In the spring of 2011, Ed Cooley addressed the Providence College fan base for the first time. “We’re going to set this place on fire,” he said. “And if you’re late, don’t come in.”
Is it just me, or is it getting warm in here?
In many ways, this season has defied all logic. Entering the year, we were picked to finish 15th in a 15 team conference. Surprising, to say the least, even at the time. After all, we had just picked up a top 10 recruiting class, even if Kris Dunn would be out with a shoulder injury until late December and Ricky Ledo’s status was still up in the air. How could we finish last in a conference that has DePaul and USF in it? Then, the opening game happened, and suddenly, last place didn’t seem so farfetched. Against a bad NJIT team (really, how good could they be with a starting center named Sean McCarthy?), the Friars just barely eked out a 1 point win, with our preseason all-Big East point guard Vincent Council hitting the bench with a strained hamstring just three minutes into the season. That injury changed the complexion of the season immediately, and made things a lot more bleak for a fan base that hadn’t had much to be hopeful about in years prior.
The Bryant win followed, a win in which the Friars were dominant in every phase of the game, and Kadeem Batts emphatically announced his presence as a drastically improved player. Suddenly all was not lost. The combination of Batts and Bryce Cotton seemed up to the challenge of weathering the storm. Of course, as maybe we all should have expected, Ice went down next, with knee issues. The injury bug had bitten in the worst way, decimating the team. And yet, they fought on. Most notably, though they lost in OT to a putrid Penn State team, the Friars battled with everything they had despite having only 5 scholarship players (plus Ted “White Lightning” Bancroft) on the active roster. It was that game that affirmed, at least for me, that this team was something special. Keno-ball was dead, as evidenced by the grit, hustle, and (gasp!) defensive intensity shown by this group.
A flurry of wins followed after Puerto Rico, and the team seemed to gather momentum as players began returning from injury. Ice came back and established himself as a premier scorer. Kris Dunn entered the fray and immediately made an impact, notching a freshman record with 13 assists in a dominant win for the green-clad Friars. And then, as suddenly as the winning streak came, it vanished with a loss at a bad BC team, followed by a vomit-inducing collapse versus an even worse Brown team. I followed up that game by immediately going out and getting drunk. The shitty beer and even shittier Springsteen cover band improved my night, but I woke up then next morning with a hangover and a serious doubt about the resiliency of a team that just a month earlier had battled their asses off in the face of devastating injuries.
The road forward didn’t get any easier, with losses to top tier Big East talent. The team lost 9 of its first 11 in Big East play, culminating in a heartbreaking loss to those gaping assholes from Storrs at the Dunk. The team did show signs of progress in the last few games of that run, showing flashes against a solid Pitt team, a good Marquette team, and a decent (although too illiterate for it to matter) UConn team, although at the time, I don’t think many noticed. It all felt too familiar, like the season was collapsing on top of us like it had every other year. Prior to the following game after the UConn loss, a Sunday noon game at Villanova, the announcement came that Sidiki Johnson, the transfer that was supposed to bolster our front line, had left the team for mysterious personal reasons. I distinctly remember an exchange I had with Dave over at Friarblog:
@friarblog: This season sucks.
@TTAPCBBall: @friarblog Every season sucks.
And then, just like that, Bryce Cotton saved the season. All year, Ice had been putting up big scoring totals. At that Villanova game, he did that, and also demonstrated his ability to hit big shots in clutch situations. I think it’s fair to say that his game winning three that afternoon saved not only that game, but also this season, and maybe several Friar fans from taking a bath with a toaster. Since that shot, the Friars have won 7 of 8, and suddenly find themselves in 8th place in the Big East, staring down a 7 seed in the final Big East tournament in its current format, maybe, just maybe, a spot in the NCAA tournament.
So, just to review: I began this season expecting slight overachievement. I then became deeply concerned about the team’s immediate future. Then, I was proud of the team for fighting through adversity. Then, I hated the team enough to go slam 9 Miller Genuine Drafts and sing along to a crappy version of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Then, it somehow got worse, and then, everything turned around 180 degrees to bring us to where we are now, and now, this is my favorite Friar team ever. Although it doesn’t seem to get talked about much, that Villanova game changed everything. The chemistry is there now. The coaching is there. The talent is there. This team is dangerous. No one wants to play against the Providence Friars. The situation is different from anything I have ever experienced as a fan of these Friars, dating back to the day I arrived on campus in the fall of 2007.
So that brings us to our opponents today. At high noon, we play our final regular season game as members of the Old Big East, and of course, as fate would have it, we’re playing it against our rivals (whether those self-righteous douchebags want to call it a rivalry or not), the program getting left behind in the Moreau Division of the Grand American Abomination Experiment 12, the University of Connecticut, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There have been countless great moments between our Friars and the Huskies over the years. The 1994 Big East Tournament. The 2004 Ryan Gomes game, which spawned my favorite press conference of all time:
The time my roommate, and esteemed co-founder of this blog, yelled “Hey Dyson, go smoke some weed” during the National Anthem. The time I told Hasheem Thabeet it looked like his parents whacked him in the face with a 7-iron every night before bed when he was a baby. The time I told Hasheem Thabeet he was destined to be the next Yinka Dare, and I was totally right (those three moments all happened in the same game). And of course, who could forget the Marital Aid Game?
This particular game, in fact, goes beyond the personal rivalry between Providence and UConn. It’s really much deeper than that. UConn has been the biggest critic of the split between the Catholic Seven and the remaining football schools, mainly because the ACC has no interest in taking them. Prominent figures such as the president, AD, and women’s basketball coach, whom I have no interest in even addressing by name, have publicly whined about being left in the Purgatory Conference, spreading blame around to everyone but themselves. There has been a convenient selective memory disorder overcoming the population of Storrs, causing them to forget that they announced their intentions to bail on the Big East roughly 10 seconds after Syracuse and Pitt walked. The bleak outlook that they suddenly have to live with is no one’s doing but their own, and yet, the fanny-pack wielding horde insists on blaming the Seven for destroying a great conference. Many members of the Huskies’ sheeplike following have now resorted to insults regarding PC’s recent record of relative futility. For all of these reasons, it is incredibly important that Providence wins tomorrow. Not just for the sake of our tournament aspirations. Not just so that we close out our last Old Big East regular season slate with a victory against a rival we may not see again for a while. Rather, for the New Big East, as a sign that the future is on our side.
And OK, maybe as a big “FUCK YOU” to all the UConn fans that love to talk shit about Providence basketball.
No matter what happens from here, this season has affirmed what we all hoped when Ed Cooley took the reins in 2011. This Friar team is on the rise, and is going to make noise in the near future. Even if we don’t beat the odds and snag an at-large bid this year, the future is bright, and we’ll certainly be back and contending next year in the first season of New Big East play. I think I’m speaking for just about everyone when I say that I am extremely proud of the way this team has turned things around this season, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying this has been my favorite season of PC basketball to date. It’s early March, and I spent much of the week this week checking bracketology blogs and reading the Scout forums, trying to absorb as much as I can. This is how March should be. Hopefully it will be this way for many years to come.
Let’s go Friars, and let’s fucking BEAT UCONN.
PS: I know it’s been posted on the Scout boards multiple times today, but it literally can’t be seen enough. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, the legendary “Why we hate UConn” post from The Godfather:
Originally posted by Godfather1
1) The Fans
Without question the most ignorant, arrogant, obnoxious, insufferable bunch of nouveau riche gasbags in the Big East, easily taking the title previously held by Syracuse fans. UConn fans are the basketball equivalent of the internet billionaire who crashes a blue blood party on Ocean Drive, farts in the buffet line, eats the caviar with their fingers, takes a leak in the bushes, pinches the hostess’ ass and then can’t understand why no one thinks they’re cool.
If you’ve never seen them at the Civic Center (and if you haven’t, you must not be paying attention because there are 3,000 of these losers there every time we play them), as a public service allow me to provide you with a brief description:
The Men- fat, loud, stupid. Thinks basketball was invented in 1990 during “The Dream Season” (a season where they went no farther than we did in 1997, but somehow still inspires grown men to weep in the Nutbag State). Thinks “The Shot” was the defining moment of the 20th Century, slightly ahead of World War II and landing a man on the moon. Spent the day after winning the national championship speed dialing WFAN demanding respect. Can’t understand why Tate George isn’t in the NBA.
The Women- fat, ugly, obnoxious. Resplendent in full Huskie regalia (UConn sweatshirt, Huskie-blue fanny pack, Rebecca Lobo bloomers, national flag blue and white pom poms). Thinks someone outside the state of Connecticut actually gives a flying crap about women’s basketball. Cried at Jennifer Rizzotti’s wedding, and when Shea Ralph blew out her knee. Writes long, impassioned letters to the Hartford Courant after each season that always end with “Thank you for making us proud. You’ve done so much.”
UConn fans should be considered armed and extremely dangerous, and should be approached only with extreme caution. If you want to have some fun with them, just sneak up behind them and yell “Christian Laettner” and watch their heads explode like a scene out of “Scanners.”
2) The Media
Unless you’ve ever actually lived in that miserable state (and I did 15 years hard time there), it’s hard to put into words just how bad the gushing, adoring media there really is when it comes to their Huskies. The main culprits are The Three Stooges- The Hartford Courant’s Ken Davis, The Manchester Journal-Inquirer’s Phil Chardis and The Norwich Bulletin’s Peter Abraham (each of whom wept openly at courtside when they won the national championship), but the conspiracy extends far beyond these three bozos.
Connecticut is like the USSR, and the Courant is like Pravda- anti-UConn sentiment is simply not tolerated, and dissenters are dealt with swiftly and harshly. Mike Francesa once said that Rod Sellers was a thug (which he was), and Billy Packer said that Chris Smith palmed the ball every time he touched it (which he did), and to this day neither of them can enter the state without
Secret Service protection. The scary part is that Calhoun honestly thinks this lapdog, spoon-fed, kneepad-wearing media is still too rough on him. And if you really want to hear something that will turn your stomach, just throw on WTIC’s Joe D’Ambrosio some time. “Joe D” makes Johnny Most look like Edward R. Murrow- without a doubt the biggest shill for any team in any sport that I’ve ever heard. One of my simple pleasures in life (and one I would encourage all Friar fans to join me in) is listening to Smokin’ Joe after a UConn loss- you’ve never heard such a whining, petulant, defensive jerk, looking to pick a fight with anyone who dares to deviate from the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil Husky party line. He is an absolute disgrace.
They call these clowns “The Horde”- they should call them “The Whores.”
3) The Coach
There’s just no nice way to say this- Jim Calhoun is the single biggest jerk in all of college basketball. There isn’t enough cyberspace on the internet to detail all of Jimmy The Shriek’s transgressions, though some of his most memorable moments have come in post-game press conferences- eyes bulging, spittle flying, barely coherent, blaming his players for anything that went wrong (I would have given 5 years off my life to have heard him after the BC game). I particularly enjoyed his performance after we kicked their ass in the Big East Tournament in 1994, and he spent almost an hour throwing back-handed compliments at us while still insisting that the real best team in the Big East didn’t win the conference championship. Classic.
Any respect I might have had for him (and believe me, it wasn’t much) went out the window years ago when he chickened out of playing UMass while Calipari was still there. Opposing coaches despise him for his arrogance, big mouth, incessant whining about the officials and negative recruiting (yes Jim, we know all about Ruben Garces). Opposing fans hate him because he’s an idiot. Simply put- he doesn’t win with class, and he doesn’t lose with class.
Actually, Buf-houn and Connecticut are a match made in heaven- a petulant, defensive insecure loser presiding over a state with a gigantic inferiority complex. And to think we actually considered hiring this blowhard before we signed Pitino in 1985. I wouldn’t trade all his wins and his one lucky national championship for having this guy represent the face of Providence College basketball for all the dope in Khalid El-Amin’s gym bag or all of Marcus Williams’ laptops.
CHICKENING OUT OF PLAYING UMASS
This is one of the great untold stories of New England college basketball in the 90s. While UConn was starting their fraudulent rise to national prominence, Husky pups were noticing disturbing rumblings to the north. Snake oil salesman John Calipari was building a powerhouse in the Huskies’ back yard, and Husky Nation absolutely could not deal with it. Say what you want about Calipari, but he would play anybody anywhere, and the team he really wanted a crack at was UConn. One problem though- Jim Calhoun was too chicken to play him.
The most egregious example of this was the 1995 Great Eight. Both UConn and UMass were eligible based on their finishes the year before, and ESPN was salivating at the thought of having UMass/UConn as the marquee matchup for that made-for-TV snoozefest. Except there was a problem- UConn said they wouldn’t play in the Great Eight unless ESPN guaranteed that they would not play UMass. Think about that for a minute!
You’d have to be Freud to understand why the powers that be at UConn avoided UMass like the plague for the entire length of the Calipari regime. Maybe they were pissed about the time CBS put Calipari on the phone to talk about why UConn wouldn’t play them while undefeated No. 1 ranked UConn was getting embarrassed by Kansas on national TV. Maybe they were jealous that UMass was playing- and beating- nationally ranked teams on the road every year while UConn got their jollies by beating up the Yales and Hartfords of the world by 80. Or maybe it was because deep down inside they knew they weren’t good enough or tough enough or ballsy enough to beat UMass and Calhoun simply couldn’t deal with it.
Now they play every year in some abomination called the Mass Mutual Classic, and all is well in Hooterville because Calipari is gone and UConn wins every year. And for all the Dumpsters of the world who will whine that UConn agreed to play them before they knew Calipari and Camby were going to leave, I don’t even want to hear it. Bottom line- in the mid 90s it was the game everyone wanted to see- not just in New England but nationally- and it never came off because UConn was too chicken and fraidy-scared to lose.
It would take a Ken Burns documentary to adequately chronicle all of Haystacks Calhoun’s crimes against humanity, so I’ll only focus on a couple of my personal favorites:
1) During the same game when Lew Perkins had his nervous breakdown, Eric Murdock fouled out of a tie game in overtime. As if that wasn’t bad enough, after the foul was called we were treated to the spectacle of Calhoun running around the sidelines like a chicken with his head cut off, waving five fingers and then practically kissing assistant coach/chief sycophant Howie Dickenman. I can see a fan acting like that, but a coach? Pathetic.
2) After winning their lucky national championship, the Huskies gave a championship ring to Jim Nantz. Let me repeat that folks- they gave a championship ring to Jim freakin’ Nantz! Why, you ask? A couple of reasons. First, it was their feeble attempt to suck up to the national basketball media. Second, and more importantly, it was a deliberate slap at Billy Packer, who about ten years before committed the unpardonable sin of saying Chris Smith palmed the ball every time he touched it (which he did). Boy Jimmy, you really showed him!
3) At halftime of their Final Four game against Ohio State, after blowing a big lead, Leslie Visser asks Calhoun if the roof is caving in. Instead of laughing it off, Haystacks actually looks up at the ceiling and hisses “Roof? Caving in? I don’t see any roof caving in.” Great. In the immortal words of Sergeant Hulka, “Lighten up Francis.”
4) Refusing to go on Mike and the Mad Dog for almost ten years after Francesa calls Rod Sellers a thug (which he was). Again, calling Dr. Freud. He wants respect so bad he can taste it, but instead of letting his record speak for itself he resorts to begging for it, then pouts if he thinks he’s not getting his props.
5) Earlier this season Jimmy The Shriek goes off on some poor little administrator in the UConn athletic department about their schedule because the Huskies start their season playing about once every ten days. Uh Jim, isn’t it the head coach’s responsibility to set up the schedule? It was classic Calhoun though- blame everyone but yourself. Listen to how he blames his players after a loss, the old “I coached good, but boy did they play bad” theory. I can hardly wait to hear him once UConn starts getting into the meat of their Big East schedule (sorry Husky pups- you can’t play Virginia Tech 16 times), and it finally dawns on Husky Nation that their beloved coach didn’t recruit anyone who can hit a 15 foot jump shot.