(WPRI) – On the drive back from Buffalo last January, the first WPRI12 College Hoops Column was written. And although we didn’t make the trek to Western New York this year … it only feels right to acknowledge the one-year anniversary of this piece coming off a similar situation. For the second straight year, the Patriots season came to a crashing end in a double-digit road loss against their division rival. So with that, our local college hoops teams take center stage for the next two and half months before we frequent the TD Garden for the NBA and NHL playoffs.
Whether you’ve watched every game to this point, simply followed the general storylines, or are still emerging from your holiday hibernation … the WPRI College Hoops Column is your one-stop, weekly shop for notes, remarks and critiques about the four Division I men’s basketball squads in the Ocean State. This serves as an extension of our daily television stories, game highlights, and half-hour show, “PC Hoops with Coach Cooley” that returns for Season No. 2 on Sunday night Jan. 29 at 10:30 p.m. on FOX Providence. Our pilot season a year ago was five shows. This year we are expanding to eight shows with the potential of a ninth or tenth should the Friars continue advancing in the NCAA Tournament. (at this point, who says they can’t? They’re one of the hottest teams in the country)
With that, let’s get to the latest edition.
Thoughts and observations are below. You can always reach out via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @MHershgordon. Let’s keep everything rational.
No. 19 Providence
Record: 14-3 (6-0 in Big East, first place)
Last: 83-80 win vs. St. John’s
This Week: Visit Creighton Jan. 14 at 2 p.m.
Plain and Simple: Clear out your March, Friartown
The Friars are going dancing. And you can take that to the bank. Barring an epic collapse, Ed Cooley’s squad is in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in the last nine years the event has been played. The current nine-game winning streak is the longest the program has had since the 1988-89 team began the year 13-0. After an underwhelming non-conference schedule the Friars have turned it on in the Big East. Bryce Hopkins is firmly in the Player of the Year mix, Ed Croswell deserves to be talked about among the best bigs in the league and Devin Carter’s two-way play has been a pleasant surprise (more on this below). Noah Locke is playing his best ball of the season and Alyn Breed has been a Swiss army knife. The defending regular season champs are perfect through 30% of the season and if they can split their next two games (on the road at Creighton and Marquette) they should be 9-1 at the midway point. That would mean a real chance to repeat.
Hard Truth: Devin Carter needs to keep tweeting pregame
It happened before the Dec. 20 double overtime win against then-Nov. 24 Marquette. Carter tweeted a simple, “Where ranked teams…” He was referencing the phrase, “Where ranked teams go to die” that Friar fans use to talk about the AMP when PC hosts a nationally ranked opponent. That night, Carter poured in a then season-high 20 points in an upset win. The following game, the Friars went to Butler and Carter tweeted out a GIF of Heath Ledger as the Joker in the Dark Knight. The result? 21 points and a win. A few days later and another pregame tweet, he went for 22 points, five steals and four blocks in a blowout win at DePaul. He’s continued it ever since and he’s experiencing the best offensive stretch of his career. He’s reached double figures five consecutive games for the first time. As mentioned above, his two-way play has been a surprise. Defensively, the coaching staff knew what to expect. Offensively, it’s safe to say he’s exceeding expectations.
PC Hoops with Coach Cooley
🏀 Debuts Jan. 29 at 10:30 p.m. on FOX Providence
🏀 1-on-1 with Coach Ed Cooley
🏀 “Be Them Dudes” Play of the Week
🏀 Trivia Question of the Week
🏀 Five Friar Fast Facts
Record: 5-10 (1-2 in Atlantic 10, tied for 11th)
Last: 77-75 OT loss at LaSalle
This Week: Host St. Bonaventure Jan. 11 at 7 p.m., visit UMass Jan 14 at 4:30 p.m.
Plain and Simple: Archie Miller has done wonders for Ish Leggett’s career
Ish Leggett has a lot to be thankful for this season, and chief among them is his new head coach Archie Miller. Miller has gotten the best out of Leggett in his third season in Kingston. Across the board his numbers are up in almost every category, nearly doubling his points from 8.3 to 15.5 per game. I notice a more confident and fundamentally sound player. Miller’s taken Leggett under his wing and seen a key piece of his program flourish. Leggett could be a cornerstone for another two full years in South County if he so chooses.
Hard Truth: Closing games continues to be a struggle
The Rams were primed to pick up win No. 2 of their A10 slate on Saturday before a collapse ensued in Philadelphia. With a three point lead in the closing seconds, SeBastian Thomas fouled a jumped shooter attempting to tie the game. Then in overtime, Rhody made just one of its nine shots. They have the coaching and enough talent to finish around .500 in the league but need to clean up the self-inflicted mistakes that turn wins into losses.
Record: 10-6 (1-2 in America East, tied for 7th)
Last: 81-73 loss to UMBC
This Week: Host Albany Jan. 11 at 7 p.m., Visit New Hampshire Jan. 14 at 1 p.m.
Plain and Simple: Adjusting to a new conference takes time
It wasn’t going to happen overnight. Bryant wasn’t just going to roll into the America East from the Northeast Conference and win every game except one or two. It’s clear through three games that they have the talent to win and compete in the league but understanding the level at which they need to play at on a nightly basis will be the learning lesson following their two most recent games.
Hard Truth: Need KVonn Cramer back on the floor
The good news is that KVonn Cramer appears to be healthy and in good spirits. He’s returned to the program, as has his signature smile, and is making a slow physical recovery back to playing shape following a health scare in Cincinatti in early December. He has not played in a game since a loss to Brown on Dec. 2. URI transfer Antwan Walker has filled in nicely in the interim. Walker has double-doubles in each of Bryant’s last two games. Though, his natural position is the four, not the five. Cramer’s presence in the middle gives Jared Grasso’s team a different look and takes the pressure off Walker to play close to 40 minutes at a spot he is not cut out to play. Clearly, I’m not making a plea to rush Cramer back on the floor too early. His safety is paramount. But when he does return, Bryant should benefit tremendously.
Record: 8-8 (1-2 in Ivy League, tied for 4th)
This Week: Host Princeton Jan. 14 at 2 p.m.
Plain and Simple: Brown is good enough to make the Ivy League playoffs
In a year where the Ivy League seems to be down compared to year’s past, Brown appears to have the talent to compete for a spot in the league’s postseason. They have proved that the last six weeks, specifically in their first three games against preseason favorite Penn, Harvard and Dartmouth. Mike Martin’s team had a chance to win all three.
Hard Truth: Free throws matter, and it helped Brown avoid a tight one Saturday
Brown entered the weekend as a bottom five team in the country at the line. The country. A 12-14 showing at the charity stripe was an underlying reason Dartmouth’s comeback bid didn’t put a true scare into the Bears. Brown is one of five teams at 1-2 in the league. Their success or lack thereof from the foul line will determine whether they can hang around long enough into early March.