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Thinking out Loud: Can’t get much better than March Madness

03.17.17 at 11:58 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering what happened in that second half in Dayton?

— Madness, you say? I’m not sure there’s any other explanation for what gets witnessed at this time of year, seemingly every year. It’s four of the best sports days, consecutively, on the calendar every March. Heck, throw the First Four into the mix too, while you’re at it.

— We avoid getting any real work done. We all pretend like we’re experts in bracketology, even if we don’t know the difference between a Tiger and a Tar Heel. We exult in correct predictions and victories, and agonize over the misses and defeats. Yes, the public goes mad at this time of year. Friar fans might be madder.

— I’m not sure that’s entirely fair, however. Friar fans also know their team this season was full of relative inexperience and imperfection. They could be brilliant at times, like in the first half against USC in Dayton Wednesday night. And they could be maddeningly careless and unemotional, like in the second half against USC in Dayton Wednesday night.

— So, yes. Wednesday night was a microcosm of the entire season for Providence. Potential and failure right there for everyone to see in all its raw, emotional splendor – including a national television audience. Painful? Absolutely. Promising? Equally so. Just sayin’.

— I’ll step out on a limb right now – PC has the chance to be special next season, with everyone returning for Ed Cooley, save for walk on senior Casey Woodring. And with the addition of two freshmen big men (6-11 Dajour Dickens, 6-8 Nate Watson), the Friars have a chance to return the inside punishment that USC put on their rear ends in that second half in Dayton.

— How special? How about Sweet 16 special? How about Big East regular season title special? For anyone feeling this could be a reach, why dream if you can’t dream big? Of course, this also puts pressure on a team that didn’t handle it very well at times this year.

— Time to get better. Time to address team needs, and they are – in no particular order: Strength. Toughness. More Shooting. Rebounding. Taking better care of the ball. Free Throws. Mindset. Attitude.

— There are few particulars from Wednesday night’s First Four Flop worth holding onto, except for one – the feeling the team left the floor with to go into the locker room. If there is any heart, any soul, any competitiveness in those players, they’ll let that feeling drive them through the summer right into next fall. And they’ll be ready.

— Four straight NCAA appearances is big to build on. It’s never happened before in the storied, 90-year history of Providence College basketball. PC is also now one of 17 schools in the country that has reached four or more consecutive Dances.

— And with the hockey team anticipating an NCAA invitation of their own, Providence could be just the 4th school in history to send BOTH hoops and hockey to four straight tournaments in the same four years.

— Huzzah’s and kudos to the City of Dayton and their organizing committee. The First Four is complete class, first rate, and now a big part of March Madness overall. After doing it for 17 years, they’ve got a handle on running a successful event, and their fans turn out regardless of who’s playing.

— Not for nuthin’, but a note to the NCAA – the same could be had if you give some cities the chance to organize and host EVERY year. Like Providence and the Dunkin Donuts Center? C’mon Dan Gavitt, you could make this happen, amiright?

— Friar sightings in Dayton – Austin Croshere, who worked the PC game and the other First Four contests on national radio for Westwood One; the aforementioned Gavitt, who serves as the VP of Basketball for the NCAA; former PC graduate assistant coach Michael Swets, who served under former coach Keno Davis and is now the Director of Basketball Ops for USC; former center Randall Hanke, who has travelled on and off with the team this season and is considering a graduate assistant career of his own.

— Tom Crean’s firing at Indiana is sure to open discussion within several Big East circles, namely at Xavier (Chris Mack) and at Butler (Chris Holtmann). And don’t forget Archie Miller at Dayton. That’s fine. But unless a coach is a hyper-personality – that is, someone who needs the untold pressure to constantly push him forward – he’ll fail there. Or, die trying to win there. Super-egos only need apply.

— Indiana is one of those programs where reality can no longer meet expectation. Providence was one of those places, with fans and supporters – not to mention the administration – once buried in some 1960’s and ‘70’s time warp. Now? The light at the end of the tunnel might not be an oncoming train any longer.

— URI’s travels westward to Sacramento appeared to be as uneventful as the blizzard that was supposed to hit us earlier in the week.

— Did I miss something, or wasn’t this week supposed to be another “snowmageddon?” Best job in the media? TV weatherman, of course. You get paid to predict, right or wrong. And I like all of Rhode Island’s guys and gals. They’re all swinging like Ted Williams – and hitting about .406.

— As for the Rams in California against Creighton, it was anything but uneventful. URI’s fortune might be PC’s misfortune, however. 7-foot freshman center Justin Patton had a terrible game against the Rams, so who knows if he’ll still be the NBA lottery pick many expect him to be. Patton and Creighton uncharacteristically missed a lot of open shots – some of those a credit to Rhody’s defense – and generally continued their late-season malaise.

— But give credit to URI. Tough, talented and healthy. They stood up and smacked the Bluejays right in the mouth, for their first tournament win in 19 years. Nice way to re-enter the NCAA’s after a long absence. And opportunity exists against an Oregon team Sunday not swinging fully healthy, either.

— Looking ahead, URI will be in the NIT next season – the pre-season NIT during Thanksgiving Week, that is. The NIT Season Tip-Off will be at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, and the Rams will be there along with Virginia, Vanderbilt and Seton Hall. Four NCAA teams – that’s solid for Rhody’s non-league schedule next year.

— And if Friar fans can’t or couldn’t root for the Rams, you could root for Dan Hurley’s father Bob, the Hall of Fame coach from St. Anthony’s in New Jersey. He may not be able to coach his team next year as he turns 70. Why? Because the school may close, facing a financial crisis. Showtime has documented the story, and Hurley’s career may be forced to end after more than 40 years.

— Love this – and it won’t help readership, perhaps. Villanova’s Jay Wright has, for years now, rounded up his players’ technology (laptops, iPad’s and now smartphones) every night before a tournament game. Why? Because “they’re kids. They don’t know how to focus,” Wright told the Wall Street Journal. Bingo! Wright has bingo.

— Did a lack of focus hurt PC? Seton Hall? Creighton? Often in the Big East, the regular season is so intense, there’s little gas left in the tank at the end. The natural let down is overwhelming. In the Pirates’ case against Arkansas, they were just dumb at the end. URI was better than Creighton, minus Maurice Watson. And USC has the mojo running right now.

— Ran into our friend Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated and si.com in Dayton this week. He’s got an interesting piece up on the potential expansion for the American Athletic Conference in the next year or two – and maybe sooner. The target? Wichita State.

— The league is trying to rebuild its’ hoop profile, and the Shockers (shockingly) may have been left out of the NCAA Tournament this year if they had not won the Missouri Valley title. The AAC offers them a higher profile league, and of course, the potential for more money. What else?

— Ok, show of hands. Whose bracket bubble has already burst? C’mon now, be honest. There’s 18.8 million of you ESPN Tournament Challengers, bound to be a few screw ups.

— LaVar Ball, father of UCLA phenom Lonzo Ball, needs to close his trap. Or step up and take on Charles Barkley in that one-on-one match. I get the feeling the senior Ball was very much like the Little League father and Youth Hockey dad we all loathed in days gone by.

— Would Lonzo then become a big distraction (thanks, Dad) for the Celtics if he were to be drafted by Boston? Is the Pope a Catholic?

— Love the spin from some of the teams in the NIT, like Syracuse and some of the Orange fans. Now the NIT has competitive games? Worthy of attention? While it’s true the caliber of competition has improved with mid and low-major conference champs getting automatic bids, it’s also true Syracuse now cares because they’re playing in it – one year removed from the NCAA Final Four.

— The Orange have become soft and fuzzy – on the floor and in the stands – since they left the East. Tobacco and too much BBQ will do that to you, I hear. I said this earlier in the season, and got hammered for it. Pardon me while I pat myself on the back.

— I could not be less interested in the women’s NCAA Tournament, aka the UConn Invitational. Wake me up when someone becomes competitive against the Huskies. In the meantime, Connecticut, enjoy your reign over a fiefdom few care about – outside of your state.

— And I love the sport. But maybe I’m in the minority – UConn’s dominance is impressive and historic, but terrible for the growth of women’s basketball as a viable entity on the current sports calendar. Watch women’s hoops? Nah, got better things to do. UConn will win, anyway.

— Who else got the feeling that the Patriots’ signings this week seemed like Bill Belichick was simply going to the grocery store?

— Of the most active teams in the opening days of NFL free agency, believe it or not, the Patriots weren’t alone at the top of the list. Jacksonville – which certainly needs a lot of attention and has nowhere else to go but “up” – also signed almost $70 million worth of new players.

— Rex Burkhead’s signing at running back effectively replaces Brandon Bolden’s role, as Bolden remains a free agent. But his contract is high (3.15 million, 1 year), so he’ll definitely get a work out on special teams as well.

— Which means the Patriots are still in need of another RB to do the bulk of the work. Can LeGarrette Blount still be in the mix? Only if LG doesn’t mind a subservient role, and contract, again.

— Boomtower is back where he belongs. Don’t believe for a minute he was serious about the Jets, or the Steelers, or the Titans. In fact, they all expected him to return to New England. That the Patriots still paid him well is a testament to how team and player feel about each other.

— That, and winning still rates highly with the highly paid.

— What about Malcolm Butler? The Patriots would love to have him back, at his $3.91 million tender. Them’s the rules, Malcolm, can you live with them? Better yet, can you play with them?

— But grow up, and sign your tender. Life won’t move on for you until you do – whether it’s with the Patriots, Saints or someone else.

— New England has zero picks until the 3rd round of this year’s draft? Yeah, that’ll last. Cleveland, Patriots Nation turns its lonely eyes to you – to do something completely foolish. We have, um, this quarterback you might like.

— ICYMI, the Vegas odds for the Patriots to win Super Bowl LII before free agency started at 5-1. Now, they’re 4-1. He who hesitates is lost.

— Should we have any concern over David Price’s elbow health? Yes. Yes, we should. Something smells cheesy in the locker room here, and I’m not talking about the sweat socks.

— What’s the big deal? Rick Porcello should be the opening day starter. He earned it. When was the last time a Cy Young winner didn’t start on Opening Day for the same team he won the award for the previous season?

— I’m anxious and eager to see Chris Sale pitch too, but please. Let’s settle down and let the guy acclimate naturally to the overanxious and unreasonable expectations that already exist in New England, okay?

— I like it. Eduardo Rodriguez said “no” to Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, so he could remain in spring training with the Red Sox. This is a guy who knows he’s got a chance to be big this season. One man’s misfortune (Price) is another’s opportunity.

— Speaking of the WBC, anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

— Henry Owens is hanging precariously onto his Red Sox cap. It’s almost as if he has Daniel Bard Disease – can’t find the strike zone. Still think Brian Johnson has real value in the long term for the big club, but pitching in minor league games will give him the innings he needs to continue to refine his stuff. Both were cut from the big club this week, and are now with the Pawsox.

— Very happy, like most New Englanders, to know that the vaunted Citgo sign is going to remain a skyline landmark in Boston. It’s been there since 1940. Just know that the company that purchased the building where the sign is located, Related Beal, held a “loaded gun” to the heads of the oil company, asking for approximately 10 times the rent they had previously paid.

— Does that qualify as payback for the oil companies sticking it to us in the gas tank?

— Did you see where the US women’s national hockey team is sitting out the World Championships? You can take issue with these players for not standing up for their country when given the chance, but consider this – they’re standing up for themselves.

— At stake – fair wages, support and opportunity for women from USA Hockey. Which currently has no comment. Stupid is as stupid does.

— As a college professor, I must admit, I was startled when I received a students’ exam the other day with a $100 bill attached. A note written on the paper said “One dollar per point, please.” So I returned the quiz to the student with 40 bucks and my own note – “Here’s your $40 change.”

— No, I didn’t keep the money. Sheesh. Can’t take money from a college kid, no matter the lesson you try to teach.

— Ray in Manassas, Virginia was quick to point out on Facebook again this week about the Friars: “(The USC game) was like watching an 18-minute slow motion train wreck in the second half. To dream that we could put together two halves someday. Why we need to continue to recruit height.” Ray: Yes, you could feel the momentum turn, as well as heads, when the Trojans went big with their three 6-10, 6-11, 6-10 guys at once. Why the Friars decided to stop attacking the rim is part of the reason why they lost. You beat the bigs by attacking them. And by recruiting them as you suggest, yes. They’ve done that for next season. Read above.

— 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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