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Thinking out loud: Celtics need to start playing defense 04.21.17 at 5:56 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to home court/ice advantage?

— Defense, anyone?

— The Celtics’ lack of defensive effort was never this obvious during the regular season. But then again, this Celtics’ team relied pretty much on the play of one person (hello, Isaiah Thomas) to get them to 50 wins.

— When you have the equivalent of 82 one-game seasons, you can get away with masking your shortcomings. In a seven game (or less) series, there is no running, no hiding from your opponent, or their ability to match up and beat you up.

— Are the Celtics a top seeded team? Not on your life. They just happened to end up with the best overall record in the East. Cleveland showed us all a week or so ago who the best team is in the conference. The equivalent of basketball fools’ gold.

— The NBA Eastern Conference regular season is a complete sham, really. How else do you explain the ease with which 8th seeded Chicago whacks #1 Boston – especially on the backboards? The C’s are the first top seed to lose the first two games of a series to the bottom seed since the first-round expanded to seven games.

— Rondo’s revenge? Pretty much. I can see why he’d be ultra-motivated. And now he’s got a broken thumb? Maybe he’s getting out at the right time.

— I realize Brad Stevens isn’t much of a screamer, a non-emotional type. But maybe the guy is 2-10 in the post-season (going into Friday) for a reason? Maybe laying into someone every so often would send a different message? ‘Cuz I can think of a couple of guys who could use a good attitude adjustment right about now.

— It’s a nice achievement for this Boston team to win 50 games in the regular season, sure. The team is still a work-in-progress, and the immediate future is all positive. But now? They’re frauds. It’s better to win in the playoffs, or have we forgotten about that part?

— I’ve long thought the NBA game has steadily digressed over the past 30 years. It has. And the Celtics are a perfect example of what a lack of fundamentals will do to you. No defense, no rebounding, no answers. Chuck it up, and hope for the best.

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Thinking out loud: Division I college recruiting game is crap-shoot 04.14.17 at 6:00 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to my favorite Centerfold?

— The Division I college recruiting game is such a crap-shoot. Sure, coaches scout and recognize talent, then try to convince a 17 or 18-year-old kid that his (or her) school is the place they should spend their formative years. And if the kid doesn’t end up meeting the coaches’ expectations?

— Nothing, really. The kid gets a free ride to school, and if the coach misses on more than they correctly guess upon, the coach is often looking for another job. 30, 40 and 50+ year old adults constantly, year after year, put their fate squarely on the shoulders of 18-year-old kids who have a hard-enough time deciding between burgers at In-N-Out and Shake Shack.

— What does this say about coaches? And for the record, I’ll take In-N-Out, animal style. But Shake Shack is coming on strong.

— At any rate, Providence received a verbal commitment from a pretty good basketball recruit this week, 6-2 point guard Makai Ashton-Langford. The “experts” say he’s one of the best in the country at his position, and that he could be the best player to pick PC since Kris Dunn (and Ricky Ledo) chose the Friars in 2012.

— Sounds great, amiright? If, of course, he lives up to the heavy burden of expectation which is presently being placed upon his shoulders. Fair or not, that’s what happens when kids hyped-up by these so-called adult experts eventually land on a campus. Not everyone winds up living happily ever after.

— But Friar fans could also end up being very happy that Ashton-Langford landed on THEIR campus, after once telling UConn he was first headed to Storrs. Time will tell, of course.

— What’s the trickle-down effect? More (and better) recruits coming your way is what a program hopes for. But unless you’ve been one of the true blue-bloods of the college game, where your brand and logo mean as much as your talent level, it’s difficult to maintain a competitive advantage when everyone has playing time to sell to elite athletes.

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Thinking out loud: Already some issues with Red Sox 04.07.17 at 2:40 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering why I have to wait to be happy?

— Happy New Year! It’s Red Sox opening week, and we already have issues to address with this team. Would we want it any other way? And don’t you just love the smell of fresh cut grass and antiseptic rub in the morning?

— Chris Sale is the real deal, if his first start is any indication. We anticipated as much. But are defined roles important for the guys behind the starters in the bullpen? Why do they need to be? If a pitcher has the hot hand and has been throwing BB’s, why can’t he be plugged in where needed?

— For instance, Joe Kelly has been impressive with his pitch command and velocity, but does anyone really believe he’ll keep it up? Not a knock on Kelly, really. Just a realistic viewpoint, based on case history. His role – his job – is likely to shift as the season progresses.

— This whole idea of “roles” is overrated. Know your role? Nah. This team’s role is to produce, and to win. That’s the role everyone should get behind.

— Where did Sandy Leon come from? I mean, I know where he came from (Washington), but he wasn’t supposed to be the #1 catcher, was he? He won’t hit .625 (like he was hitting mid-week) all season, but if he can hit half of that, there’s no reason to bump him from his spot.

— Dave Dombrowski has said it before, and it bears repeating – “you win with stars.” It’s true. But it’s the role players surrounding those stars that make (or break) a championship effort. It also can’t be one or two stars and 23 bums, either.

— Keep this in mind as spring turns into summer, and as the Red Sox figure out what else they may need to get where everyone seems to think they’re already going – and that’s to the post-season. Picking up pieces to solve a season-long puzzle must make sense, as well as cents.

— Sure, so Georgetown hires Patrick Ewing to be their new head basketball coach, as expected. But did you know that Dad cost his son a job? Patrick Junior was an assistant on John Thompson III’s staff, and while Patrick Senior wanted to bring him back, he can’t. Georgetown has a nepotism rule they apparently won’t waive. Gee, thanks Dad.

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Thinking out Loud: Don’t expect Ed Cooley to leave Providence 03.31.17 at 3:01 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering what kind of fools are April Fools?

— Kevin McNamara wrote about it in the Providence Journal this week – Ed Cooley’s name being thrown around like a rag doll in a play pen amongst college basketball program openings. Two words – “ain’t happening.”

— And two more. Just sayin’.

— Here’s one of the reasons why, unbeknownst to fretting Friar fans or the URI trolls who have tried to call me out on Twitter for being “biased.” Ha. Like they’re not? There’s been a long-held, unwritten rule in the Big East since the early days of the league under Dave Gavitt – coaches don’t jump ship within the conference.

— I had this conversation with Dave years ago – one of the basic tenets of the conference had to be loyalty to your school, sure. But also, loyalty to the league was important during its initial growth period.

— Gavitt wouldn’t allow coaches to entertain the thought of moving to a neighbor or a rival school, feeling a change like that could stir up too much emotion, bad blood, back-fighting and ill will. Rick Barnes had a possible chance, years ago, to pull a switch like this. Gavitt blocked it.

— Yes, I realize Gavitt isn’t around any longer to police these things. But the result of his wisdom and foresight is still in play today. It’s why you see (and feel) some of the comradery that still exists today among Big East membership – outside of the rock ‘em, sock ‘em conference games of course.

— Those are still wars, as hard-fought as any basketball seen over the past 35 years. But the programs pull for and support each other outside of league play as well as any conference possibly can. It’s one of the secret ingredients in Big East success through the years – collegiality.

— That’s a long, lost art in intercollegiate athletics. Conferences today are merely over-stuffed, media-driven conglomerates. True collegiality has long since disappeared. College athletics should try it again. Dave Gavitt proved it could actually work.

— Oh, and another reason why Ed Cooley wouldn’t appear on Georgetown’s front door step – loyalty. Not just loyalty to his family in Providence, or to his employers at PC, but also to his friends in the business. He’s fiercely loyal to his friends in the business. He considers ousted coach John Thompson III a friend; therefore, he simply wouldn’t step into a job vacated by a friend.

— And for those cynics already thinking “sure he would, if the money were too good to pass up?” You don’t know Ed Cooley. Now, he did tell the Journal this week that you never say “never,” citing family as one overriding issue, but Cooley-to-Georgetown is about as close to “never” as I am to winning the lottery, buying an island and disappearing from public view.

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Thinking out Loud: College basketball offseason can be tough time for some 03.24.17 at 7:35 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to The Gong Show?

— The off-season for college basketball can be a tumultuous time. Player transfers. Coaching changes. It’s a good thing PC’s off-season begins with the celebration of accomplishment from the year just gone by – and Ed Cooley’s selection as the NABC District 5 Coach of the Year.

— What is this? It’s your peers (the National Association of Basketball Coaches) recognizing what you’ve done in your own backyard. And out of the six seasons Cooley has had the Friar program, reaction has been universal. It’s been his best work yet.

— Although, it isn’t (and hasn’t) been without some bumps on the road map. Sophomore Ryan Fazekas is leaving the team, aced out of playing time largely by transfer Isaiah Jackson and freshman Alpha Diallo. It is unfortunate, but Fazekas was never the same after his freshman year bout of mono took him from the team after his first month of play.

— This is also the reality of big time, high-major college sports. Those who produce, play. And even though Fazekas contributed in spots this season (most notably at Marquette) there simply wasn’t the consistency needed from his position. And his situation wasn’t going to improve.

— I recall visiting with Fazekas’ father last year at Butler as Ryan was prepared to return to the team from his illness. He told me Ryan loved Providence, loved the guys on the team, and was very anxious to make an impact. He should know his son’s attitude is what stood out, if not his ability to shoot the ball, and I wish him well.

— This means an open scholarship is now available for next season. It may very well go to a freshman-to-be scoring guard, but I’d be surprised if the Friars don’t seriously dig for a graduate transfer at the spot. Someone who can shoot, but also break down a defense and compliment Kyron Cartwright’s ability to penetrate is what next year’s team will need. Just sayin’.

— ICYMI, the Providence-USC First Four game in Dayton was the most-watched of the first round/First Four games on TV. More than 1.6 million viewers tuned in at some point. They missed a heck of a show on the radio, don’t ya’ know.

— Who else thought URI’s finish in the 2nd round against Oregon was eerily similar to what happened to PC against USC? Once the game started to slip from their grasp, you knew it would be hard to get it back.

— What’s next for Rhody? Finding a replacement for Hassan Martin’s inside game and toughness must be at the top of the list. E.C. Matthews is staying on for his 5th year. That’s as good, or better, than anything else.

— Did it dawn on you how much “fun” it was to have two schools dancing at the same time? That hadn’t happened in 20 years, and should happen a lot more often than that. I’ll wager that it will, and perhaps as soon again as next year.

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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?

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Thinking Out Loud: Providence should still be all set to get into NCAA Tournament 03.10.17 at 11:01 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to a member of the “Brady Six,” Chad Pennington?

— Maybe he should have been selected by his fellow Big East coaches as the COY. The job Ed Cooley has done with this Providence team is easily his best effort in the six seasons he’s been the head coach of the Friars. Preseason picked for ninth? Finished third? Lost two players to the NBA draft? Cultivated another Most Improved Player in the Big East? Just sayin’.

— While Butler’s Chris Holtmann is also very deserving, a media straw poll conducted in New York this week gave Cooley the nod as Big East Coach of the Year. Fitting that NBCSports.com also thought likewise.

— Regardless of Thursday night’s result against Creighton, the Friars should be all set for Selection Sunday. A month ago, they were all set to watch everyone else get invited. Now, it matters little where they’re seeded, or who they play. You want a gravy game? A gravy year? This is it.

— But what a time to throw a stink bomb into the NCAA party. It was as if the Friars hadn’t played a game in a month, or worse yet, hadn’t seen a basketball in a month, either. Thursday night’s mess against Creighton was as self-inflicted as hoop wounds can get – turnovers and missed free throws. You control those, the other guys not-so-much.

— Providence, right now, is still the better team. And that’s not dumping on the BlueJays. The Friar defense is good.

— But if they reach the NCAA’s, they’ve got to remember they’re the better team and play like one. Or it will be a very short stay, wherever they play.

— Good move by CBS to shorten the selection show by 30 minutes, and get the brackets released in the first hour of the program. Last year’s production was abominable in the way it unfolded, and interminable with the interviews prior to the entire bracket being announced. Now, the key to true success is in the execution of the new plan. Somebody needs a quick finger on Charles Barkley’s microphone.

— In the Big East’s opening round Thursday, who else thought they were caught in a 1985-time warp, when Georgetown Hoyas suddenly surrounded St. John’s’ Chris Mullin? Emotion? You could cut it with a knife at that moment.

— That PC’s Kyron Cartwright earned 2nd team all-Big East honors wasn’t a surprise. Most Improved Player? Absolutely. But Rodney Bullock’s honors seemed to surprise some – except for right here. Bullock’s numbers were consistently in the league Top 10 throughout the season. Maybe the surprise was in the expectation?

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Thinking Out Loud: Providence basketball getting hot at right time 03.03.17 at 5:53 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering what Keno Davis is up to?

— Providence’s unlikely surge into the postseason has become a small tidal wave. With a win Saturday at St. John’s, which will be no easy feat, the Friars could finish as high as the 3rd seed. Incredible, really, for a team that was picked ninth in the pre-season by the Big East coaches.

— It also keeps alive a streak of the Friars finishing higher than their preseason selection in each of Ed Cooley’s six seasons as head coach. Don’t be shocked to see his name mentioned in off-season coaching searches over the next month or two.

— Five straight Big East wins last happened three years ago, during the run to the tournament championship led by Bryce Cotton. Six in a row? Last occurred in 2004, before an NCAA flop to Pacific. Let’s just say – it isn’t a common occurrence in this league.

— St. John’s whipped the Friars at home to the tune of 91 points with an all-freshman backcourt at the end of January. Better that it’s PC with something to play for than the Johnnies at this stage of the game – but don’t discount St. John’s next week. All they need is a crack in the door.

— As for handicapping the Big East Tournament next week – I’ll take Villanova. It will be hard for Butler to beat them again if they reach the finals, having won twice against the Wildcats already. Sleeper? Marquette, if not the red-hot Friars. Those guys can light it up.

— What are PC’s NCAA tournament odds? Going into Saturday, they’re solid. 11 Top 100 wins, six Top 50 wins in the RPI beats all-comers at the Friars’ end of the spectrum. But Providence has been snubbed before, so a word of advice – don’t leave the dance invite in the hands of the chaperones. Earn it, by finishing strong.

— And that, in itself, is truly an unexpected pleasure coming from this college basketball season. While Ed Cooley is very much deserving of Big East Coach of the Year, my bet is on Butler’s Chris Holtmann, if not Villanova’s Jay Wright.

— Another pleasure this year – the home crowds at the Dunkin Donuts Center. While overall attendance is down from last year’s Dunn & Bentil pro show, the Big East attendance averaged nearly 11,000 fans per game. The student section was one of the best, if not THE best, I’ve seen in 29 years.

— Winning attracts crowds. Who knew? But the marketing department has also stepped it up, big time.

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Thinking Out Loud: Friars making run at NCAA Tournament 02.24.17 at 3:01 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud…while wondering whatever happened to Dougie McBuckets?

— Nothing like making it difficult for the decision-makers, at least when it comes to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (aka March Madness). Here come the Friars, charging hard from the outside.

— Providence’s win at Creighton Wednesday night in Omaha was exactly what PC’s tournament resume needed – a road win against a Top 25 team (also a Top 25 RPI team), and another mark in the left-hand column that gets the Friars closer to .500 in the Big East. But it ain’t over yet.

— Kyron Cartwright’s aggressive offensive play = Providence is a pretty good team. No less an expert on good teams than UConn’s Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun told myself and the Journal’s Kevin McNamara as much this week. So, is that why the current Huskies keep ditching the Friars on future schedules?

— The Friars DO have six Top 50 RPI wins this season, which as we’ve been told recently, is at the TOP of the selection committee’s wish list – Top 50 RPI victories. They also DO have two bad losses, to Boston College and DePaul, that smudge the current resume.

— The only cure for that – is to keep winning. If Providence can do that, and get to a .500 minimum in league play, a school-record 4th straight NCAA tournament is in play. And if the Friars keep winning, this year may be Ed Cooley’s best coaching job in the six seasons he has been at PC, when you consider pre-season expectations.

— Villanova failed to clinch a record 4th straight regular season Big East crown, as Butler (Butler?!?) beat the Wildcats for a 2nd time this season, and the Bulldogs are now responsible for two of Nova’s three defeats. Whoa.

— The Big East now has a legit seven teams in position for post-season play in the NCAA field of 68. That’s an astounding 70 percent of your conference membership. The league, lest we forget, also produced last seasons’ national champ in Villanova. Those who once thought the Big East dead a few years ago, are looking a bit foolish today.

— Or, they’re just plain dumb. Stupid is as stupid does.

— URI’s win over LaSalle Tuesday night was big on two fronts – one, it avenged an earlier, somewhat surprising loss to the Explorers at the Ryan Center; two – the Rams showed some defensive strength that will be needed, if not required, to make a serious push into the post-season.

— While it is true the Rams have only managed to have their pre-season starting five available for 11 of the 26 games (through midweek) they’ve played this season, injuries and illness are a part of every team – every year. Some are luckier than others. Those that aren’t as fortunate need to find other ways to succeed – and in URI’s case, it starts with defense.

— Is late better than never? Or will it not make a difference for Rhody?

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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.

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