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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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Read More: Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: Chandler Jones owes it to Patriots fans to fess up 01.15.16 at 5:56 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Arnie Beyeler?

— Should anyone have a problem with what a professional athlete does on his or her own time? As long as it doesn’t directly affect anyone but you, have at it. But when someone like the Patriots’ Chandler Jones — even if he realized in mid-process he had made a big mistake — engages in actions that might put his health at risk, and therefore affect (many) others, how does this change the picture?

— I’m no prude, that’s for certain. But pardon me, professional athletes should be held to a higher/different standard than the general public, if only for the fact they’re paid handsomely to play a game. It’s a privilege, and that should not be forgotten. There are others to answer to, and decisions made that can affect coaches, teammates, and yes — fans.

— So he apparently made a mistake. We all do that. But when you’re a pro athlete, you’re put on a pedestal whether you like it or not. Own up to it, that’s the only lesson to be learned here. The Patriots did their best to squash it, that’s their job. But Chandler Jones had some ‘splainin’ to do, especially to his teammates, if you ask me. His apology this week was appropriate, if not exactly timely.

— I’m really glad that I was not in the media during Babe Ruth‘s heyday. I’d get really tired of having to ask him about the all-night drinking bender he was out on the night before.

— Although I can’t imagine what ESPN’s Cris Carter might say about the Babe if he had the chance. Friday on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike,” when asked about Chandler Jones, the brilliant wordsmith replied, “I think he was smoking marijuana and I think he was smoking some marijuana laced with PCP, or angel dust, and I think that’s what made him trip out.”

— Wow. Thanks for playing, Cris. Is this from a personal experience? Better have your posse ready to assist your employment search, or a fall guy to blame this one on. Or a good lawyer.

— And yet, ESPN continues to embrace/employ a knuckleheaded ex-athlete like Carter, put him on the air, and hope he says exactly something like this. It’s embarrassing, really. It isn’t just that ignorance is bliss, but that ignorance is rampant.

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Read More: Chandler Jones, Cris Carter, David Bowie, Jim Simpson
Thinking Out Loud: No reason to panic after No. 8 Providence suffers home loss to Marquette 01.08.16 at 5:14 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Sammy Sosa?

— It’s what we love and hate about sports, all at once. You’re riding high, but at any given moment — BOOM — goes the dynamite.

— For eighth-ranked Providence to lose to a young but very talented Marquette team Tuesday night, you’d think the season was over based on the reaction from some fans — and some media folks. Look, pardon me ladies, but if you’ve never strapped on a protective cup before I’ll explain this to you: Losses happen. Inexplicable losses happen. It’s a part of competition. And this one wasn’t inexplicable.

— There’s a reason why the Golden Eagles had the fifth-ranked (or higher) recruiting class in the country last year, because the kids are good. Six-foot-11 freshman Henry Ellenson is an NBA lottery pick, just like Kris Dunn. The Celtics‘ Danny Ainge was in attendance at the Dunk Tuesday night, and don’t think for a minute he didn’t envision Ellenson in green and white.

— At the same time, the Friar kids weren’t so good. Some of that was Marquette’s doing, but some of it was poor execution and decision-making by PC, including the attempt at a last shot to win it. Early, there were three Friars in la-la land on the floor, because they certainly didn’t seem to be clued into the game being played. It happens with young, inexperienced players — and hopefully they learn from it. But slow starts are becoming a trend with this team.

— Maybe Ken Pomeroy is right? His KenPom college basketball rankings, based on a formulaic equation, are followed widely in hoop circles, and this week he had the Friars rated a mere 33rd nationally. The answer is, undoubtedly, somewhere in the middle of the muck, but it’s also worth noting that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

— Not for nuthin’, but while they’re still the No. 8 team in the country for another day or two, this was the first time in the history of the Big East Conference that Providence found itself the highest-ranked team in the league. Think about that for just a sec, and realize you’ve come a long way, baby.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Henry Ellenson, Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: Top stories of 2015 01.01.16 at 3:47 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering what blockbuster stories 2016 might possibly bring.

— Yes, we have such a heavy Boston influence on our local landscape. Nevertheless, as part of this week’s thoughts and opinions, I’ll present what comes to mind as the top five Rhode Island sports stories for 2015 — while mixing in a few Boston-centric picks, too. Feel free to comment on your big stories if we miss one.

— The selection of Tim Neverett as the new Red Sox radio voice is a great pick. I had the pleasure of working with Tim in the early ’90s as part of something then known as The Sports Final Radio Network, based in Cambridge. Sports Final was a predecessor to ESPN Radio, and while it eventually ran out of funding, it did prove there was an appetite for sports radio — even in the overnight hours.

— In a business that so often chews up and spits out some really good people, Neverett is one of the good ones who has managed to stick around and stay with a craft he loves. He’s paid his dues (in the minors). He has big-league experience (in Pittsburgh (with the Pirates). He’s a New Englander coming home (from New Hampshire). Win-win-win for him, and for the listening audience.

— Working from my top story No. 5 to No. 1 in 2015: The death of new PawSox principal Jim Skeffington was indeed a blow to the local baseball community, as well as to his family, friends and business associates. His passing in May at age 73 also put the team’s campaign for a new stadium on the I-195 corridor in Providence on the back burner, where it eventually cooled and withered under public pressure.

— Could the new stadium deal (and the move from McCoy in Pawtucket) have been done had Skeffington been able to see the process through? I’ve heard from many people on this — and the answer is quite possibly yes.

— Dave Henderson’s death this past week forced me to revisit the very moment I remember becoming a real Red Sox “fan.” It was in 1986, the very moment the ball rolled through Bill Buckner‘s legs against the New York Mets in the World Series.

— I watched that entire playoff run — including Hendu’s big blast against the Angels — with a good friend from Cumberland, Rhode Island, who I was working with in television in San Antonio at the time, John Kirby. It was entertaining, watching JK’s emotional rise and fall on each big moment. But when Buckner’s boot occurred, I was hooked. It wasn’t hard to buy in to the sort of passion I witnessed.

— While all Sox fans suffered then, I was lucky. I only had to wait 18 years before the next World Series title, not 86.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, dave henderson, Jim Skeffington, Kris Dunn
Thinking Out Loud: Impressive turnaround for UConn football under Bob Diaco 12.25.15 at 12:20 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering just who came up with the whole “Twelve Days of Christmas” idea?

— On the first day of Christmas, a sports fan gave to me: a new remote control for my TV.

— Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds finished fifth in this year’s voting for the Heisman Trophy, which allegedly is awarded to the best player in college football every season. Not sure that’s the case this year, as Reynolds’ story (and season) was as good as it gets in my book.

— Still, his fifth-place finish is the best for a military academy athlete since former Navy QB Roger Staubach won it in 1963.

— On the second day of Christmas, a sports fan gave to me: two club seats for the Patriots and a new remote control for my TV.

— Don’t look now, but the former Big East football conference-turned-American Athletic Conference had three teams finish in the top 25 of the College Football Playoff rankings. The AAC is much, much closer to alleged “Power Five” status than it is to “Group of Five” reality.

— For my money, there was no one in the country who did a better job coaching up his team than UConn’s Bob Diaco. Turning a two-win Huskies team in his first year into a six-win, bowl-eligible squad (St. Petersburg, Florida, anyone?) was a terrific piece of teaching.

— Say what you want about the glutted, everyone-wins-a-trophy bowl system now in place and you would probably be right. But for teams like UConn, the current bowl system is what it’s all about — a reward for a season that was unexpected, and memorable for the right reasons.

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