Providence coach Ed Cooley

Steven Branscombe/USA Today Sports

Thinking out loud: Unique year so far in college basketball

John Rooke
November 29, 2019 - 2:59 pm
Categories: 

Thinking out loud…while wondering how we managed to fit our Thanksgiving meal into a 15-minute window, once upon a time…

 

  • Not for nuthin’, but if you had DePaul and Butler as the last two Big East teams standing undefeated, raise your hands. 

 

  • You lie.

 

  • Two programs ranked 8th and 9th, or 10th, in Big East preseason polls are now a combined 14-0 going into Thanksgiving weekend.  And both have solid wins – Butler beat Missouri and Stanford this week, DePaul came from double-digits down to beat the nation’s top-scoring team, Central Michigan.

 

  • Yes, the same Central Michigan now coached by former Friar boss Keno Davis.

 

  • Stunning that Stephen F. Austin’s last-second shocker at Duke was the first home, non-conference loss for the Blue Devils since 2000 – when St. John’s popped them at Cameron Indoor.  SFA’s victory snapped a 150-game Duke home winning streak.

 

  • The Blue Devils are now 292-8 in their last 300 non-ACC games at home.  Sheesh.  Want one more?  It has also been more than 13,000 days (!) since Duke lost to a mid-major at home. 

 

  • And for those of you lamenting the Friars’ slower-than-anticipated start – the college basketball season isn’t yet a month old, and already the nation’s #1 team has lost three times.

 

  • Before this year, the Associated Press #1 team had never lost more than ONCE in November.

 

  • The Big East largely continues to hum along in the opening month of the season, winning at an 80% clip against outsiders.  Returning 34 of 50 starters from last year at the 10 schools will do that for you.

 

  • Some Big East team, with nine or 10 league losses, is going to reach the NCAA Tournament this year. 

 

  • Maybe it’s the Friars?  Clearly, they are struggling to find the identity that so many were ready to hand them before the season started.

 

  • Here’s the deal, IMHO.  Too much reliance on Luwane Pipkins on offense, as he was the ONLY option on a bad UMass team.  Distribute more, shoot less.

 

  • And on defense, play more zone.  More pressure and traps.  These Friars remain long and athletic – like a long and athletic Long Beach team that came from 17 down in the 2nd half to beat them.

 

  • Seton Hall, ranked 13th, also lost after blowing a 19-point second half lead.  Just not to a mid-major program.  But this is the norm, it appears, in the college game this season.  Just ask Duke.

 

  • In the wake of the past two PC losses, you can probably imagine all I’ve heard over the past week in criticizing these guys.  Look, I get it.  Expectations are overly burdensome. 

 

  • I can assure you of this, however – having seen it for myself…no staff works harder than this coaching staff at preparing, scouting and game-planning. 

 

  • Getting 18-to-21 year olds to execute those plans is another thing, entirely.  Or have you not spent much time around teenagers lately?

 

  • There’s still time – tons of it – for this season to work out the way everyone (except maybe for those in Kingston) wants it to work out.

 

  • Bring your raincoats and boxing gloves to the Ryan Center next Friday night.  War on the Shore.

 

  • Not to look ahead or anything, but next November 23-25, aloha.  Texas, North Carolina, Stanford, Indiana, Alabama, Davidson and UNLV also get grass skirts for Thanksgiving.  The Friars were last in Maui in 1991, and actually won the very first Maui Classic in 1984.

 

  • We mentioned this last spring, but this past weekend Ernie DiGregorio was officially enshrined into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame, as a member of the Class of 2019. 

 

  • Ernie D joined Indiana's Calbert Cheaney, Duke's Shane Battier, Purdue's Terry Dischinger, UNLV's Larry Johnson and Stanford's Todd Lichti as well as former coaches Homer Drew, Lute Olson and the late Rick Majerus to form this year’s class.

 

  • Bill Barrett, an East Hartford native and a Friar role player on those 1965-66 PC teams that featured Jimmy Walker and Jim Benedict, passed away this week at age 86. 

 

  • URI improved to 5-2 with a win over Manhattan Wednesday.  Fatts Russell was ejected with two technical fouls, but I love his fire.  When he’s on his game, the Rams can beat anyone on the schedule.  Including West Virginia in Morgantown, too.

 

  • Brown (4-2) lost to UMass-Lowell this week, without an injured Brandon Anderson in the lineup. Anderson is 8th nationally in the country in scoring, at 24.1 points per game.  The Bears host Navy Saturday afternoon.

 

  • Bryant had a four-game win streak snapped at Drexel last week, then lost an OT game at New Hampshire this week to stand at 4-4 overall.  The Bulldogs next host Navy on Monday.

 

  • The NCAA is trying out hi-tech on the benches in several leagues, including the Atlantic-10, similar to seeing those iPads on NFL sidelines.  Data received (live data and stats) can be used in coaching roles only and can’t be used over phones.

 

  • PC men’s soccer reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 is becoming a habit – now the 3rd time in the past five years for the Friars to get this far in the postseason. 

 

  • A come-from-behind (down 2-nil) 3-2 win at Penn State gives PC a program record-tying 16 wins, with a chance at 17 Sunday night at Clemson for the Elite Eight.

 

  • Bolstered by the two top-scoring forwards in the country (Jack Dugan, Tyce Thompson), 12th ranked PC hockey rolled UConn last weekend and faces Brown in the 34th annual Mayor’s Cup Saturday at Schneider Arena.

 

  • As a voting member, sincere congrats to National Sports Media Association Rhode Island Sportscaster of the Year nominees Nick Coit of WLNE-TV and Ruthie Polinsky from WPRI-TV.  Two of the hardest-working young TV people in the biz.  Hope you catch their acts on the air, they’re worth it.

 

  • Not to be left alone, congrats also to the NSMA Rhode Island Sportswriter of the Year nominees, Brendan McGair (Woonsocket Call/Pawtucket Times) and Kevin McNamara (Providence Journal).  Each is a long-time friend.  Hard to choose between those two – it’s like having to pick your favorite child.

 

  • He’s still vibrant and relevant, even if he is retired.  The great Vin Scully turned 92 this week – and I’ll wager he could still roll right into a press box somewhere and call the best game you’ve ever heard, radio or TV.

 

  • Love to be like Vin Scully when/if I ever grow up.

 

  • College football is downright screwy.  A couple of weeks ago, Ohio State beat Maryland by 59 points and fell from #1 to #2.  This past week, LSU beat Arkansas by 36 and fell from #1 to #2.

 

  • That’s nuts.  The CFP is totally half-a**ed.  Eight teams in the playoff, or none.  Give me the old sportswriter and broadcaster polls over this asinine system.

 

  • UConn’s football independence may not be such a bad deal, after all.  The Huskies already have their 2020 schedule finalized, which should give them an advantage in their first season as an indie if only because they can market, sell and promote earlier.

 

  • Just what they’re marketing, selling and promoting remains to be seen.  But UConn has five Power 5 teams on its’ schedule, which is about four or five more than they would have had if they were still in the AAC. 

 

  • There is also talk of a scheduling alliance among independent programs (UMass, Army, Liberty) and if a bowl tie-in were to be made, program independence might actually become a preferred advantage for some outside the Power/Football 5.

 

  • God love Rutgers, as inept an athletic program as may exist on the planet. Boosters (they have boosters?) are revolting and have begun a petition to recall AD Pat Hobbs after he couldn’t come to an agreement with Greg Schiano on the football job.

 

  • They are still winning in Piscataway, however.  The Big Ten threw them a life preserver before the Big East could kick them out, along with a ****-load of cash.  Wonder what those in Columbus, OH and Ann Arbor, MI think of the Scarlet Knights?

 

  • Told ya’ so.  New England vs. Dallas was the highest-rated NFL regular season game on TV, for any network, over the past 12 years.  America’s Team vs. America’s Most-Hated Team.

 

  • So let’s do it again for Super Bowl LIV, whaddaya think?

 

  • Sure, I’m with ya’.  Love to see the Patriots offense churn out the points, but I’m having a blast with the defense turning ‘old school’ on us this season. 

 

  • It has been a throwback to the ‘60’s and ‘70’s-era NFL title-contending teams, winning with defense first.  The thing is, this Patriot “D” has done it with a large eye cast toward today’s game, too.

 

  • By that I mean – speed and athleticism in the defensive backfield in single coverage allows the linemen and linebackers to make plays, because the secondary (no longer the ‘suckondary’) gets after it like a hen gets after a June bug.

 

  • If you don’t understand my talk, Google ‘hen on a june bug.’  You’ll see. 

 

  • The Patriots’ opponent passer rating is a full 22 points LOWER than the NFL’s 2nd best secondary, which currently resides in San Francisco.

 

  • They’re also one of two teams (the other is also in SF) that has more interceptions than TD passes allowed.

 

  • The Dallas Cowboys may have cornered the market on dumb, in case you missed it.  Stupid is as stupid does.

 

  • I mean, 3rd and 1 with the NFL’s best running back at your disposal, and you PASS the ball upfield?  And overthrow it?  C’mon man.

 

  • Called it here a few weeks back, but if the Patriot offensive line could run a few more trap plays (“65 toss power trap!”) behind Isaiah Wynn and perhaps a pulling Shaq Mason, like they did early against the Cowboys, I think Sony Michel (He sucks! He blows!) would suddenly become a star again.

 

  • A much-maligned OL would take advantage of a quicker DL in front of them.  And snap! – they’d be able to pass block again, too.  Just sayin’.

 

  • ‘Cuz we’re all thinkin’ it anyway…the Patriots clinch a playoff spot this weekend with a win at Houston and a loss or tie by Oakland and Pittsburgh.  But don’t hold me to it.

 

  • Keys for the Patriots in Houston this weekend?  Continued health for Wynn and the offensive line.  A return to health for the flu-ridden in the locker room.  And a return to the lineup for Philip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu. 

 

  • Houston is more desperate, but NE is still needy on that side of the ball.

 

  • And try not to hurt another kicker.  Number Four signed on this week in Kai Forbath.  Four kickers in one season has to be a record.

 

  • He’s back for another try – ex-Patriot DT Richard Seymour is on Pro Football’s Hall of Fame nominee list of semifinalists, among 25 modern-era players that will be part of a huge class of 20 enshrinees next summer as the NFL turns 100. 

 

  • In case you haven’t been paying attention, all of a sudden Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has been, um, mighty mediocre.  If he were TB12, we’d be screaming “he’s fallen off the cliff!”

 

  • NBA viewership is down 16% for the first month of this season.  Meh.  As I always say – wake me up after Christmas.

 

  • If Peter Manfredo decides to climb back into the ring again – at 39 years of age and after three years of inactivity – let’s make sure it’s at Twin River? 

 

  • The ex-Contender star won a 1st round KO last weekend for just the 3rd time in his storied career, to move to 41-7-1 overall…8-0-1 in Lincoln.

 

  • A good start for another fighter with big-time ties, as Cranston’s Gary Balletto III, son of Rhode Island’s “other” TV contender, made his light-heavyweight boxing debut with a 4th round KO.

 

  • Hey, WooSox?  That’s a logo?  Will the polar bears, Paws and Sox, now become extinct?

 

  • My buddy “Big E” sez his family really loves to celebrate Thanksgiving.  After all, he comes from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.

 

  • Hard for me to believe anyone grew up any differently, but as a kid we always timed our Thanksgiving dinner around the Cowboys’ game on TV.  Or the Longhorns and Aggies on TV and radio.  Two minutes left in the first half, we sat down to eat.

 

  • And we finished before the 3rd quarter was halfway through.  Pumpkin pie in front of the tube.  I’ve worked many holidays in my career, including this one, so I am thankful for those memories.  Hope this was a good one for you.

 

  • As you might imagine, I have been inundated with “OMG” texts, tweets and posts in the aftermath of three unexpected PC hoop losses.  This is just a sample: “Peaked in Game One. Horrible.”

 

  • Well, hard to argue that point.  That was the mildest comment I felt I could reprint here.  But the only advice I have here is this – take a look around at what’s happening in the sport this year. Up is down, stop is go, off is on.  Very few are escaping unexpected results.  Yes, I recognize the alleged inferior quality of a few opponents, but I would also tell you – every team has someone who can play.  If you don’t “bring it” every time out, you can (and probably will) be whipped.

 

  • This is the current lesson being absorbed by this years’ Friars.

 

  • 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 Cordischi and Coit!  Call in at 401-737-1287 or text at 37937.