Danny Wild/USA Today Sports

Friars, Rams earn NCAA tournament bids

March 11, 2018 - 10:28 pm

By John Rooke

For a second straight season, two of Rhode Island’s four Division I men’s basketball programs have earned invitations to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, aka “The Big Dance.”  This year, however, they’ll both be going stag – without any friends from New England tagging along.

Providence finished as the Big East Tournament runner-up at Madison Square Garden in New York over the weekend, losing in overtime to Villanova – which earned a #1 seed in the NCAA East Region.  The Friars (21-13) were tabbed as a 10-seed in the West Region and will face 7th seeded Texas A&M (20-12) out of the Southeastern Conference Friday afternoon (12:15 pm ET tip-off) in Charlotte, NC. 

All Providence postseason broadcasts will be heard on 103.7 WEEI-FM, friars.com and the TuneIn app.

Providence reaches the NCAA tournament field for a school-record 5th straight season.  Head coach Ed Cooley now ties legendary Providence coach Dave Gavitt for most appearances in the NCAA’s with five.

“I’m really proud of our players on how we played this past weekend,” Cooley said following the bracket reveal.  “It’s an honor, we’re very, very grateful and excited to play a very talented Texas A&M team.”

The NCAA Tournament selection committee had the Friars listed 35th in the ranking of all teams making the field of 68.  That would normally translate to a 9-seed, but thanks to two Big East teams gaining #1 seeds (Villanova in the East, Xavier in the West), and having already faced both teams three times this season (3-3 record), PC was moved out of the nine-spot into the 10.  Tournament procedures are such where conference rematches cannot occur until regional finals.

The Friars are one of six Big East teams gaining dance invites, along with top seeds Villanova (vs. LIU-Brooklyn or Radford in Pittsburgh) and Xavier (vs. NC Central or Texas Southern in Nashville); Creighton earned a #8 seed in the South Region and will face 9th seeded Kansas State (also in Charlotte); Seton Hall received an 8-seed in the Midwest and plays #9 North Carolina State in Wichita, KS Thursday and Butler received a 10-seed in the East, facing #7 Arkansas in Detroit, MI Friday.

The conference tally featured the ACC leading the way with nine teams (out of 15) selected Sunday.  The Big 12 placed seven teams (out of 10, matching the Big East’s total from 2017) into the tournament, and the SEC received a conference-record eight bids (out of 14 schools).

It’s a strong showing for the super-powers in college basketball, of which A&M is a member in the SEC.  “If we can continue to play at that level (from the Big East Tournament) defensively – we’ve got to get a little bit better offensively – I thought we were as dominant over a three-game stretch as we’ve been since we’ve been here, hopefully we can continue to do that.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Cooley added, “but a game we’re excited about.”

“Every game is going to be our last game now,” senior guard Kyron Cartwright added.  “No let up, we’re going to play as hard as we can every possession from now on.”

Friar 5th year senior Rodney Bullock owns the distinction of being a member of all five PC NCAA teams, as he sat out the first trip to the dance in 2014 as a redshirt freshman.  The NCAA bid is the 20th in Providence basketball history, and the game with Texas A&M will be the first-ever meeting between the schools.

Vermont reached the 2017 tournament out of the America East Conference, but the Catamounts lost in their conference tournament.  The only other New England team to reach the field of 68 this year is Rhode Island. 

The Rams (25-7) won the Atlantic-10 regular season title but lost in the A-10 tourney finals to Davidson.  URI received a 7-seed in the Midwest Region, and faces Oklahoma (18-13) out of the Big 12 in Pittsburgh.  The A-10 received three bids (with Davidson and St. Bonaventure), along with the American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati, Houston, Wichita State).

America East champ UMBC gets top-seeded Virginia, Patriot League titlist Bucknell meets Michigan, Colonial champ UNC-Greensboro faces Gonzaga and Ivy champion Penn will meet top-seeded Kansas.  Additionally, Northeast Conference winner LIU-Brooklyn will play Radford in a First Four game in Dayton, and MAAC champ Iona earns a date with Duke.

Boston College, Vermont, Harvard and Wagner (NEC) have all accepted invitations to the NIT.