College Blog Blog Network

Thinking Out Loud: There’s nothing like playing No. 1 team in nation

01.20.17 at 11:42 pm ET

Rooke_JohnThinking out loud, while wondering whatever happened to Tom Garrick.

– There is always a little extra giddy-up in your step – a little extra juice in your morning mojo – when you get ready to face the No. 1 team in the nation. Providence gets that chance Saturday, playing Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. But for many Friar fans, this is becoming an old-hat experience.

To begin with, it’s a benefit of playing in the Big East Conference – if there is such a thing as a benefit to playing No. 1 on any given week. The Big East has long had its share of top-ranked teams in a league as strong as it has been through the years, and in the 38-year era of the Big East, 10 of the 15 occasions the Friars have faced Number One have come during the league’s existence.

That certainly had to have been the hope of one Dave Gavitt for PC, when he founded the conference in the late ‘70’s. But be careful what you ask for. Just sayin’.

– Having never been ranked No. 1 themselves during their 90-year history (close in 1973, amiright?), in those 15 games against No. 1 Providence has managed two significant victories. The first came in December of 1976, an 82-81 double OT win against Michigan at the Providence Civic Center in the old InBank Classic, which later became the Fleet Classic.

The second came in February of 2009, during Keno Davis’ first season as head coach, when the Friars jumped on then-Number One Pittsburgh at the Dunk, 81-73. What do I remember about that game? Not much, since I wasn’t there.

At the time, I was also broadcasting primarily Big East games for ESPN, and that night there was a scheduling conflict for an ACC game at Boston College. The network asked me if I could make the trip to Conte Forum since I was the closest announcer they had. My bosses at PC allowed me to switch to TV and attend – leaving radio and the Friars behind for just one night.

And that one night, the Friars pulled off a win for the ages. Stupid is as stupid does, right? Right. I deserve that.

The ESPN producers in the TV truck at BC that night kept giving me updates, teasing me mercilessly until they sensed my growing displeasure with myself every time they hit a button to give me a score update into the headsets I was wearing. But I was happy for the Friars, though.

– This time against No. 1? Nova is L-O-A-D-E-D again, as you might expect a defending national champion to be. But strangely enough, they lack size inside, and definitely rely on perimeter play to beat their opponents. Preseason Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart and national title game hero Kris Jenkins, plus super soph Jalen Brunson lead the way. Their perimeter play may be unparalleled.

The Friars won at Villanova last year, you’ll recall, when both teams were ranked in the Top 10. A snowstorm kept all but a couple thousand fans from reaching downtown Philly, but PC had a day in an 82-76 OT win over the Wildcats. At least the game is at Wells Fargo again. Nova has a school-record 47-game winning streak on their campus home court at The Pavilion. And they haven’t lost at Wells Fargo since Providence popped ‘em a year ago.

The last team to beat the Wildcats on their campus floor? Providence, 55-52 on Feb. 3, 2013. Karma, baby. It’s karma, I tell ya’.

– Not for nuthin’, but Monday’s 74-56 win at Georgetown was perhaps the best all-around effort of the season, coming against a physically-talented but mentally-maligned Hoyas team. Kyron Cartwright came within one rebound of a triple-double, and the Journal’s Kevin McNamara asked him why he couldn’t grab just one more?

Cartwright answered, “I had no idea I had as many as I had. I’m only five-foot-11!”

Georgetown’s motto of “Hoya Saxa” literally translates into “what rocks.” So what kind of rocks are they now? Pumice? The mighty fall hard, when they fall at all.

Providence has six straight wins over the Hoyas, having swept Georgetown three straight seasons. That’s never happened previously in the 61-year history between the schools.

– Ed Cooley’s Radio Show on 103.7 WEEI-FM, normally a showcase for the team and the program, turned into a newsmaker this week. As I asked Ed a question early in the show, he stopped me and replied “I have no idea what you just said.” As it turned out, he had been stunned by a text received from a recruit who verbally committed to him at that very moment.

Sensing that an NCAA no-no could be at hand, he quickly moved back onto the program agenda as the fans in attendance buzzed with excitement. No official word on an actual commitment, and verbal commitments aren’t binding, but I can tell you this – Ed’s phone didn’t stop blowing up after he received that text.

– The most crushing defeat of the past week occurred in Cincinnati, as 7th ranked Creighton tried to keep pace with Villanova. They did on the scoreboard, beating No. 22 Xavier 72-67, but the Blue Jays lost point guard Maurice Watson to a left knee ACL tear. Watson, the one-time transfer from Boston University, is leading the nation in assists.

– URI’s bounce back in a tight win over UMass wasn’t only needed, it had to happen. E.C. Matthews continues to look a little more like his pre-injury self, and freshman guard Jeff Dowtin could be developing into a future star. But after the debacle against LaSalle, the Rams had to show some fight against the Minutemen.

– The start to the Ivy season for Brown earned a split on the road at Princeton and Penn last weekend. But a road split may be what it takes for the Bears every time they play away from the Pizzitola Center if they hope to reach the first-ever Ivy post-season tournament at The Palestra.

After a Friday night home game with Yale, the Bears won’t play again until Jan.27th at Yale. At 10-8 on the season, they continue to lead all Ivy teams in scoring offense.

– PC’s Hockey Friars chalked up a 4-1 win last weekend over 12th ranked Vermont, gaining a series split, and will face #5 UMass-Lowell on the road Friday and at Schneider Arena Saturday. The Friars are 10-8-4 on the season, but just 2-6-2 in Hockey East. After this weekend, just 10 games are left in the regular season – which should still be enough time to play their way into the NCAA’s.

– How spoiled are New England Patriots fans? To the point where an 18-point home win over a playoff team (the Houston Texans) gets you booed off of the field at halftime. Oh yes, the boo birds chirped a little. We have no place to go but down from here.

The mistakes committed by the Patriots in their win over the Texans were numerous enough to cause a loss. Except, this was Houston they were playing. No quarterback, no J.J. Watt, no letter jackets, no chance.

Maybe the Patriots got away with one? I’ll say this, in most championship seasons, the eventual winner usually has a game or two go their way that they have no business winning. Remember the Snow Bowl and the Tuck Rule? Sometimes, a little sunshine gets blown up your skirt. Other times, the wind rips it right off.

– I’ll preface my remarks here on Colin Cowherd by saying that we once worked together at ESPN Radio. Not closely, however. He’s gotta do his thing, and I hafta do mine. But since he moved over to Fox, he’s been trying way too hard to get noticed. Now, his stupid is showing.

Normally, Cowherd’s ability to reason is solid and his on-air debate skills are nearly unchallenged. But when he said this week Bill Belichick will consider moving on from Tom Brady as Patriots’ QB if TB12 plays poorly this week? Pure horse hockey.

I actually understand the premise for his bombastic pronouncement. He’s just trying to create some noise. Based on past history, Belichick does tend to dispatch his one-time heroes a year or two before they show real decline. But if TB12 doesn’t play well this weekend, does that indicate Brady is toast? History would actually show otherwise, methinks, based on Brady’s actual performances in big games.

Belichick always does what he says is “in the best interests of the football team,” right? Would ditching TB12 before he shows a steady pattern of decline be in the best interests of this football team, with so much younger talent surrounding him? You could argue this team has been built up to take advantage of Brady’s continued strong play, in an effort to win another title or two.

But throw him out now if he doesn’t beat Pitt? Unlikely. No, let me rephrase that. One hundred percent Grade A mule muffins.

– I don’t know whether to be embarrassed more for Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, who clearly wears (and verbalizes) his disdain for the Patriots, or for Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown? Brown’s Facebook Live video of Pittsburgh’s locker room celebration and “aftermath” following their playoff win over Kansas City shows real dysfunction in the Steel City. And stupidity.

Brown’s video not only violates the sanctity of the locker room – and not that it’s a holy place or anything like that – but it also shows a complete lack of respect for Tomlin and his authority. Tomlin apparently took care of discipline for Brown privately.

And for something so egregiously non-private – catching teammates in various stages of undress and catching the coach offering some choice adjectives pointed New England’s way – shouldn’t the punishment also have been subject to some kind of public scrutiny? Like being bound and handcuffed to a stockade where fans could throw onions and rotten fruit at him or something?

Does Brown’s video voyeurism cause too much of a distraction for his team this week traveling to Gillette Stadium for the AFC Championship? It shouldn’t, but there can’t be too many happy campers in that locker room. Trust in one another is something that is earned over time, that adds to building a championship attitude, and that trust can be shattered in a matter of moments. Or in one ill-conceived video.

– The NFL’s Final Four features two teams as relative newcomers – even unlikely participants – and two teams who have a dominant past while maintaining that dominance over the last half of this season. Not that Atlanta and Green Bay can’t measure up, but the Patriots and Steelers have combined for 17 straight wins this season at the present time, and each has eight Super Bowl appearances over time.

Sunday’s AFC champ will be the first team in NFL history to reach a ninth Super Bowl game.

– Continuing with that spoiled theme from above – Sunday’s title game at Gillette will be the 7th such game held in Foxboro (and 13th overall). That ties Denver for second-most home games (the Patriots are 5-1 in the previous six) behind Pittsburgh, which has hosted the game 11 times.

I’ve got the Patriots and Falcons. You?

– My buddy Bernie has two nephews, ages eight and four, who visited their local drug store recently and tried to buy some tampons. The pharmacist was somewhat startled and amused, so he asked the boys if they knew what they were for. “Not exactly,” the eight-year-old replied, “but they’re not for me. They’re for my brother. He’s four. We saw on TV that if you use these, you can swim, play tennis and ride a bike. And right now, he can’t do none of those.”

So what does Cranston, Rhode Island native Jack Capuano get for his New York Islanders beating the Boston Bruins this past week? He gets fired from his job as Isles head coach after seven seasons, with this year’s team currently holding the worst record in the NHL.

Capuano was, at the time of his firing, second in Islanders’ history in games coached and wins. He was also 4th in longevity among all NHL coaches, behind the Bruins’ Claude Julien.

And who knows when Julien’s tenure will end? But it does seem as if the Bruins’ house needs cleaning. Or a remodeling.

– I don’t know that the Baseball Writers got this year’s Hall of Fame class “right.” First off, Tim Raines received a mere 22 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility, and this year he received 86%? What other records did he break in his time since he retired from the game?

Jeff Bagwell will still go down as part of the worst trade former Red Sox GM Lou Gorman ever made, in exchange for relief pitcher Larry Anderson in 1990. But like Lou, at the time, I might still have made that deal, too.

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez received 76 percent of the vote this year, marginally earning his admission into the Hall. He could be the most deserving of the three who made it in – and he also has the stain of PED accusations to deal with.

Ah yes, the steroid guys. Rodriguez serves to break the mold on this, I’ll wager. Will there be a future softening on steroids by Hall voters? There should be, if you really want the best players to be in there. I will repeat again – the Hall is a museum, and should be an accurate representation of baseball history. That includes the bad, with the good, and the good guys with the bad guys. This isn’t judgment on character, it’s judgment on baseball ability. Period.

And for those writers who would vote for Curt Schilling one year, and then not for him this year because of his political beliefs? When do politics decide if a guy is worthy of Baseball’s Hall of Fame? Sorry fellas, but you need to check your Hall passes at the door. The exit is to your left.

Two things you’ll see in future Hall of Fame classes – one, players with PED/steroid accusations and/or suspensions will eventually be included; two, younger voters won’t give two (bleeps) about whether a player did or didn’t use them. Strange that I actually consider myself an “old school” kinda guy, but not on this topic.

– So the old Apex site in Pawtucket, Rhode Island could be a potential location for a new PawSox stadium? Ok, so it might not be the glamorous location previously considered off of I-195 in Providence, but if it keeps the team in Rhode Island and doesn’t increase public taxes, you’ve got my attention.

– In light of the news over political dignitaries “boycotting” the Presidential Inauguration for Donald Trump this week, which is shameful, I can officially go public with my own story – I boycotted Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1980. Ok, so it wasn’t really a boycott. But I had the chance to participate in the inauguration parade that year with the University of Texas Longhorn Band, and I turned it down. Why? Texas was playing UCLA in hoops, and I was calling the radio play-by-play. Sorry, Mr. President. There were (and still are) priorities.

– Very cool that ex-Ram Tom Garrick will be honored by the Atlantic-10 at the conference tournament in Pittsburgh March 11. Garrick will be one of 14 A-10 legends to receive recognition from the league who have made a lasting impact on their respective programs.

Garrick is currently an assistant coach on the Boston College women’s basketball staff. With teammate Carlton “Silk” Owens, the West Warwick, Rhode Island native became the focal point of Rhody’s big run to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1988. Garrick was the first URI athlete to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, and he was inducted into the URI Athleic Hall of Fame in 1998.

– Brittany from Temecula, California posted on Facebook this week: “About this year being a failure if we don’t win the Super Bowl, I think the reason I say yes is because I see the window of B&B closing.” Brittany: It’s a good observation. Look, I always want my teams to be relevant every year. So while winning the ultimate prize is great, I would take 15 years of being in the playoffs with a chance at the prize, rather than 1 or 2 definite years of winning and missing out on the post-season fun the rest of the time. To me, losing this year would be frustrating, sure, but not really a failure. They’re always in the hunt.

– Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, …

Don’t forget to tune into Providence’s 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am for Southern New England Sports Saturday! Call in at 401-737-1287 or text us at 37937.