Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports

Thinking out loud: New England well-represented in Frozen Four

John Rooke
April 05, 2019 - 3:50 pm

Thinking out loud…while wondering what took so long for Ernie D to reach the College Basketball Hall?

  • Six straight years in the NCAA Tournament.  A realistic chance at a 2nd national title in five years, by participating in next week’s Frozen Four.  Sure, it’s great that the Commonwealth’s flagship University is in hockey’s version of the final four…but just a bit to the south, Providence hockey also has it goin’ on. 

 

  • Which means, of course, that New England (and Hockey East) deserve a few bragging rights.  This ain’t Kansas, Toto.  Nor do we want it to be, with all due respect.

 

  • It isn’t out of the question to have UMass and Providence face off for a natty next week.  Not that there’s any pressure on them, or anything.

 

  • Need a cornerstone for that foundation you’re building?  A natty will do that for you.  But here’s the catch – maintaining the momentum that championships bring within the present-day universe is as hard to maintain as it ever has been.  Why?

 

  • ‘Cuz it’s always about bidness, too.

 

  • From recruiting players to fundraising to the actual competition for championships – also while maintaining continuity in coaching – is all much easier said than done.

 

  • And fans naturally want it done today.  Not yesterday, not tomorrow.  Now.  That’s the world we live and compete in today.

 

  • You’ll recall Boston University watching Cranston’s David Quinn depart for the NHL and the New York Rangers a year ago after a successful run with the Terriers’ program.  Successful teams must know, acknowledge, and must realize the pros will come poaching when you win. 

 

  • It’s only natural.  Being blissfully unaware of the possibility isn’t an excuse.  Every school athletic director in the country should always have at his or her ready a list of possible replacements to keep program momentum moving in the right direction. 

 

  • Greg Carvel is still building at UMass, but he has experienced an ultra-quick turnaround.  The program won just five games two years ago, improving to 17 wins last season. The Minutemen were an astounding 30-9-0 this year, setting a school record for wins.

 

  • Nate Leaman has his program established at PC.  A remodeled rink and campus facility, NHL-caliber players, championship contention every year.  He has been for the hockey team every bit of the steward and leader Ed Cooley has been for the basketball program.  Both terrific hires by AD Bob Driscoll.

 

  • But that doesn’t mean neither hockey coach would listen to an opportunity from afar.  Wouldn’t you?  We all would, given the right set of circumstances.  Or have you never heard of ‘striking while the iron is hot?’  David Quinn did it.  It’s part of the natural process and order that success can bring.

 

  • Both New England schools are hoping to have such problems to consider.  And with success both should be preparing for an inevitability that life – and the program – must go on.  Just sayin’.

 

  • How did Providence fare as a host city for the NCAA Ice Hockey Regionals last week?  With Brown serving as the Providence host school, the Dunkin Donuts Center led all regionals in attendance with more than 12,400 fans attending the two sessions (and three games) played. 

 

  • Manchester, NH (and the Northeast Regional) came in next at 10,700 attending, with the two New England regions by far and away blowing past Fargo, ND (8400) and Allentown, PA (7300).

 

  • The hockey tournament hasn’t been without surprise and intrigue, just like its’ basketball counterpart (aka March Madness).  American International College of Springfield pulled off the icy equivalent of a 16-seed beating a 1-seed with their 2-1 stunner over tourney top-seed St. Cloud State in Fargo.

 

  • But even though AIC’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament ended short of a Frozen Four (they lost to Denver in the regional final), that first-ever win is something to savor and build upon.  UMBC is still cashing in on their historical hoop win over Virginia a year ago.

 

  • The collegiate transfer game hit Friar hockey this week, too, with word of 6-4 Harvard goaltender Michael Lackey transferring to play for Providence next season as a grad student.

 

  • Perhaps a bigger story surrounding Providence athletics these days will come from the hiring of a successor to PC President Father Brian Shanley, who will be stepping down next year after 15 years of leading the college. 

 

  • Will the new president have the vision – and maybe the courage – needed to keep Providence athletics regionally and nationally competitive?  Father Shanley has been fully supportive of the infrastructural improvements within Friar athletics – in fact, he’s been out front with the fundraising, shaking hands and arm-twisting required to get things done. 

 

  • He is also hugely responsible for the Big East realignment in 2013 becoming so successful thus far, providing the leadership required to not only keep Dave Gavitt’s conference creation alive, but also now thriving through new membership from Creighton, Xavier and Butler, and through the current media rights deal with Fox Sports.

 

  • Tweet of the Week I, from @Rachel_Nichols: “No lie, when I worked March Madness as the sideline reporter for Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist, they would keep everyone out drinking until 2a, at which point the “young people” would tap out, and they’d keep going.”

 

  • We pretty much knew it already, but ICYMI newly-crowned NIT champ Texas at Providence is a part of the new, Big East-Big 12 scheduling alliance next season.  All 10 matchups were announced this week, with all games to be played in December in a four-year series that runs through 2022-23.

 

  • And the official announcement for the 2020 Maui Invitational field was made, with the Friars returning to the island for the first time since 1991.  You’ve got to go back a bit further to recall PC actually won the very first Maui classic (in 1984). The competition will come from North Carolina, Indiana, Texas, Stanford, Alabama, UNLV and Davidson.  Book your flights.

 

  • The Big East team that will participate this weekend in the 3x3U National Championship in Minneapolis will include PC’s Isaiah Jackson, along with St. John’s Marvin Clark and Butler stars Nate Fowler and Paul Jorgenson.  The Big East is paired in pool play beginning Friday night against the Mid-American Conference, with the MAAC and Sun Belt also in the group.

 

  • In a sign of the times, the initial round games will be streamed live on Twitter, with the semis and finals on ESPN2.

 

  • Two Big East stars were awarded Honorable Mention all-American honors this week – St. John’s Shamorie Ponds and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell.  The Pirates, if Powell returns next season (and he has said he will enter the draft process but not hire an agent), will be L-O-A-D-E-D like some others.

 

  • The x-factor will be – can they keep their coach?  SHU’s Kevin Willard has been mentioned prominently as Virginia Tech’s top choice to replace Buzz Williams – who left for Texas A&M.  And the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round…

 

  • Villanova will lose one-time uber-recruit Jahvon Quinerly, who is transferring from the Wildcats after one, largely unimpressive season.  Pittsburgh is already in pursuit of the one-time 7th ranked point guard in the country, according to several recruiting sites.  He had originally committed to Arizona prior to Emmanuel ‘Book’ Richardson’s involvement in the FBI probe.

 

  • Brown athletic facilities are going to get a bump up with a new lacrosse and soccer complex in the works.  The Center for Lacrosse and Soccer at Stevenson-Pincince Field will be a three-story, 22,500 square foot facility dedicated to two sports with a combined 47 NCAA tournament appearances between them.

 

  • Trying not to get too worked up over the Sox start from the West Coast, as they head to Arizona.  As I reminded here a week ago, western trips usually always go poorly, and this year they simply get it out of the way early. 

 

  • But fellas, how about at least resembling a pitching staff?

 

  • My buddy “Big E” sez he’s figured out the difference between the words “complete” and “finished.”  At his local pub, a fellow patron got into an argument over their meaning, to which “Big E” tried to settle the matter.  “When you marry the right woman, you are complete,” E said.  “If you marry the wrong woman, you are finished.  And when the right woman catches you with the wrong woman, you are completely finished.”  True dat.

 

  • Good week for Patriots defensive end Michael Bennett. The assault charges against him were dropped, and he signed a two-year contract extension which provides the team with extra cap room.  Got the raise he was looking for, too.

 

  • A dynastic sign – Patriots off-season: lost five assistant coaches and lost a defensive coordinator before he ever coached a game; they lost Trey Flowers and Trent Brown to free agency, Rob Gronkowski to retirement. 

 

  • And they’ll still win 11 or 12 games next fall.  Rookestradamus has spoken.

 

  • Honored to be asked to serve on the nominating committee for the Patriots Hall of Fame this year – which this past week gave me the chance to explain why I believe Bill Parcells to be an egregious omission thus far.  Turns out there are several other committee members who feel the same as I do.

 

  • I know many fans feel Parcells jilted the team and left in a huff after the Super Bowl with Green Bay.  But as I’ve stated many, many times previously – a Hall of Fame is a museum.  Not all history in a museum is good history, nor should it be.  Parcells is a huge part of Patriots’ history, regardless of how he left the franchise.

 

  • Grow up.  Get past it.  Move on.  The Patriots have.  Bill Belichick has.  Robert Kraft has.  Why can’t you?

 

  • And you will never convince this opinion to change – but the team and franchise would NOT be where it is today without his arrival and the subsequent ‘change of culture’ that followed around here, from sad-sack to perennial champion.  Bill Parcells started it all and deserves to be a permanent part of team history.

 

  • In case you’re wondering – 13 former players and coaches were put into nomination this year, and fans will begin the voting soon on Patriots.com.  All are most worthy.  Former tackle Leon Gray was elected by the Veterans’ Committee, and deservedly so.  He lined up next to John Hannah, only the greatest offensive lineman to ever play the game.

 

  • For what it’s worth, my support is also behind Richard Seymour and Mosi Tatupu, who I was proud to offer for nomination.  Mosi was beloved, easy to root for.  He is as emblematic of a Patriot player as anyone I can think of, throughout the team’s history…which is now entering its 60th year.

 

  • Who else thought the Alliance of American Football was doomed once Johnny Manziel signed on with the league?

 

  • It’s ridiculous the league stopped play with two weeks to go in their season.  It’s even more ridiculous to think that without at least some support from the NFL, that spring football can exist for the long-haul. 

 

  • Note to Vince McMahon, Oliver Luck and the XFL – buddy-up and make some NFL friends in the next few months?

 

  • Do we need spring football?  Does the NFL need a minor league?  If you watched it, the AAF wasn’t awful, considering only a few players had NFL experience.  I’ve always believed the NFL to be the only major pro sports league without minor league affiliates because the owners never wanted to pay for them. 

 

  • And I still believe that today.  That, and they already have a minor league.  It’s called the NCAA.

 

  • Who ya’ got in the Final Four?  This view says Virginia takes it, provided Kyle Guy finds his stroke.  But if Auburn beats the Cavs, watch out for War Eagle.

 

  • Tweet of the Week II, from @espnhomer: “Unless you are a fan of the other three teams, everyone on the planet should be rooting for Virginia. To go from first 1 to lose to 16 in first round…to national champs…that’s a movie.”

 

  • You’re asking, like I am – what took them so long?  Former Friar all-Everything guard Ernie DiGregorio was selected for induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame this week.  And that’s not to be confused with the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield.

 

  • The College Hoop Hall is located in Kansas City.  Ernie becomes the 4th Friar selected, following John Thompson, Lenny Wilkens and Dave Gavitt.  Perhaps because the College Hall didn’t begin making induction selections until 2006 is as big a reason as any for the delay on Ernie D?

 

  • The 2019 inductee list features Indiana’s Calbert Cheaney, Duke’s Shane Battier, Purdue’s Terry Dischinger, UNLV’s Larry Johnson and Stanford’s Todd Lichti, along with DiGregorio.  They join former coaches Homer Drew, Lute Olson and the late Rick Majerus in this year’s Class.

 

  • How soon we forget - Ernie averaged 20.5 points and a still-program record 7.7 assists per game over his career, earning All-America honors in each of his three varsity seasons. His senior season, DiGregorio averaged 24.5 points per game, leading Providence to the Final Four and earning ECAC Player of the Year and NCAA East Regional Most Outstanding Player honors.

 

  • Then, he became the third overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft and earned NBA Rookie of the Year in 1974 with Buffalo.  But he’s always simply been “Ernie D” to us. 

 

  • Not for nuthin’, but the next Friar to reach the College Hall should be Jimmy Walker, shouldn’t it?  As we know around here, Walker transformed the game – 20 to 30 years before the game was ready to be transformed. 

 

  • @FlexibleSnake Tweeted at me this week, on the issue of Bill Parcells and the Patriots’ Hall: “Parcells was a great coach but the success of this organization is all thanks to coach BB, TB12, and Bob Kraft. Get your head out of your a**.”

 

  • Hey Snake – be flexible. I think we can all agree that today’s success is due largely to Mr. Kraft, TB12 and Coach BB. That’s not what we’re saying here. I know this first-hand, because I worked for the team prior to Kraft ownership. Bill Parcells changed the culture. He expected more, for the first time in a long time, from the team. From all of us. He brought with him a championship pedigree in those NY Giants’ teams he won with that had never been here previously. He wasn’t responsible for today’s on-field success, but he set the table for it.  You understand that, right?

 

  • And my head may be in many places, but one place it isn’t is where you suggest it to be.  31 years covering the franchise, 27 as an employee of said franchise should provide me with at least a shred of street cred, shouldn’t it?

 

  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

 

Don’t forget to tune into Providence’s 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am for the newly re-named Cordischi and Coit!  Call in at 401-737-1287 or text at 37937.