Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports

Thinking out loud: Welcome to March Madness in the Big East

John Rooke
March 08, 2019 - 11:13 pm

Thinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to ol’ Billy Clyde Puckett…

  • Tweet of the Week I, from former PC assistant, RIC and UMaine head man @CoachBobWalsh: “Good teams are compliant and do what they are told. Elite teams take ownership and refuse to let their teammates down. A coach’s challenge is to give his team enough space to own it.”


  • Timely, don’t ya’ think?


  • Welcome to March Madness in the Big East.  Every conference team has at least six league wins for just the second time, ever (1997-98).  Every team has a winning record for the first time, ever, at the end of a regular season.  Unpredictability has been thy name.  But color me surprised if anyone OTHER than Marquette or Villanova wins at Madison Square Garden next week.


  • Why?  It’s one thing to have everyone beat up on each other all season long, but outside of the Big Two, the other teams are punch-drunk by now.  The Eagles and ‘Cats may still have life left in their legs, recent losses notwithstanding.


  • What’s at stake for Providence?  Not much, really.  Playing on Wednesday night is a given, for the first time since the league reconfigured.  Winning is still a priority.  Does this team – does the program – care enough to reach the postseason, even if it’s the NIT? 


  • The Creighton game was a microcosm of the season – poor shooting, little attention to detail, terrible free throws – and yet, the grit to come back from a 16-point deficit in the second half to force overtime.  Couldn’t close.  That’s the epitaph for 2019.


  • The rest of the Big East? Eating itself alive. It will be interesting to see how the NCAA selection committee treats ‘balance,’ as opposed to ‘dominance.’


  • But the Tournament at the World’s Most Famous Arena should be a blast to watch (and call, shameless plug).  Best chance to win outside of the Big Two? I’ll take Seton Hall, and the Friars.  Why not?  Friars love the Garden.


  • The Ed Cooley Radio Show will originate this week from the Ruane Friar Development Center and will air prior to tip-off for PC in the Big East Tournament.  The Wednesday night game made it almost impossible to host the show at P.J. Clarke’s this season, normally held the night before the Friars play.  I will miss those sliders served up at PJ’s Sidecar.


  • In a season full of uneven officiating, Wednesday’s game in Omaha may have been the most “uneven” I’ve seen.  Referee Jamie Luckie earns the “Blind Bat of the Year” award for watching a Blue Jays’ player step out of bounds to hit the ball back onto the floor – right in front of him – and not blow his whistle, and the play, dead. 


  • Runner-up was referee Nathan Farrell calling Alpha Diallo for tripping a Creighton player, who simply stumbled over his own two feet.  Diallo was a foot behind the guy, and yet picked up the foul in the opening minute of the game.  Can’t make this stuff up.


  • This Week in the Big East, Episode 9 will feature former Final Four ref and current Big East Supervisor of Officials John Cahill, Creighton’s Greg McDermott and Ava Wallace of the Washington Post. 


  • On the officials, Cahill had some surprisingly candid comments about the ‘reffin’ this season.  Check it out on Sirius/XM, on 103.7 FM Saturday morning, downloadable on and and through iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.


  • National implications for Selection Sunday? Watch the results in these league tournaments – SoCon, Atlantic Sun, Atlantic-10, Ohio Valley and the Pac-12, among others.  These will be one-bid leagues, so if the regular season champ loses, they’ll head for the NIT.  Which could take away a possible postseason spot for PC.


  •’s Jeff Goodman this week named Ed Cooley as one of the 10 best coaching hires of the past decade. 


  • Rhody’s resurgence?  See what making a few shots can do for a team?  Basketball becomes a fun game when the ball goes through the hoop.


  • Fatts Russell’s big day, scoring a career high 41 points in the Rams’ OT win over St. Joseph’s, happened in his hometown of Philadelphia in front of about 40 friends and family members.  Russell scored URI’s final 19 points of the game in the last 6:35 of the second half and OT.  Think he’ll remember this one?  Just sayin’.


  • It was the highest scoring game for a Ram player since West Warwick’s Tom Garrick torched Rutgers for 50 in the 1988 A-10 Tournament.  Rhody can win a 4th straight, and get to 9-9 in the league, by beating UMass at the Ryan Center Saturday.


  • Brown’s big weekend at stake – a chance to reach their first-ever Ivy postseason tournament, and a chance to set the program record for wins in a season.  At Princeton (in 3rd place), at Penn (in 5th).  Whoa.


  • Bryant’s postseason appearance was brief, as an 8th seed in the NEC quarterfinals.  But the Bulldogs battled top-seed Saint Francis to the end Wednesday night in losing 67-63.  The Bulldogs improved from three wins a year ago, to 10 wins this season in Jared Grasso’s first year as head coach.


  • Resurgence in Friartown, too. Providence’s Mary Baskerville was named the Big East Freshman of the Year, with fellow freshman guard Kaela Webb and senior Jovana “Yoyo” Nogic also receiving postseason honors.  Baskerville’s honor makes her the first Friar in 30 years, since Tracy Lis, to win that award.  PC opens the Big East Tournament in Chicago Saturday against Xavier.


  • Congrats to coach Mike Hart and St. Andrews, winning in the NEPSAC AA finals last weekend.  You want a program with a culture of success?  Go to Barrington.  You’ll find one at St. Andrews.


  • The RIIL Open State Tournament is Lil’ Rhody’s own version of “Hoosiers” played out in real life.  And Cumberland this week pulled off an upset UMBC (over Virginia last year in the NCAA’s) and Indiana’s tiny Milan High School would be proud of, as a 16-seed beating #1 Hendricken.  It’s why they play these games, man.


  • Two huge losses in the sports world this week, one of them locally with the passing of Rhode Island icon Dick Lynch at age 82.  Lynch was the first full-time Executive Director of the RI Interscholastic League after spending time as a school and athletic administrator in Cumberland and Smithfield.  One of his accomplishments was putting girls’ ice hockey on the map in the early 2000’s, before he retired in ’04.


  • His background included playing football at St. Raphael Academy and at Boston College (we used to often debate the fortunes of Eagle football) and refereeing big time basketball in the venues of the Big East, Atlantic 10, Ivy League and the NCAA Tournament.  God speed, Mr. Lynch.


  • Legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins also passed away this week at age 89.  Jenkins was a long-time writer and columnist for Sports Illustrated – when the magazine really mattered, and I couldn’t wait for it to arrive in the mail each week – and for Playboy, for Golf Digest, and for the former Fort Worth Press – the newspaper I used to throw as a kid in my old neighborhood. 


  • Jenkins authored more than 20 books, including “Semi-Tough,” “Dead Solid Perfect” and “Life It’s Ownself,” three of the best sports novels I ever had the pleasure to read – and laugh through.  And while his legacy of covering golf and college football – his two favorites – is unrivaled, the family tradition he began continues through his daughter Sally, a noted columnist for the Washington Post her ownself.


  • Tweet of the Week II, from @darrenrovell: “Two Adidas execs and a sports agent sentenced today in their role of recruiting high school players to schools the company sponsored. It was said this was going to rock college basketball. All it did was get rid of Rick Pitino.”


  • Friar hockey knocked off Boston College Thursday night 3-1 at Schneider Arena in their regular season finale, giving 8th ranked Providence the #2 seed in the upcoming Hockey East playoffs. It could be BC again in the quarterfinals next week.


  • The magic number for the Friars is “3.”  When they score three or more goals, PC is a tough-to-beat 18-1-2 on the season.


  • Kudos to the Johnson & Wales wrestling program, currently participating in the NCAA Division III nationals in Roanoke, VA.  The Wildcats have nine wrestlers rasslin’, which is the most ever by a New England school at the NCAA’s. 


  • Tag, you’re not it.  The Patriots passed on sticking a franchise tag on Trey Flowers, Stephen Gostkowski and Trent Brown…but it wouldn’t surprise me if Flowers and Gostkowski both receive offers to stay and play again in Foxboro.  Just at a reduced number. 


  • Not for nuthin’, but taking those offers is another thing, entirely.


  • The reported trade for Michael Bennett could make the Patriots lethal at defensive end – but best guess is the team is preparing for life after Flowers by making this deal with the Eagles.


  • Likely FA possibilities?  Besides signing at least a few of their own (Flowers and Gostkowski should be priorities), I’d love to see the team keep Phillip Dorsett around at wide receiver.  Vastly underrated for his reliability and dependability. 


  • Outside of what they already have?  Pinch me if you pick up a guy like Odell Beckham, Jadaveon Clowney or Deone Bucannon.  But I’m not holding my breath for anyone.


  • Jamie Collins was cut by the Browns this week?  So what?  Seems to me that ship has already sailed for the Patriots, hasn’t it?  I suppose you never know, but…


  • Several reports this week – including one from Pro Football Talk – seem to lean toward the NFL deciding to give up on pot as a banned substance.  I concur.  Here’s the thing:  If we can have it in society, and in our homes, it’s kinda ridiculous to say football players can’t have it at all, isn’t it?


  • Trickle-down effect:  The MA youth football bill banning kids 7th grade and younger from playing could have RI implications, too.  Just waiting on the dope politician who believes government should tell everyone what to do and when to do it, to introduce the bill to the House any day now.


  • Tweet of the Week III, from current Patriots’ center @dandrews61: “This is really sad to me as someone who has played this game since I was 6 years old. I understand people’s concerns with children playing and I respect that. But let parents and kids decide if they want to play or notThis is really sad to me as someone who has played this game since I was 6 years old. I understand people’s concerns with children playing and I respect that. But let parents and kids decide if they want to play or not.”


  • It might be unpopular to do so around here, but I’ll agree with what’s Alex Reimer wrote this week about the New York Mets hiring Jessica Mendoza.  Objectivity in sports broadcasting takes another big hit through her hiring by the team as a consultant.  And ESPN approved her taking the gig – which should tell you all you really need to know about ESPN and their interest in being ‘objective.’


  • Steven Wright’s 80-game suspension by MLB for PED use is the latest strange chapter in his career.  It could also close it, too.  But here’s the thing – he’s simply been trying to get back to the field as quickly as he can, which is what the organization wanted him to do in the first place.  He just tried to help himself go a little faster than nature would allow.


  • Wright remade himself as a player, a pitcher, a starter, a reliever.  A husband (previously suspended for domestic violence issues).  Arms are hard to come by, but I’m not certain he should get the chance to remake himself again in Boston.  You?


  • Kudos to former Pawsox radio voice Will Flemming, who will be stepping into the Red Sox radio broadcasts on WEEI this season as the pre and post-game host, in addition to getting a few cups o’ coffee behind the play-by-play mic.  Great guy, talented broadcaster.  Good lineage – with his brother Dave already behind a mic in San Francisco, ya’ know.


  • Hey Yankees.  Sorry to hear about Luis Severino.  Not really.  Signed, the New Evil Empire.


  • What was that this week?  The Celtics blasted the Warriors.  Kyrie put his game where his mouth was.  Gordon Hayward looked like the guy he was before the brutal injury.  These coincide with Aron Baynes’ return from injury, too.  Coincidence?


  • And yet, the beat goes on for the Bruins.  Really.  When is anyone going to notice the dominance?  Beating Florida 4-3 Thursday night with TWO last-minute goals seemed like no big deal.  Should keep the TV ratings up for a while, at least.


  • 14-0-4 in the last 18 games played.  That’s nuts.


  • The newly renamed Rhode Island Radio and Television Hall of Fame announced its’ Class of 2019 this week – including WJAR’s Patrice Wood and the late Art Lake, WPRI’s Walter Cryan (I sat next to him on the anchor desk in the late ‘80’s into the ‘90’s), WPRO-FM’s Kim Zandy and WPRO-AM’s Bill Haberman.  Induction ceremonies and dinner will take place May 9th at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, RI.


  • Billy Clyde Puckett was a fictional star football player who first appeared in Dan Jenkins’ novel “Semi-Tough,” and he was portrayed in the movie of the same name by the late Burt Reynolds.  One of the great lines written for Puckett, by Jenkins, went like this: “Laughter is the only thing that cuts trouble down to a size where you can talk to it.” 


  • My telling tales, courtesy of my buddy “Big E” here each week, were an idea I picked up from Jenkins and the late, great Blackie Sherrod of the Dallas Morning News from years ago. They were the story tellers from my childhood I wanted to be like, covering sports for a living.  It’s all I ever really wanted to do. 


  • Now, I’m nowhere near as funny or clever, but in Dan’s honor this week, I’ll share a recent tweet from him.  Honest, witty and simple, just like he was: “I've been covering majors for almost 70 years, and one thing I've noticed: Long and straight off the tee and being a good putter tends to work.” 


  • And one more, from the esteemed Mr. Jenkins – who graduated from my high school alma mater, R.L. Paschal in Fort Worth, Texas – “Observation: A guy with a name like Xander is not supposed to win a major until they play one on Mars.”


  • @SoFlyLikeAGing6 tweeted at me this week, looking ahead to next seasons’ Friars: “Bring Holt back see if he can tap into the player from 2 years ago. I’d tell Edwards thank you and look for an offensive 5th year transfer to take his role.”


  • Patrick – Both Emmitt Holt and Drew Edwards are planning a return, Holt for what would be a sixth year through a medical hardship waiver that he has applied for.  A definitive decision won’t come for either until this year has finished.  Both will be honored, along with 5th-year senior Isaiah Jackson, in Senior Day ceremonies at the Dunk Saturday before the Butler tip-off at Noon.  And I think, definitely, Cooley will be looking for help at guard next season.


  • 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 We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, ...


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.

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