PROVIDENCE (WPRI) – Sunday afternoon at the Dunkin Donuts Center was about as special of a day as the Providence College athletic department has had in years. 

It ranks up there with the 2014 men’s basketball Big East Tournament championship, the 2015 men’s hockey National Championship and the countless other moments that have helped turn PC into a national brand. 

No, on Sunday, a championship wasn’t won. But the celebration was just as meaningful.

The architect. The visionary. The leader. Athletic Director Bob Driscoll officially announced that he will retire in June after 47 years in college athletics, the last 21 revolutionizing the place we call Friartown.

And the fruits of his labor were in plain sight. 

There were thousands of season ticket holders at a banged out Dunk.

There was the engaged student section rooting on a Top 20 team that sits 16-2 for the first time since the 1977-1978 season. The same team that sits all alone in first place in the Big East at 6-1 for the first time in program history. 

There was Ed Cooley — one of the most sought after head coaches in the country who not all that long ago turned down an offer from Michigan — less than an hour until tip, standing in the back of the press conference room paying his respects for a man he called ‘one of his best friends in the world.’

There was the men’s soccer team, honored for its run to the Sweet 16. And there was the women’s team as well, honored for reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993.

Those two programs offer a glimpse inside the many smaller-profile programs that — much like men’s basketball and hockey — have enjoyed incredible growth due to year-round fundraising to improve facilities, hire and retain first class coaches and trainers and make Friartown a destination rather than a stepping stone. 

How fitting was it that so much of what he worked to accomplish for two-plus decades was on display on the day of his official retirement press conference.

He surrounded himself with the right people who had the right attitude to accomplish his once-thought-to-be lofty goals. Now, it is the standard.

And the cherry on top for Driscoll? A Sweet 16 appearance by Cooley and Co.

No. 17 Providence  

Record: 16-2 (6-1) – 1st place in Big East

Last: 69-62 win vs. Butler on Jan. 23

Next: At No. 21 Xavier on Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Plain and Simple: Everything keeps coming up PC

It was the perfect way to come off a COVID pause. After 11 days between games including three consecutive postponements, the Friars were able to get healthy at home. Their legs are back underneath them after two wins against squads that figure to be watching the NCAA Tournament from their couch. It was about as soft of a return to play as the Big East offers. But the Friars can only play who’s on the schedule and the little breaks they’ve gotten follow a trend that’s happened throughout the year. It was facing Wisconsin without surefire All-American Johnny Davis. It was facing UConn without top NBA prospect Adama Sanogo. It was hosting a Seton Hall team with only eight available players. Things keep turning up PC. The ball needs to bounce your way sometimes to have a special season. Any coach will admit it takes a bit of luck. And so far, the Friars have capitalized on all of it.

Hard Truth: There’s still plenty to learn about the Friars

The 16-2 start is the best under Ed Cooley and the best for the program since the late 70s when the likes of Kevin Stacom, Joe Hassett and Bruce Campbell donned Friar black and white. Through 18 games the Friars are essentially a lock to return to the Big Dance. As long as they avoid a few potholes, this group will be playing for seeding and location come March. But aside from that, there’s a lot to learn. What will the rotation look like when AJ Reeves returns from injury? Whose minutes get shortened? Is PC good enough to win the Big East regular season championship? They’ve yet to play Villanova, Xavier, or Creighton and five of their six wins are against teams below .500 in the league. Everything is trending in the right direction and all signs point to the Friars finishing in the top three, but there’s a lot of season left to be played and as much as we know about the future of the group there’s plenty still to learn.

Rhode Island

Record: 12-5 (3-2) – Tied for 5th place in Atlantic 10

Last: Lost 63-61 at home to George Washington on Jan. 22

Next: Host Richmond on Jan. 25 at 6:30 p.m.

Plain and Simple: Wars with A10 cellar dwellers inspire no hope

Last week the URI ‘Hard Truth’ section titled, Not one win offers blueprint to compete against A10’s best, touched on how a weak non-conference schedule only prepared Rhody to consistently beat the bottom teams in the league. That none of the 11 wins at the time offered a blueprint of how they could consistently beat the top tier. Saturday’s loss to George Washington, picked 13th out of 14 in the preseason, now opens another door. Not only does Rhody not have the experience to contend with the class of the A10, but also there’s a road map of how they can lose to the basement of the league. The Rams blew a game in which KenPom gave them a 98.6% chance to win when they led by 15 nearing the halfway point of the first half. The Rams lost to a team ranked 280th in KenPom, the worst for the program since the 2011-12 season when they lost at Brown which finished 310th. Jim Baron was fired that offseason. Do expectations now need to be lowered in Kingston? The product on the court might suggest so. Don’t be fooled by a hollow 12-5 record.

Hard Truth: Rotation issues remain

On Saturday, David Cox made a surprising decision. After blowing a 15-point lead, the head coach turned to Tres Berry at the 9:36 mark of a tie game. It was Berry’s first action since a Dec. 13 blowout win at Milwaukee where he played one minute and eleven seconds. In the final 9:36 of a pivotal game that could have lifted URI to a 4-1 record in the A10, Berry played more than half the time (five minutes) and missed the only shot he took. For context, Cox had his entire roster at his disposal. No one had fouled out, and reserve guards SeBastian Thomas and Jalen Carey — who’ve produced in the lion’s share of minutes off the bench —  had played well up to that point. In the postgame, I asked Cox what Berry had done in practice to earn himself the opportunity to play. In his answer he mentioned Berry has been “chomping at the bit” to earn a shot. Granted, we rarely get to watch practice, so it’s reasonable to assume Berry deserves a chance to showcase his skills. But the timing seemed forced. If Berry deserved a chance, one might think getting his feet wet in the first half makes a bit more sense. It’s certainly less pressure for a young player than getting thrown into the fire late, in just his fourth ever game against a Division I opponent. The move is parallel to something that occurred last year.

Brown

Record: 10-11 (2-4) –  6th place in Ivy League

Last: 93-74 win at Columbia on Jan. 22

Next: Host Cornell Jan. 29 at 4 p.m.

Plain and Simple: Choh is playing the best ball of his career

An injury stalled the beginning of the season for Brown star Tamenang Choh, but now the fifth-year forward is firing on all cylinders. Since Ivy play began, the all-conference talent has delivered for his team. He’s put up gaudy numbers night in and night out. Through six games, Choh is averaging nearly 23 points and 10 rebounds. He’s doing it on 58% from the floor and 35% from deep. If the Bears can reach the postseason for the first time in program history, he’d be on the short list to win Ivy League Player of the Year.

Hard Truth: The Bears have life

Brown is off the mat. Staring at a 1-4 start in league play, Mike Martin’s group went to Columbia on Saturday and rolled past the Lions in convincing fashion, 93-74, to stay alive in the race for the Ivy League playoffs. A loss wouldn’t have mathematically eliminated the Bears, but it would have put the team in close to a must-win situation for the remaining eight. The early part of the schedule did no favors for the team when it had to go on the road for five of the first six but the middle portion offered a chance for them to catch their breath. Consecutive single game weekends allow Bruno to empty the tank and focus on getting back in the hunt.

Bryant

Record: 11-8 (7-1) – 2nd place in Northeast Conference

Last: 85-68 win vs. St. Francis Brooklyn on Jan. 23

Next: Host Merrimack on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m.

Plain and Simple: Bulldogs becoming the team we expected at season’s dawn

Bryant has won six of the last seven games it’s played. Including a forfeit win, the Bulldogs are 7-1 in NEC play for the first time since joining the league. They’re finally the team we thought we’d see at the beginning of the year. They faced a brutal non-conference schedule and COVID and the flu ripped trough the team. They’ve taken their lumps and have come out battle-tested and ready to win the league. A pair of home games this weekend is the final time you’ll be able to see Jared Grasso’s group in person until Feb. 17. Sunday’s tilt with LIU will be a great game on national television. By the way, did you catch this?

Hard Truth: The loss to Wagner will sting the entire month of February

Much like how the Patriots loss to the Dolphins in the first meeting of the year kept them from earning the No. 5 seed and avoiding the Bills in the first round of the playoffs, Bryant’s loss to Wagner in the first matchup of the year might determine who wins the NEC Regular Season and earns home court advantage for the playoffs and who potentially could have to go on the road to reach the NCAA Tournament. As it stands, both teams seem primed to rip through the remaining nine games of league play before the rematch serves as the regular season finale on Feb. 26 in Smithfield. Had the Bulldogs taken care of business on Staten Island, they’d be looking down at the Seahawks and in the driver’s seat to win a championship.

To read previous columns click on the date: Jan. 17