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Thinking Out Loud: Defending national champion Providence hockey set to begin another run in NCAAs 03.25.16 at 6:19 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering how we became mesmerized by “bracketology.”

— The Providence hockey team’s No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament isn’t the surprise, even though the Friars lost in the Hockey East semis to UMass-Lowell. Boston College getting the 2 seed and potentially facing PC in Worcester is the surprise. The Eagles have been high in the national rankings all season and were deserving of their own top spot.

— How about this nugget? Six Friars are among the top-10 active leaders in NCAA Tournament scoring. That means you’re experienced, deep and talented. Three must-haves if you are to win it all.

— It’s always a compliment when your coach is mentioned for other jobs. Nate Leaman’s name has been mentioned with the opening at Wisconsin, a one-time hockey power looking to regain some lost luster. Just wondering here, but would he be more likely to make a move if the Friars repeat as national champs? Would he need another mountain to climb? Just sayin’.

— So, Notre Dame? Moving to the weaker Big Ten in hockey for travel and expense purposes, or because Hockey East kicks your a**? How about both? Let’s be truthful.

— It’s hard to put a bow around Providence’s basketball season. Twenty-four wins is a sign of success, absolutely. Being ranked as high as eighth nationally was great PR for the program, even though this team may never have been quite that good in reality. Three straight NCAA appearances, however, is the true sign of success these days. Finally winning a game in the tourney is another. The bar has just been set a bit higher.

— No doubt in my mind that Kris Dunn is one of the best athletes to ever wear the black and white on the court. Maybe he’s the best athlete. The Friars have been blessed with extraordinary basketball players through the years, but athletes? Based on what these eyes have seen over three decades, not one of those players — maybe except Eric Murdock, possibly God Shammgod or John Linehan — could keep Dunn in front of them.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Jamie Dixon, Kris Dunn, Nate Leaman
Thinking Out Loud: As college basketball grabs spotlight, concerns linger behind the scenes 03.18.16 at 5:51 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering if the refs we bagged on all year went dancing, too.

— One up, one down for college basketball. Up would be ratings on FS1, even though national college basketball ratings are down overall. FS1 had a 10 percent increase in total viewers per game for coverage that featured the Big East, but the Fox network was slightly down (as were the ESPNs) for the season compared to last year.

— Down? How about “out,” altogether? Burger King’s sponsorship of the NCAA, after only two years, is ending. The original deal was for three years, but neither side is saying why the relationship is over after only two. Not exactly a “whopper” of a story, but significant enough to note with media rights deals coming up again in a few years.

— Let’s be honest, shall we? The “NCAA Selection Show” on CBS this year was a disaster. Lengthened to two hours, undoubtedly to boost ratings, the show’s length caused the program to drag on and on — with the audience at the mercy of wannabe stand-up comic Charles Barkley, who knows zero about the college game. It’s painfully obvious he doesn’t follow it.

— Just in case the TV types are reading/listening, the better move to make here is to release the bracket in the first hour and spend the second hour breaking it down or interviewing coaches and players. You’ll still keep an audience, Barkley still can screw up on the digi-board, and fans of teams selected at the end won’t suffer nervous breakdowns. As much.

— Oh, and the job done by the selection committee? As bad or worse than the TV show. My two cents: This year was nothing more than the power schools peeing on the fire hydrant, marking their territory and telling mid-to-low majors that this is “our event.”

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Thinking Out Loud: Erin Andrews benefits from celebrity with $55M jury award in stalker case 03.11.16 at 5:20 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Terry Dehere.

— It isn’t my intention to be flippant here, but does anyone else think Erin Andrews received the amount of money ($55 million) she was awarded due to her popularity in the first place? In other words, if she weren’t “Erin Andrews,” there’s no way that kind of a price tag would have been attached to this decision?

— It is undoubtedly a very trying, emotional situation — having to deal with a stalker and deal with the aftermath of a peephole video on the Internet for the rest of her life. But $55 million? There’s absolutely zero chance she ever receives the full amount — especially since her stalker (Michael Barrett) is on the hook for just over half (51 percent) of that.

— Not for nuthin’, but it doesn’t seem as if the exposure here (no pun intended, really) harmed Andrews’ career in the least. Most plaintiffs in civil lawsuits don’t receive anywhere near the kind of compensation she was awarded. Our legal friend Michael McCann (SI.com) pointed out this week an average award in the wrongful death of an adult female is $3 million. And that’s with someone dying.

— If anything, the notoriety of the case helped her gain favor with her new employers at Fox, as they won a bidding war over ESPN for her services. And, by the way, she now hosts ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” too. The defense attorneys in the case made this argument, however, to no avail.

— I have some sympathy over the lack of privacy/invasion of privacy issue, sure. But at what price do we cap monetary awards for alleged humiliation and degradation? This entire “story” was over the top. So was the money. Hope the nude pictures were worth it, fella. But they were kinda pricey, if you ask me. Just sayin’.

— As for the story that has gained traction on Red Sox manager John Farrell and CSNNE’s Jessica Moran having a “relationship,” I concur with ESPNBoston’s Jackie MacMullan. It’s not a good look for either side.

— MacMullan took both Moran and Farrell to task on WEEI this week, and it was deserved. How many times does the business of journalism — especially women reporters — need to be degraded by unthinking, selfish narcissists who allow themselves (and the industry, not to mention employers) to become involved in a situation where no one wins? Except for gaining a few, fleeting moments of pleasure?

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Read More: Erin Andrews, Jessica Moran, john farrell, Kris Dunn
Thinking Out Loud: Big month for Providence forward Ben Bentil in terms of pro future 03.04.16 at 5:22 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Craig Esherick.

— The calendar says it’s March, so that means the Madness has arrived. Or at the very least, is right around the corner. Buckle up.

— Senior Night was more like Relief Night for the Friars, in picking up a 70-66 win over Creighton on Wednesday. Kris Dunn was closer to his “old self” and provided much of the energy early — even though Providence still struggles mightily from 3-point range. At halftime, down by four, PC was 1-13 from 3, and shot 53 percent from two. Um, fellas?

— As former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards once said: “Hello? You play to win the game!”

— It will be hard, for a while, to quantify what Dunn has meant to the Providence program. Sure, it’s easy to see right now how important he is to the welfare of this team, and to this team’s chances for success as March continues. But what does he really mean to the future of Friars basketball? That highly rated McDonald’s All-Americans can succeed at a smaller school over the Dukes of the world? In a word, yes.

— But this type of player doesn’t come along every year, as Friars fans well know. It stands to reason, however, the next one will be along soon, if the program continues to build — and win. It was 17 years, give or take, since the last played here in God Shammgod.

— Dunn, however, was not the best player on this year’s PC team. That honor — or burden — falls upon Ben Bentil’s broad shoulders. This isn’t a knock on Kris at all — his numbers speak for themselves. Dunn is the ONLY Friar in 89 years of history to score 1,000 points, grab 400 rebounds, dish 500 assists and come up with 200 steals. And there have been some great guards pass through Providence, haven’t there?

— As good as he has been, Bentil has also been a byproduct of what the Friars have had to do this year in order to win as much as they have. Think about that for a second.

— It’s why you’ll see Bentil’s name on a few NBA draft boards, but he’s nowhere near ready right now. Bentil is a classic “tweener” playing out of position — too big for the quicks, too quick for the bigs. It won’t be that way in the pros.

— Oh, he has skills, though. Big East Player of the Year skills. He’ll probably do his due diligence, as all good players should, once the offseason arrives. A spectacular March run — like Shammgod’s in 1997 — could be a difference-maker.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: As March Madness nears, inconsistent Providence fades 02.26.16 at 4:36 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering if the Round Mound of Rebound ever faced the weight-watching onslaught that Kung Fu Panda is experiencing.

— Feeling a case of “sweaty palms” coming on? That can only mean one thing for college basketball fans at this time of year — you’ve got a case of March Madness. It’s the only explanation. And there is no known cure, except to sweat it out.

— Oh, there might be a cure for Friars fans, at least a temporary cure, if the team can find a way to fix its current predicament. It goes to show you, we just can’t have nice things around here, can we?

— Maybe some of the players were sick. Or, maybe some of the players have forgotten how to shoot. It’s really as simple as that, after watching the pasting at the hands of Seton Hall on Thursday night. The Friars have turned into the “gang that can’t shoot straight” after missing an astounding 30 of the final 40 shots they took from the floor.

— Want some mo’? How ‘€˜bout this: In nine of the past 13 games the Friars have managed to shoot less than 40 percent from the field. In those nine games they are a mere 1-8. I gotta lotta mo’ just like that one, but will hold the rest for the sake of having some common decency. This could go downhill real fast.

— If you play defense every night in the Big East, you’ll stay in every game with a chance to win. For the Friars, the defense just isn’t consistent, as the team has a tendency to play in spurts or stretches. The 2-3 zone is OK, man-to-man has its moments but usually succumbs to mental lapses. Streaky defense with no offense is not a combination that will win games in this league, and we’ve known this for 30 years. Nothing has changed.

— The most frustrating part of watching this team lose five of six has been to see repeated mistakes. Mistakes that are made over and over again. Turnovers. Poor decisions. Lack of intensity at key moments. Other teams are making the plays the Friars made earlier in the year. It’s caught up to them.

— Now it’s “backs to the wall” time. At home against DePaul and Creighton and then on the road to finish at St. John’s. For the Friars to dance, when it seemed all but certain a month ago, winning these three can still seal the deal. Short of that? All bets are off.

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Thinking Out Loud: Providence needs Kris Dunn to take over 02.19.16 at 5:23 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to the old “College Bowl” quiz shows?

— The steady drop in the national polls for the Providence basketball team is predictable, given the fact that the Friars have lost five of their last seven games. However, they’ve remained a fixture in the Top 25 thanks to their early season successes. That’s why they are also still very much in the picture for the NCAA Tournament, despite the gloom-and-doomsayers.

— Twelve straight weeks in the rankings, at the present time, represents the longest stretch since 1977-78. Trying to look at this glass as half full, for the most part.

— Now the other shoe drops. PC’s game at eighth-ranked Xavier this week underscores the lessons in futility this team is now realizing. First, there is no reliable, consistent scoring threat beyond Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Second, when the Friars don’t defend (as they didn’t in the first half against the Musketeers), they’re not very good. Third, when either Dunn or Bentil suffer from lapses under the previously mentioned numbers 1 and 2? Mediocrity ensues, along with five losses in seven games.

— Now, having said this, the Friars are still a very good team. They’re capable of winning any game they play, but also capable of losing any game they play. The golden moments in November and December have become fool’s gold in February.

— The Friars need to string together at least three wins in the last four regular-season games to stay clear of the NCAA bubble. This season, however, the bubble is pretty soft. That should play into PC’s favor if “push comes to shove.” The Arizona and Villanova road wins are very strong. A 4-4 record vs. the AP Top 25 is also more than respectable.

— By the time Providence takes the court next Thursday at Seton Hall, it will have been more than a month since the Friars beat anyone not named Georgetown. Think about that for a second. That’s how rough February has been, after PC went undefeated in December.

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Thinking Out Loud: Sliding Providence needs more support from underclassmen 02.12.16 at 5:12 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering why I can never find my glasses when I need them.

— The Friars’ drop to 20th (17th in the coaches poll) is predictable. Two losses without winning in a week will do that, even if one of those losses was to the new No. 1 team. The DePaul loss was crushing, however, and shows how fleeting good fortune can be. I blame myself. That’s the first — and only — game when I missed the pregame shootaround on the road this season.

— I’ve had several conversations with Friars fans who have asked if I’m disappointed with the team’s performance lately. Sure, you always want to win, but disappointed? Absolutely not. First of all, I’m enjoying a great ride watching this team play, and these coaches coach. Plus — a little secret here — this PC team isn’t really a top-10 team, so get over it. That’s not what this team is.

— Are the Friars still good? They probably have the two best players on the court at any given time that Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil are together. But as we can all observe, these Friars need a third or fourth wheel to consistently perform in order to be really good, and the candidates are underclassmen still learning to play at the highest level in the sport.

— Top-10 good is questionable, at best. But still pretty good, and good enough to beat a lot of other pretty good teams around the country. No. 1-ranked Villanova knows how good the Friars can be. So don’t sweat the rankings, they’re fun, but they’re also ultra-subjective. Bring on March Madness.

— Oh, got my tickets this week for the NCAA Tournament first and second rounds at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. And then realized I may not be there if the Friars make the field of 68. Teams can’t play at home (right, Dayton?) so that’s a good problem to have, I suppose.

— Admittedly, the Marquette loss in double overtime this week was very frustrating. Ed Cooley was despondent afterward, but by the time the team landed back in Providence in the wee hours of Thursday morning, sights already were set and focused on Georgetown. Development is still a key factor here, and the problem is it isn’t happening fast enough for anyone’s liking.

— Bentil’s 42-point, 12-rebound performance was eye-popping wow. Only one other player in the country has put together a 40/10 double-double this season — freshman phenom Ben Simmons at LSU (43 points, 14 rebounds vs. North Florida). If the Friars can make any kind of a run in the final six games of the regular season, he’s a legit candidate for Big East Player of the Year, with all due respect to his teammate Dunn.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: Providence’s slip-up inevitable, especially considering Ben Bentil injury 02.05.16 at 5:21 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to former Big East bully Danya Abrams?

— In no way is this an excuse, but isn’t there at least a game or two every season that you just give away? That’s what last Tuesday night in Chicago felt like, when the 11th-ranked Friars fell to DePaul. It was an inevitability, no matter what happened.

— Three things in life are inevitable: Death, taxes, and losing one you thought you were going to win.

— Ben Bentil’s injured ankle was a big reason for Providence’s inability to eventually win that one. The Blue Demons had no clue how to guard him in the paint, so they did their best to keep the ball out of the paint and limit PC’s penetration. Plus, flopping to the floor and rolling up on Bentil from behind — like you see done on a football field to guys who blow out knees — that also helped, too.

— Add to the mix Kris Dunn’s relatively rare inability to put the ball in the hole, and a motivated opponent, and you have ingredients necessary for an upset. Providence beat DePaul by 27 at Allstate Arena last year. Some of those players remembered. Even though coach Dave Leitao wasn’t there, HE remembered. New Bedford guys (which he is) have long memories.

— Not for nuthin’, but Dunn is showing an alarming inability to finish some spectacular moves at the basket, which is a pretty good indication he’s trying a bit too hard. He’s also not getting contact calls when going to the basket, which is highly inconsistent for officiating crews who have been instructed to make these calls. Doubly frustrating for him, and for the Friars.

— And for my broadcast partner Joe Hassett, who rarely agrees with any call by an official. But he did compliment referee Mike Stuart at the DePaul game for “not stinking” the other night, so there’s that.

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Thinking Out Loud: Kris Dunn still holds key for cold-shooting Friars 01.29.16 at 5:25 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering what’s happening with former Friar Billy Donovan.

— From ESPN.com on Kris Dunn: “I’d like to see him value the ball more,” an NBA executive said. “But that will happen when he gets to the NBA, or else he won’t play.”

— Kris Dunn not playing for the Friars won’t ever happen. At least not until he decides to relinquish his eligibility over the next few months. But for this Providence team to travel to the NCAA Tournament in two months and have any success? Dunn needs to value the ball more, now.

— I also would argue he needs to recognize which of his teammates has a hot hand — if any — and simply not force a situation. Look, if no one can hit a shot, make something happen yourself. Get into the paint, create contact and get to the line.

— Speaking of not hitting a shot — or any. That pretty much sums up the Friars’ performance at the Dunk on Tuesday night against seventh-ranked Xavier. For my money, the Musketeers are the best team in the Big East this season, and certainly the most balanced. Providence is right there, but the Friars just don’t have the kind of consistent depth that X has. Nor do they have the shooters X has.

— Villanova has streaky shooters, and the fact that the Friars nailed eight 3’s and shot 46 percent from the floor in their Philadelphia win last weekend simply shows you what they are capable of doing when they make shots. Four of the past six games, the Friars have been in the high 20s, low 30s in shooting percentage. It’s hard to beat Marquette and Seton Hall with those numbers, much less knock off top 10 teams.

— Xavier’s potential is unlimited — the Musketeers are a true national title threat with their balance, depth and strength. When ‘Nova connects on its shots, it’s right there with the Musketeers. When Providence hits shots? It’s better, potentially, than both — thanks to its star players in Dunn and Ben Bentil.

— The trouble right now is the Friars are having a hard time hitting the broad side of a barn with a bale of hay.

— Or as my high school coach once said about me: “Rookie, you couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle.” Thanks for the positive reinforcement, coach. I’m not sure I would actually want try your suggestion, but you did give me something to remember for the rest of my life. So there’s that.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Buddy Cianci, Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: Providence’s win over No. 18 Butler huge considering tough week ahead 01.22.16 at 5:30 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering just where in the world Marshon Brooks might be.

— Not really certain what it means, but up until Tuesday night it seemed like the Providence College basketball team couldn’t win at home all of a sudden. One thought to this perplexing problem — visitors have a tendency to “gear up” mentally when they know they’re going on the road to play a nationally ranked team. PC, for all of its’ obvious talent, isn’t mature enough yet to match that intensity.

— Double-teaming Kris Dunn has become a staple of the opponents’ game-planning for the Friars. It’s slowing down his offensive effectiveness and forcing more mistakes. Just another speed bump on Dunn’s ultimate drive toward success. But he’ll need to learn not to force things, so he doesn’t handicap his teammates. The recent spate of foul trouble he’s had is an example.

— Yes, it was a big win over 18th-ranked Butler at the Dunk on Tuesday, no question. Facing the gauntlet of No. 4 Villanova (away), No. 5 Xavier (home) and traditional Big East beast Georgetown (away) all in succession over the next week made beating and sweeping the Bulldogs imperative.

— The Friars are 3-1 against nationally ranked teams this season, at the present time. It’s a good calling card to play when it comes to consideration for a postseason tournament invitation.

— Speaking of Villanova, can anyone beat the ‘Cats? Twenty-two straight Big East wins — including three in the run to a tournament championship last season, one against the Friars — are on the line Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Nova knocked off Friar-killing Seton Hall Wednesday in Newark by a single point.

— And the Saturday to Sunday postponement thing? No big deal, so bring on the snow. However, it does make game-planning and preparations a bit more difficult for sixth-ranked Xavier on Tuesday night at the Dunk. One less day to prepare for the next top-five team the Friars will face.

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