Stew Milne/USA Today Sports

Friars try to 'block out' the noise, Aggies

March 15, 2018 - 5:59 pm

By John Rooke


The mission, and message, is very simple for the Providence Friars Friday in Charlotte, NC. 

It’s been taped on their lockers, on the walls, on the bus, in their equipment bags, on the TV sets in their rooms – and even on the backsides of some of the players. 

“Block out.” 

“When we woke up this morning everybody saw what the scouting report was in their room,” Providence senior guard Kyron Cartwright said Thursday morning.  “Big, yellow paper right in front of the TV that says “box (block) out.”  That’s the scouting report.”

“It’s no secret, you know, Texas A&M is a very powerful team,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “They have NBA size in a lot of different positions.  We feel if you allow them second, third and fourth opportunities, they’re going to have a chance to really beat you.

“So high alert on checking out – it was definitely talked about in everything that we do,” Cooley continued.  “You may even have a ‘block out’ sign on your back right now and don’t even know it.”

The Aggies feature a starting front line that is very much like a pro lineup – 6-10, 6-10 and 6-9 – that has enabled Texas A&M to be one of the leading rebounding teams in the country this season (5th in total rebounds per game).  “I feel like we are very attentive to how good of a rebounding team they are,” sophomore guard Alpha Diallo said.  “It will be a big box out game for us and that has been installed everywhere in the locker room, with big pieces of paper that say, ‘box out.’” 

The Friars haven’t been a great rebounding team this season, finishing 9th in the Big East in rebound margin during the regular season.  But they’ve had their moments hanging in the middle with some of the better “bigs” in the league, and they’ll use those experiences to navigate their way around the Aggie size.

“Georgetown has a really big front line and versatility with their small forward.  They would probably be close,” Cooley added.  “We played Minnesota early, they would simulate the size, the strength and the brawn of a front line like Texas A&M.  Those two teams come to mind right away with their length in front of the rim and their athleticism and their guard play.”

The A&M front court includes 6-10 junior Robert Williams, who was co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and 6-10 all-SEC 1st team forward Tyler Davis.  They know they have an advantage inside, at least initially.  “I just need to do my job like I have been all year,” Davis said.  “I got to make the right play, make the basketball play.  Use my size to my advantage, seal inside, be a force in the paint and do my job.”

And as for the SEC’s top defender, A&M coach Billy Kennedy knows what he has.  “His (Williams’) ability defensively to block shots is something that can cause some problems for anybody, especially 15 feet into the basket.  If we can get him to block shots, I think that’s something that’s changed the game for us.

“We hope our size and length is something they haven’t seen a whole lot of,” Kennedy added.  “That usually gives people problems because we go 6-10, 6-10, 6-9 at the front line and at times play some zone, and that will be able to bother them some hopefully, also.”

Experience in the tournament could be an additional factor working in the Friars’ favor, with three players a part of the last three NCAA teams – and Rodney Bullock having the distinction of being a redshirt freshman four years ago on the first team to begin this streak in 2014.

“It’s what you dream about, just been fortunate to be here for four years and, you know, it starts every summer,” Cartwright said.  “It’s what we’ve been working hard for.”

“I think it’s a testament to the program, coaching, staff and the players that have come through here,” added senior forward Jalen Lindsey.  “We’ve put a lot of work in the past four years to get to this, and we couldn’t have done it without our teammates that have been alongside with us.

“We’re grateful to be here again and we hope to make a run in this tournament,” Lindsey said.

With the mission – and message – for this year taped firmly to their backsides, their lockers and their TV sets.

NCAA Tournament Notes

Texas A&M’s last appearance in the NCAA’s came two years ago, reaching the Sweet 16 before falling to Oklahoma in Anaheim, CA.  The Aggies had a streak of six straight appearances from 2006 through 2011, before going four years without one until ’16…five players on their roster have NCAA experience from 2016, with four of them eligible to play Friday.  Graduate senior guard Duane Wilson, out for the season with a knee injury, was a part of Marquette’s NCAA team last season…A&M is one of eight SEC teams to reach the tourney this year, which is a league record.  The previous record was six teams in the tournament, accomplished nine different times, and the most recent was in 2008.  Eight of the Aggies’ 14 all-time appearances have come since 2006…former Big East Commissioner and current Providence consultant Mike Tranghese also does consulting work for the SEC, and undoubtedly had a strategic hand in the SEC’s on-floor successes this year…ex-Georgia coach Mark Fox, recently fired from his job as head coach of the Bulldogs’ program, has been added to the Friars’ “think-staff” in preparations for the Aggies.  Georgia finished this season at 18-15, with A&M winning in Athens, GA 61-60 on February 28th…for the Friars, this appearance is their 20th in school history, and the school-record 5th straight.  The Friars also have some history in Charlotte, winning two games here in 1997 (against Marquette and Duke) on their way to the Elite 8 in Birmingham, AL.  PC also played in Charlotte in 1973, winning two games in the Eastern Regional that year over Penn and Maryland.  Should Providence manage to win two here again this year, being in the West Region the Friars would travel to Los Angeles next week.  However, North Carolina could have a say in those travel plans, potentially waiting for the PC-A&M winner in the 2nd round…all Providence postseason play will air live on 103.7 WEEI-FM and  Friday’s coverage begins with pregame at 12 Noon and the tip at 12:15 pm ET…