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Thinking Out Loud: Will Friars get into NCAA Tournament?

02.17.17 at 2:42 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering where John Cahill, Tim Higgins and Jim Burr have gone?

— Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. A friend asked me this week about the NCAA Tournament – “the Friars’ aren’t good enough to get in, are they?” Are they as good as they’ve been in recent years? Maybe not. But are they good enough to get in this year? They might be.

— You’ve heard about the “soft bubble” surrounding mid-majors and mid-level high major conference teams this year – a .500 record or even a game below might just get consideration for the Field of 68. Why?

— It’s cyclical. Not enough Cinderella-types out there at present. Star players leave early, experienced players transfer to get more time elsewhere, younger players get forced into the mix for playing time before they’re ready.

— And if you schedule well for the non-conference slate – PC did this, and they’ve done a very good job of it in the past few seasons – it’s a combination of these things in college basketball this year that has formed the perfect storm – and the perfect opportunity for teams who appear less-than-worthy.

— Not for nuthin’, but I’ve seen some pretty good Friar teams get left behind over the past 30 years without a dance invite. So, if PC eventually gets a freebie here, who’s going to complain?

— Is Providence worthy? Does that question matter? After dispatching Xavier Wednesday night, two straight Top 50 (Top 17!) RPI wins will get noticed. All that really matters is what the selection committee thinks, and they’ve got 68 slots to fill, with 36 coming from at-large picks. Top 50 RPI wins matter most. They are “found gold” at this time of year.

— And if you can’t get them, you win your conference tournament. That’s precisely where Rhode Island’s chances now lie, with Rhody’s flat tire performance against Fordham this week. Rams’ players and fans were undoubtedly down after dropping a home game last week to Atlantic-10 favorite Dayton, but to not show up against Fordham?

— It starts at the top, and at the top is the head coach. He sets the tone, the tempo and the attitude. The Rams need to win what few games they have left with cache (VCU is one), and at least reach the final of the A-10 tournament in Pittsburgh. It’s do-able, but there is no more margin for error as the regular season winds down.

— PC is probably in the same boat – only the Friars at least have an oar to paddle with. The Rams’ chances of swimming upstream may rely upon the return of Jarvis Garrett at guard, and whether he can regain any sort of early season shape before February turns into March.

— Big East latest – seven teams in the dance? If the ACC can potentially put 10 teams (out of 14) into the tournament in a “down year,” the Big East can get seven invitations. I don’t see Georgetown (along with St. John’s and DePaul) as tourney teams – but then again, MSG may have something to say about this next month.

— New Bedford’s Bonzie Colson has had a big couple of weeks for 25th ranked Notre Dame, especially the last one. The 6-5 Colson – a junior who prepped at St. Andrews in Barrington, Rhode Island before matriculating to South Bend, Indiana – was named as the United States Basketball Writers Association National Player of the Week for the week past, which included a 27-point, 16 rebound effort in a win over Wake Forest.

— I’ll channel my inner Bob Lobel here – why can’t we get players like that? Colson is the son of former URI star – and current New Bedford hoop coach of the same name – Bonzie Colson.

— UConn’s women winning their 100th straight game this week is something right out of science fiction. 100 straight wins, without a loss? With only two games not decided by double digits? You can put this record – and it’s still going – right up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Nolan Ryan’s seven career no-hitters. Never. Will. Be. Broken.

— But I can also argue that something this astounding and newsworthy isn’t even good for the sport of women’s basketball. Sure, it attracts attention, which is always good a good thing. But wouldn’t that be because fans only want to see David slay Goliath?

— What about real, true competitiveness? Why would anyone want to see UConn stomp the **** out of someone night after night after night? Ho hum. I have better things to do with my time and money, if the outcome is predictable. Just sayin’.

— Yes, that’s on the other teams and programs in the sport. Kudos to Geno Auriemma and the UConn program for maintaining such a level of excellence that no one can presently match their success. Even if their dominance is a little like the Roman Empire.

— That did eventually fall, didn’t it?

— Going into Friday’s night’s skate with 15th ranked Notre Dame, PC’s 10th ranked hockey Friars have the second-longest winning streak in the country this season going for them – nine straight wins. Providence has outscored opponents 33-17 during this stretch, which has taken them from relative obscurity back into NCAA probability.

— A key to success? Getting the puck on the net, early and often. The Friars have outshot opponents 116-62 in the first period over the past nine games.

— The Friday and Saturday night skates in South Bend are the final meetings between the programs before the Irish weasel their way out of Hockey East at the end of this year, and slither into the Big 10. The move may save them travel expenses – which should never matter at ND. It won’t improve their hockey profile, however. If that matters.

— The Irish enter the weekend unbeaten in their last four games (3-0-1), and are currently one point ahead of PC in the Hockey East standings.

— Did anyone notice Mount St. Charles legend Bill Belisle recently securing his 1,000th win as head hockey coach? Apparently, NBC Sports did. The network will run a feature on Belisle’s tenure with the Mounties during one of the intermissions of Sunday’s national NHL broadcast of the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers. Face-off is scheduled for 12:30 pm.

— Notorious for his unwillingness to appear in any sort of spotlight, the interview was pre-recorded by his one-time pupil, former Mount star goalie Brian Boucher. Boucher played 13 seasons in the NHL, and now works for NBC Sports as an “Inside the Glass” commentator.

— Did we jump the gun on complaining about the Bruins’ handling of Claude Julien’s firing, and subsequent hiring of former Providence coach Bruce Cassidy? A 3-0 start for the B’s under Cassidy sure is a good start, but it may be more about the uncertainty surrounding the team than coaching tactics.

— We’re not denigrating Cassidy’s performance, but the players must know no one is safe at this stage. His tinkering and adjusting in the lineup, taking off a shackle here and there, is responsible for an energy boost, sure. But that will wear off as soon as – oh, I don’t know – the Bruins face the Canadiens?

— Claude Julien wasn’t out of work long, hired by Montreal this week after the Habs fired Michel Therrien. Can’t say I blame them one bit. But before revenge can become a factor, there’s a matter of four-games-in-seven-days next week for the Bruins to work through, first.

— I have one question as the Red Sox open training camp in Fort Myers. Where is Pablo Sandoval, and what did the skinny guy wearing his name on the back of a jersey do with him over the winter?

— The fact he came into camp this week saying the right things – “I have to prove everything” – is one thing. Doing it, under the glare of the Boston spotlight, is another.

— Didn’t take us long to start getting injury reports, did it? Of course, Drew Pomeranz and Steven Wright were hurt last year, and their recoveries aren’t yet complete. But make no mistake about it – their potential contributions may make the difference between being a playoff team, and a World Series contender.

— Stunned to hear Jerry Remy’s cancer is back. But not stunned to hear he’s going about his business of calling his game-schedule, without a hitch, for NESN. Good for him. His voice is an iconic start to spring and summer in New England.

— Yes, the Patriots’ free agent decisions are coming. No, don’t be surprised to see some real change to the roster. Out of 53 players on the 2014 Super Bowl team, only 23 made it as far as the next Super Bowl team from this season. Change is inevitable.

— Moves they should make – resign Dont’a Hightower. Now. Although I think he may get the franchise tag.

— Moves they shouldn’t make – bye, Logan Ryan. Someone will overpay for you. Let them.

— The Atlanta Zoo naming a baby, hissing cockroach after Tom Brady, to pay off a bet with Rhode Island’s Roger Williams Zoo? Downright disrespectful. Methinks we should have a few guys from Federal Hill visit those goombahs down south to straighten them out, even if it is kinda funny.

— Can the Celtics catch the Cavs? I’m asking my own rhetorical questions. Of course, they can. But will they? Another matter entirely. If Isaiah Thomas can continue his John Havlicek-like streak of scoring and leading (a franchise record 41 straight games of 20-plus points), they can.

— Those who think the Celtics would be better off without Jae Crowder are sadly mistaken. Use him as a trade chit? For what?

— Did you notice the news from NBC, with perennial do-everything guy Bob Costas stepping down as Olympics’ host? Costas is the Dick Clark of the sports world, as he clearly struck a deal with the devil over his boyish, younger looks at 64 years of age. He is still, however, one of the best interviewers in the TV game today. Hopefully, he’ll find a role he can glide into the sunset with.

— So. Who’s proud today that Rhode Island wackos-turned-politicos Sean Spicer and Michael Flynn have put the Ocean State on the political map? As in “wow, got to go up there to see if that whole state is as loony as these guys seem to be?”

— Do you think Spicer likes his Saturday Night Live impersonation from Melissa McCarthy? Laugh Out Loud funny. But not exactly flattering.

— Seriously. It’s a tough job, Presidential Press Secretary. I empathize – a little – with Spicer, having served as a gubernatorial spokesperson in a former life. But Mike Flynn? Dude. What gave you the idea collaborating with or befriending anyone who was a former Russian KGB agent was a good idea?

— My buddy Statbeast sez he chaperoned his kids’ recent field trip to the local police station, and while there an officer pointed out the photos on the wall of the “10 Most Wanted” by the FBI. One of the kids pointed to a particularly scary-looking character’s mug shot on the wall, and asked “he is the MOST wanted in the USA?” The officer replied that yes, he was MOST wanted. So, the kid responded with “well, why didn’t you keep him when you took his picture?”

— It always gets back to the referees. Providence’s Michael Stephens is one of the best in the Division I, high-major game today. John Cahill, Tim Higgins and Jim Burr were three of the best college basketball officials in the country for an extended number of years, from before the beginnings of the Big East Conference in the 1970’s up until two or three seasons ago when all three decided to retire from running up and down a hardwood floor.

— All three were also reviled by most of the Big East fan base, all three had run-ins and confrontations with Hall of Fame coaches and all-American players – but that only means they were simply doing their jobs.

— Burr told the Albany Times-Union when he retired from active officiating in 2015 that the Big East games “were hard. Back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, every night was a dog fight. Those games were really hard. The old Big East games, coaches, competition, I don’t know if you’ll ever repeat.”

— Cahill is now the Supervisor of Officials for the Big East, working in a consortium with the ACC, Atlantic-10 and Colonial Athletic Association where the four leagues “share” crews to cut down on travel and logistical problems. Higgins and Burr are fully retired from blowing the whistle; Higgins retired before the 2013 season started, Burr stepped away just two years ago. The pair have 26 combined Final Fours to their officiating credit. But Burr hasn’t stepped away entirely, however, as he now scouts potential refs for the NCAA to hire.

— Oh, great. Jim Burr looking for more Jim Burrs. Just what I needed to keep me awake at night.

— Ralph from Johnston, Rhode Island posted on Facebook this week, on the NIT instituting experimental rules for the upcoming post-season: “Why not just make it simple and play four 10 minute quarters? Wouldn’t that make the timing easier to keep and make it less confusing?” Ralph: Of course it would. But college basketball likes the traditional two-half set up, and doesn’t want to go the way of the NBA (or the women’s college game, for that matter), so the NIT will be resetting team fouls at the 10-minute mark of each half – giving the appearance of quarter play without the clock saying so. What I don’t like is the end of the “one-and-one” free throw opportunity, as teams will get two shots after four team fouls in the 10-minute period. One and one means you must earn the second shot, make one to get another one. College basketball shouldn’t like anything that’s not earned. In fact – nobody should like anything that’s not earned. Amiright?

— 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 john.rooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke …

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