t matter, that would be a grave injustice to both the players and coaches on both sides of the ball. When I wrote to you two Sunday’s ago, I wrote that one of the things I loved about Ed Cooley was that he held everyone accountable and didn’t make excuses. This is yet another example, that he is getting these guys in the best position to win, despite not having the depth or talent to compete, but he continues to work his magic, each and every game, hoping to get the players, coaches, and fans the results they deserve. Hopefully soon, some will appreciate that.
For now, let’s get to the Crunch …
It was funny listening to URI fans bash on PC before, during, and after the game on Thursday.
One stat I found funny was that they kept quoting “PC has only played the 315th toughest schedule in the country this year.”
PC fans and URI fans alike need a quick dose of the harsh reality of playing in the Big East. For one, that stat is nothing official, but it is Ken Pomeroy’s SOS measure from before the game, so I do buy into it to some extent. But two, Statsheet.com has PC’s projected SOS at #55 for the end of the season. So at the end of the day, I will always ask, why should a PC team who will lose a fair share of BE games, why should they go hang themselves out to slaughter in the out of conference portion of the schedule? Would we all like better matchups? Sure. But we can’t help that committed games like URI and BC, games that used to be high-RPI games, they are down in the 200s. We can’t help that PC drew a very bad Mississippi St. team in the Big East/SEC challenge. If PC beats UMASS in Puerto Rico, they play North Carolina St. and Tennessee instead of Penn St. and UNC-Asheville. So let’s not make it out like Ed Cooley planned an easy schedule to pad his record.
Their sentiments also stated that this game doesn’t matter, because next year both teams will be drastically different. Wrong! Maybe the starting 5 will look a little different, but players with big minutes Thursday night, they will be key role players by the time next year comes around. The roster of eligible players may look at lot different, but there will still be very familiar faces on both benches.
They also say talent-wise, PC and URI will be comparable next year. For one, college basketball is a guards game, where whoever PC has absolutely destroys URI (Dunn, Austin, Cotton, Fortune, and hopefully Ledo), and even if URI’s front-court is better, it’s not by much, if any. URI fans make Biruta sound like the second-coming. Do you know what he did against Bilal Dixon last season? 13 points on 4-13 shooting with 11 rebounds. Not a bad statline, until you realize who he was matched up against. Yet, when it comes time to talk about PC’s transfers, who knows if they pan out since Tyler Harris only averaged 2 points and 2 rebounds, and Carson Desroisiers averaged 5 points and 5 rebounds, and oh yeah, Sidiki Johnson couldn’t crack it in Arizona and couldn’t play because apparently he sucks so bad.
This is a beauty of a rivalry game, that fans on both sides, desperate to cling on to any hope, will believe the most ridiculous things to make themselves feel better, but in the end, all that matters is what happens on the court, for 32 or so games a season, and on Thursday night, a decimated PC team ran URI off the court in the second half. By the end of the game, Ice Cotton could barely walk. Brice Kofane played in foul trouble most of the game. Lee Goldsbrough had a standard 0-2, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers in 13 minutes. But when it came time to ball, this team balled out.
But what does this rivalry really mean anymore? The players don’t really care. Remember the Marshon Brooks quote from four years back, something to the effect of “When I signed with PC, I was looking at the schedule — Syracuse, UCONN, Georgetown, those are the games I get excited for. Then they tell me we have a rivalry with URI, and I had no idea who or what they were talking about.” A paraphrase of course, but it shows the sad state of basketball in Rhode Island over the past decade. The players don’t care, and if you ask me, the listed attendance of 9,344 didn’t seem to care as much either. Sure, it’s a win or a loss on the schedule, and it’s a chance to rub it into a co-workers face, but where was the fire, the passion? I can remember being a little kid, hating that stupid Ram, the fact that URI plagiarized the UNC fight song, hating the fact that there fans used to come into our arena and chant like jackholes, but the PC fans always fought back, physically and mentally. Now, it was almost no different than any other bigger game, mentality wise. Show up, cheer occasionally, hope to win, go home afterwards, but there was no emotional connection. It’s sad thats how far this game has fallen.
So on the surface, maybe this game isn’t the same, and maybe as most URI fans would like to put it, it is part of a rebuilding season, but at PC, I like to think we are better than that. We don’t make excuses, we just play to win every game. Sometimes their are moral victories, but more often than not we point out the mistakes, and I think that is what makes us better basketball fans as opposed to homers. Most of us have the ability to be critical of a superstar when he has a bad game or two or three, and talk about when a walkon plays major minutes, the good and bad of his game. That is what makes PC fans smart, educated fans.
So now you look at the other night, and you want to take the good, bad, and ugly out of that win, a 72-57 beatdown of URI? Just go no further than Bryce Cotton. He limps around the court for 75% of the game, and still manages 11 points and 7 rebounds in 39 minutes. Maybe Dan Hurley will want to pump up the tires of his own players, but let’s be real, Cotton was clearly hobbled and played one hell of a game all things considered. If Powell standing in front of a limping, slower player shows how good of a defender he is, so be it, but that’s not the way I saw it.
It was also nice to see Kadeem Batts and LaDontae continue to put on their show in the paint. They combined for 44 points, a lot of that damage on the blocks and in the post. They grab strong rebounds, and they aren’t afraid to fight. It’s very rare that PC has one, forget two players in there who aren’t afraid to scrap around. When is the last time you could say that? Kale and McDermott, and I don’t think they were ever close to the ability flashed by Henton and Batts when they are playing their A games.
Little fun fact for the game: PC bench was outscored by URI, 16-0. Who would have ever expected that to happen? And another stat to credit PC on: 24-26 from the FT line, including 18-19 in the second half. Whether you are in the pros, college, high school, middle school, that is about as impressive a performance as you can get, because you need to hit the FT when it matters. If PC only goes 11-19, the outcome is potentially different, and that doesn’t even include missing the front-end of a potential 1 and 1.
But here, we are not afraid to talk about the negatives of the game as well. I already mentioned Goldsbrough, who looks like the puppy who lost it’s way. And Kofane, he returned to his big game way — 5 fouls in 16 minutes. Josh Fortune played a decent game, but hardly a great game some are calling it. Do you know what he is shooting at home this season after his 3-10 against URI? 26%. And from three? 21%. Lucky for him, I think people drastically underestimated his defensive ability. He has been fantastic this season, especially in the top of that zone, despite playing 39 minutes a night. He has had at least two steals in each of his last four games, including five on Thursday night.
So what is the beauty of Thursday night? PC did beat a bad team thats true, even if PC was literally on it’s last leg in terms of roster depth. PC has taken three games in a row over URI and four out of the last five. That is fun. But the best part? PC will be better this season. Sidiki Johnson will play his first game as a Friar against Colgate in 10 days. Kris Dunn will likely join him. Rumor has it that Vincent Council told Richard Coren of Scout.com that he will be ready for Colgate. And did you catch that nugget of hope from Brian Blaney about the NCAA and Ricky Ledo, that they are hoping the NCAA will make “someone” eligible? With or without Ledo, you cannot be any more proud to be a Friar fan. They are 7-2 (granted not the best competition), but playing without three of their better players who they could be getting back soon for the Big East stretch.
Before the season if you asked me what I thought PC would finish, I would have told you 16-15 (including Big East tournament). But after seeing the development of guys like Cotton into a true scorer, Batts into a true post player, Henton showing he can complement and be like the guy he was last year, and all doing that without Vincent Council and others, imagine how I feel now? Could this be a 20 win team this year? Could this be a higher-seeded NIT team? For that, you will have to look into your hearts to find that answer, but anything is definitely possible with a little heart and determination.
The soapbox of the Crunch is over. Enjoy your Sunday Friartown!