Friars reach NCAA’s, but Rams bump them down the dance card

March 12, 2017 - 5:01 pm
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They've met 127 times previously on the basketball floor and Rhode Island has certainly won its' share over the past 97 years. But without playing a game this time, Rhody's Rams may have dealt Providence's Friars a loss they weren't expecting. As expected, Providence reached the NCAA Tournament as at large pick and one of seven Big East teams selected. But NCAA Tournament Committee chairman Mark Hollis confirmed to Westwood One Radio that Rhode Island's Atlantic-10 title win over VCU Sunday knocked the Friars down a peg when it came to seeding. "Rhode Island won (their conference), so they couldn't qualify as one of the 36 at-large teams," Hollis told Westwood One. "They pushed Providence down the board by winning, so perhaps that'll be a big story in Rhode Island?" Instead of a 9, 10 or even an 11 seed, the Friars did receive an 11 seed for the tournament, but they will face USC in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio Wednesday night in a "play in" contest, with the winner moving on in the East Regional to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a Friday game against 6th seeded (and American Athletic Conference winner) SMU. Bottom line – Providence was one of the Last Four teams into the tournament per the selection committee chair, despite finishing in a tie for third in the Big East Conference and finishing 3-1 against Marquette and Xavier. Both the Golden Eagles (10 seed in the East against South Carolina) and the Musketeers (11 seed in the West, playing Maryland) received higher seeds and avoided the First Four "play in." "We're excited to be back," Providence head coach Ed Cooley said as the brackets were revealed, as the Friars reach the NCAA's for a school-record fourth straight year. "We've earned our way into the tournament. As long as you're there, you have a chance to advance. We have a quick turnaround, they (USC's Trojans) have a quick turnaround, and we've got to do a great job as a staff to get our team familiar with the way they play." That shouldn't be too much of a problem, as the Friars faced USC last year in an NCAA first-round game at Raleigh, North Carolina. Ninth-seeded PC beat the No.8  Trojans 70-69 last March 17th, as Rodney Bullock converted an in-bounds play for a layup at the end. Still, it's highly unusual to see a rematch occur from a 1st round contest from the previous season. "Our key guys were in that game," Cooley said. "Jalen (Lindsey), Kyron (Cartwright), Rodney (Bullock), we have an older person in Emmitt (Holt) and Isaiah Jackson. We've got to make sure our younger guys are emotionally prepared for that stage, and hopefully we will be. "We've always played with a chip on our shoulder," Cooley added. "Remember, we were picked 9th in the league and we ended up in 3rd. That's the way I coach. I want our kids to be edgy, but I want them to be respectful of the game." Even if the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee wasn't terribly respectful of the Friars, in return. BIG EAST NOTES As expected, Villanova was named as the top overall seed in the field of 68 teams, and in the East Region the Wildcats will meet the winner of the 16-seed First Four contest between Mount St. Mary's (winner of the NEC) and New Orleans (winner of the Southland Conference). Butler received a 4-seed in the South Region, their highest seeding in school history, and faces 13th seeded Winthrop (Big South champ). Big East Coach of the Year Chris Holtmann has experience with Winthrop, having previously coached in the Big South at Gardner-Webb. Big East Tournament runner-up Creighton got a tough 1st round draw, as a 6-seed in the Midwest Region and facing #11 Rhode Island, with Rhody coming off their A-10 tournament title win over VCU. It will be the Rams' first NCAA appearance since 1999, and the first time in 20 years (since '97) for the State of Rhode Island to send two teams to the tournament in the same season. URI will face the BlueJays Friday in Sacramento, CA. "I expect I'll get a call from both coaches in that game," Cooley said. Seton Hall received a tough draw, as a 9-seed in the South facing 8th seeded Arkansas. The winner there will play #1 North Carolina. Marquette takes a 10-seed in the East and will face #7 South Carolina (in Greenville, SC), and Xavier received an 11-seed in the West and will play 6th seeded Maryland. All told, nine ACC teams (out of 15 in the league) received bids, with seven from the Big East (out of 10 teams) and seven from the Big Ten (out of 14 teams). There were six bids from the Big 12 (out of 10), five from the SEC and four from the Pac-12. Three made it in from the Atlantic-10, with VCU and Dayton reaching as at large picks along with league champ URI. Of note – Northwestern out of the Big Ten received a bid for the first time in school history. Vanderbilt won an at large spot with 15 losses – the most ever by an at large team. And Gonzaga and Arizona are the top two seeds in the West – the first time in 26 years that the top two in the West are actually from the West region of the country. Providence's First Four matchup with USC will tip-off at 9:10 p.m. ET Wednesday night (approximately 8:55 pregame) from Dayton, OH. Should PC win, they'll face 6th seeded SMU Friday in Tulsa. Coverage of all Friars' post-season play will air on 103.7 WEEI-FM and friars.com.

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