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Thinking Out Loud: Defense fuels Providence basketball’s early season success 12.09.16 at 5:34 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering if ad execs, TV producers and power brands ever realize that “less” actually can mean “more.”

— Don’t look now, but the Providence Friars might be one of the surprise teams this season — not just in the Big East, but in all of college hoopdom. A win over a nationally ranked URI Rams team opened some eyes in several corners of the country.

— And just why is this Friars version better than originally thought or hoped for? One word: defense. These kids take to it like a duck takes to water. Defense is all about desire, even if it takes some talent to play it well. Defensive stops lead to offensive transition, which for a team still searching for scoring options is the best option of all.

— But the shooting? Whoa. Fourteen 3’s the other night against the Bears shouldn’t be considered the norm, but it sure is a bonus.

— The road ahead for PC shapes up quite nicely, if the Friars can MTOB (mind their own business). UMass, Maine, UConn-killing Wagner and at Boston College — if all plays out to form — should have the team on or at least near the cusp of the Top 25 again (!) as the Friars travel to Xavier to open league play later this month.

— Not for nuthin’, but young teams traditionally experience growing pains. So, without big expectations, this season already has been fun to watch. It could get a lot funner from here.

— Rodney Bullock’s Big East Player of the Week honor should thrust him into the spotlight as one of the league’s go-to guys. Strange that he wasn’t considered potential all-Big East before the year began. What do these coaches look at, exactly, that they couldn’t tell this before the season started?

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Thinking Out Loud: Bryant basketball blunder puts Bulldogs in spotlight 12.02.16 at 5:39 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Bonzie Colson.

— The old saying that “bad PR is better than no PR” is applicable in the case of Bryant basketball this week. Did you catch the end of the game at Brown? You should have by now, it was all over social media — even ESPN and Deadspin picked up on it.

— ICYMI, Bryant freshman Ikenna Ndugba thought his team was leading in the game’s frantic final seconds, when in actuality his team trailed by a point. Ndugba’s miscalculation and inadvertent celebration led to Brown’s big come-from-behind 91-90 win Monday night. Ouch.

— A teachable moment for coach Tim O’Shea? Sure. Keep your head in the game, son. Keep your head in the game. And, freshmen will make mistakes. Count on them. Hopefully, not too many game-ending-in-a-defeat mistakes, like this one.

— On the positive side for the Bulldogs, sophomore guard Nisre Zouzoua (say it fast five times) was named the Northeast Conference Player of the Week for averaging 25 points per game over three games last week. So there is that. If you need an entertaining, phonetic challenge at all, just follow Bryant basketball for a while.

— URI had the chance to come up large at Valparaiso this week but came up short instead. It is true — and Rhody fans might not want to hear this — but good teams find a way to win road games. Tuesday night’s loss in Indiana was a missed opportunity. You know when the next shot is, right?

— E.C. Matthews is, indeed, struggling after missing the last year due to his knee injury. He’s not the same player he was, and that’s not surprising. Rhody fans had best hope I just jinxed the Friars for Saturday, and that Matthews has his come-to-Jesus breakout performance against PC.

— Jared Terrell is carrying the Rams right now. But he needs offensive help, and he’ll get effort from Hassan Martin in that regard. Kuran Iverson needs to stay out of foul trouble, and someone on the team needs to be able to hit a clutch shot. Win or lose Saturday, the Rams most likely will fall out of the AP Top 25 next week after a four-week run, the second-longest in program history.

— There’s plenty of time and opportunity left to be NCAA good — but it’s got to start somewhere, some time. Just sayin’.

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Thinking Out Loud: URI needs more balance to crack college basketball elite 11.25.16 at 9:05 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering what I am truly thankful for this year.

— Let’s start this week by saying I’m thankful Rhode Island has college basketball as a marquee sport in this state. Largely ignored elsewhere in New England — and I don’t consider Connecticut real New England, more like Eastern New York — high-level hoops have always been the goal, and more often than not, the reality, too.

— For a hoop-head like me, having watched it, played it and covered it for a half-century, it’s nirvana. When our teams are among the best, the games and the seasons go by way too fast.

— URI’s matchup with then-No. 1-ranked Duke last week at Mohegan Sun was a bit anticlimactic, but then again, Duke has always had a way of making things anticlimactic — by beating up on you.

— The Rams didn’t play poorly, but the Rams also didn’t play well enough to beat one of the best — even without several of their best players. Imagine what the Blue Devils will be like when they’re healthy?

— The good teams — the really good, elite teams — always have a way of picking themselves up when they’re down. Duke’s defense on E.C. Matthews was a decided factor, as the Blue Devils realized Matthews could NOT go off if Duke was to win. Mission accomplished, even if some of it was self-inflicted by Matthews.

— Rhode Island is a good team, make no mistake about that. The win over Cincinnati is a great start. But if the Rams are to challenge and beat the elite, they’ll need everyone to contribute. That’s no surprise. They also might need more of that defensive effort used to get back into the Duke game more often. Plenty of time to work on things as the season unfolds, with a big date at the Dunk looming.

— Next season the Rams will face some of the elite in the NIT Season Tip-Off during Thanksgiving week, with the tournament field announced this week. Returning to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, URI will be joined by Virginia (ACC), Seton Hall (Big East) and Vanderbilt (SEC). In order to be a big dog, you’ve got to run with the big dogs.

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Thinking Out Loud: Promising start for PC basketball 11.18.16 at 5:34 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Tawny Kitaen?

— Providence’s debut against Vermont definitely was a positive surprise. There were no “deer in the headlights” looks from the younger players, but more of a “we belong” feel to the play on the floor. Oh, they’ll have some moments this year, good and not-so-good, but they DO have talent.

— Game 2 at Ohio State was a different story. The Buckeyes are long, strong and physical, and basically punished PC in the paint during the first half Thursday night in a 72-67 PC loss. Freshman Kalif Young (6-foot-9) has ability, but he’s simply not ready — yet. And without Emmitt Holt, who was in foul trouble, the Friars had no answers for dribble-penetration from the strong OSU guards and forwards.

— We did say there would be nights like this. But Rodney Bullock (career-high 27 points) will keep his team in games, and the Friars will have their chances. A school record-tying low of three turnovers against OSU also will keep you in plenty of games as well.

— Junior guard Kyron Cartwright, who has assumed command of the team from Kris Dunn at the point, was a leader in the Big East a year ago (as a backup) in assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s averaging 10 dimes per game already this season.

— Think OSU (58K undergraduate students) and PC (3,800 undergrads) have anything in common? The only retired jersey that the Ohio State hockey program has is No. 22, hanging in the rafters of the Value City Arena where the hockey Buckeyes also play their home games with the basketball team. That No. 22 belonged to 1984 All-American Paul Pooley — who coached the Hockey Friars from 1994-2005. Pooley is currently the associate head coach at Notre Dame.

— Remember Randall Hanke, the 6-11 Friars big man who bridged the Tim Welsh and Keno Davis coaching eras at PC? After his graduation from school in 2009, and following a seven-year career playing overseas (Scotland, Spain, Denmark, Hungary, Finland, Germany, Great Britain) Hanke now is a volunteer assistant for Ed Cooley’s staff this season and considering a coaching career for himself.

— Cooley once recruited Hanke while he was at Boston College under Al Skinner (in 2003-04), losing that battle to Welsh at the time. What goes around, comes around.

— WANE-TV in Fort Wayne, Indiana, reported this week that after his 27-point, 10-rebound performance for the Mad Ants, former Friar Ben Bentil is leaving the NBADL team on a 60-day contract to play overseas — and make some quid — apparently in China. The team expects Bentil to return to the Mad Ants after his 60-day deal expires, but it first needs a formal approval from the D-League.

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Thinking Out Loud: Expect up-and-down season from young Friars squad 11.11.16 at 5:40 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud . . . while wondering whatever happened to leisure suits?

— Providence basketball fans, if you’re wondering at all — or concerned at all — about the scrimmage at Northeastern (allegedly a loss), don’t be. Well, a little bit maybe. But here’s the thing: This is a young team that is going to experience ups and downs through the entire year. Hopefully, more ups than downs. But get ready to ride a roller coaster, right through the season into March.

— Good to see that sophomore guard Drew Edwards has been cleared to return to the floor, after offseason knee surgery. He’s still “day-to-day,” but the Friars need his intensity and defensive abilities. For this team to stay in games and win a few, defense must be a constant every night.

— Vermont comes in for the opener Monday night having already played a game, Saturday against Quinnipiac. It’s a bit of a disadvantage, but hey, what can you do? The Dunk wasn’t available for a Friday opener, thanks to the brilliant idea of bringing in something called the “Rhode Island Comic Con” over the weekend. There’s irony in that very statement, so I’ll just leave it at that.

— Don’t get me started on the Dunk not being a “true” home floor for Providence basketball. Pardon my Belichick, but, “It is what it is.” PC waits until Monday with a later start while the rest of the college basketball world plays on.

— Before opening Friday night with Dartmouth, URI scrimmaged in one of those “closed” deals at St. John’s last week, which probably was a pretty good litmus test for both. According to multiple sources, the Rams took the first half by 14 points, while the Johnnies claimed the second half by one. Means nothing, of course. But it definitely would have been fun to watch.

— Speaking of fun to watch, the Mohegan Sun Basketball Hall of Fame Tourney in Uncasville, Connecticut, should be a blast. Both Brown and URI are in it this year, but all eyes are pointing to a potential final that could have the 23rd-ranked Rams facing No. 1 Duke in the final. That building should be banged out — as a “home away from home” for Rhody. Must see.

— The Rams, however, had best not sleep on Cincinnati, who they get to face in the first game at the Casino arena. The Bearcats are the preseason pick over UConn, barely, to win the American Athletic Conference and boast preseason Player of the Year candidate Troy Caupain.

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Thinking Out Loud: Patriots continue to be forward-thinking with trade of Jamie Collins 11.04.16 at 5:46 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering what really happened to Reggie Wayne a year ago?

— How soon we forget? Through various means, Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork and others all left New England, seemingly still in their prime. The Patriots’ trading of Jamie Collins this week really shouldn’t have come as such a shock, even if it did.

— It shocked me, but upon further review, I get it. It may not make the Patriots a better defensive team right “now,” but since when do the Patriots ever deal in the “now”? They always look with an eye to the future, and that’s how they’ve stayed at a high, championship level for 16 seasons.

— In Bill Do You Trust? Ya gotta admit, his batting average is pretty good — right, Steve from Fall River? You and I might not make this deal, or any one of several others, but we’re not Bill Belichick, either. He’s not perfect — I wouldn’t have sent Seymour packing in 2009, for instance. Thought that move potentially cost NE another Super Bowl.

— Maybe this move costs the Patriots another? It doesn’t make the defense better today, but there still are eight games left on the schedule — plenty of time to reach a level of competency that, coupled with the offense, makes you championship-worthy.

— Here’s the deal, as far as I can tell: Collins wasn’t re-signing, at least not at the number the team wanted him to sign. Get what you can for him while you can. And to those who wonder why they wouldn’t have kept him around until the end of the year, it’s really quite simple. Based on the compensation they will receive from Cleveland (a compensatory third-round pick), they have the chance to cultivate that compensation and “grow it” at a much faster rate than if they waited until the season’s end.

— Plus, you have to wonder this: If Collins was worth a third-rounder to Cleveland, what did other teams think of him? Not as highly thought of, perhaps? So, did we overvalue his talent, ability and worth?

— Bottom line: It doesn’t matter what we think. Fantasy and reality often are mistaken for each other when it comes to player evaluation in pro football. Pardon me, but … it is what it is.

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Thinking Out Loud: Can’t fault RI prep football star Kwity Paye for spurning BC to attend Michigan 10.28.16 at 5:49 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering how many dead people I’ll see at the polls Nov. 8.

— The power of branding, networking, 100K (or more) rabid football fans per game, and winning — Bishop Hendricken defensive end Kwity Paye made news this week by choosing Michigan as his college football destination, after initially opting verbally for Boston College.

— Way better news on the youth football front than a 19-year-old “man” suiting up to play against 13- and 14-year-old kids, don’t you think?

— That Paye chose Big Blue over Big Irrelevant isn’t really the surprise, considering the current respective fortunes of each program.

— Not for nuthin’, but Michigan currently is ranked No. 2 in the country, while the Eagles haven’t won an ACC game in two seasons.

— Paye is following a coach who initially recruited him, Don Brown (a former coach at Brown, Northeastern, UMass and UConn), who was at BC for the past three years and now is in Ann Arbor. Kids play for coaches, not the school. The education part, sadly, means little. But in this case, Michigan is no educational slouch.

— Rhode Island high school football has placed an athlete with a Top 25 college program two straight years now, with former Mount Pleasant star Joseph Putu signing a year ago out of junior college with Florida.

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Thinking Out Loud: NFL’s bias against Patriots tough to overlook 10.21.16 at 5:46 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering why you care who Tom Brady votes for?

— The very fact that Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict received “only” a $75K fine from the NFL this week for his stomping of Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount this past Sunday — and nothing for his low blow on Martellus Bennett — should tell you all you need to know about how the league still feels about the Patriots.

— Suck it up, boys. Bend over, grab your ankles. Thank you sir, may I have another?

— Considering Burfict’s track record as a dirty player, considering his three-game suspension earlier THIS season for on-field safety violations, what more needs to happen here before justice actually prevails?

— Two things: One, the NFL needs to grow a pair and start doing things that make sense. But it won’t. It can’t. It’s the NFL’s world, and we’re just living in it. Two, someone will actually have to be decapitated, live, on the field. And even then, that might not do it.

— You know how I love a good conspiracy? I truly believe the league “likes” (or allows and looks the other way) behavior like this in some instances, in order to stir up controversy and interest. After all, ratings are down — 11 percent across the board from this time last year — and WAY down for the Thursday-Sunday-Monday night games.

— And therein lies at least part of the problem, methinks, behind the decrease in fan interest and/or ratings. Some are tired of the boorish behavior. Some are tired of controversy. Some are tired of the two-faced, speaking-from-both-sides-of-the-mouth, uneven, heavy-handed attitude shown by the NFL.

— Some also are tired of the proliferation of the sport on television, now working its way into the Twitterverse on Thursday nights, too.

— Not for nuthin’, but hardcore fans still are watching. Casual fans? Not so much, many turned off by the off-the-field headlines being made. The sideline protests against the national anthem, for example, have turned off many despite NFL beliefs to the contrary. And the current presidential election cycle has been more like watching WWE Raw, pulling away some potential football audience for the circus that has been Clinton-Trump.

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Thinking Out Loud: Providence gearing up to prove Big East coaches wrong 10.14.16 at 5:43 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Herschel Walker.

— With Midnight Madness/Late Night Madness largely a thing of the past for true college hoop aficionados, conference media days now signal the true start to a season. Or at least, the start of the college game’s PR push against the NFL and NBA — especially around here.

— Not for nuthin’, but I miss the days (years?) when fans could be treated to the latest information, hear from the coaches and guest speakers, and actually watch the team PRACTICE on the floor to start the season. Does any school still do this?

— Nowadays — and not that this is bad, or anything — it’s just for the kids. The on-floor show is for students only. And that’s fine and all, but don’t schools still need to appease their alumni and season-ticket holders?

— Especially in the day and age of personal seat licensing, increased ticket prices and late(r) start times due to television. I’m no marketing genius, but if I need to raise money and increase awareness and attendance, I’m throwing a bone in the direction of my longtime fans and alumni, especially those who have a tendency to gripe about these things. Just sayin’.

— Now, get off my lawn! Please?

— Not surprised in the least with Providence being picked for ninth at the Big East media day in New York this week. The only issue I have is, St. John’s was eighth?

— Listen, the coaches doing the voting aren’t stupid. But the preseason polls mean squat. The Johnnies have talented newcomers, but this league tends to eat its young. Don’t these guys know this? SJU will have an extraordinary team if the Red Storm finish AHEAD of PC.

— That is, primarily, because Providence returns four players with starting experience. But you lose the two big dogs (Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil), the assumption is there for a step back. But you know what happens when you assume, right?

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Thinking Out Loud: Should we have seen Patriots’ letdown vs. Bills coming? 10.07.16 at 5:40 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Bernie Kosar.

— We should have been reading the tea leaves. Or, at the least, we should have been reading between the lines of last week’s buildup to Buffalo. The Patriots were due for a letdown against the Bills, but no one wanted to admit it was even possible. It was.

— This isn’t revisionist history as much as it is finding clues or signs within a single chapter of the 2016 NFL season. The Patriots played with very little emotion against the Bills, almost as if they were waiting for something — or someone — to join them. Just sayin’.

— Could they have possibly just thought “Let’s bag this, and protect ourselves for the long haul?” There is precedent for this theory, and all you have to do is look back at the end of last season to find it (Miami, hello). It didn’t work well there, either. But last year’s team at that time was far too beat-up to matter.

— The Bills had the proper game plan, but it wasn’t a world-beater. The Patriots simply didn’t adjust to it, as if they accepted their fate with the realization that TB12 returns in a week and there’s still three-quarters of the season to play.

— Rex Ryan knew he escaped with one in Foxboro, and probably knew he escaped with his professional life intact. Ryan needed that win much, much more than did New England. His team was able to shut out a rookie, third-string QB. Attaboy Rex, and we still have you to kick around in the AFC East. Life is still good.

— At least, it should be good for Patriots fans, because Tom Brady is back. That’s what we’ve all been waiting for — and that includes his teammates. Like they were last week.

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