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Thinking Out Loud: Happy time at holidays for Providence basketball 12.18.15 at 4:32 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering if I have any long, lost relatives related to Mike and Liz Ruane.

— The announcement from Providence College this week on the development of the Ruane Friar Development Center is a celebration — and a sigh of relief at the same time. Finally, a basketball-centric practice facility for a nationally ranked program, complete with new offices, a Hall of Fame and scholastic development for all student athletes at PC.

— With Providence being the last school in the Big East to create such a building, it now will be tougher to use the lack of facilities at PC as an anti-recruiting tool. Which was happening. Recruitable kids pay attention to this stuff. How does the saying go? He who has the most toys wins?

— He who has Ben Bentil is likely to win, too. Ed Cooley put Bentil out on the floor last week in a struggle with Bryant at the Dunk, sore ankle and all, and immediately his presence settled everyone down. And this was without Kris Dunn available, thanks to Dunn’s illness. Bentil’s leadership and ability, even though he is only a sophomore, ranks right up there with Dunn’s talent as a reason for the Friars’ success thus far.

— And that success has the current PC hoop ranking hovering at 14th nationally in both the AP and USA Today coaches’ poll this week. The 10-1 start is the best in 27 years, since Rick Barnes’ 1988-89 Friars began that season 13-0.

— What lies ahead for Providence? Rider on Saturday night, following a week off for semester exams, and one more road game at UMass on Dec. 21 before opening conference play New Year’s Eve on the road at nationally ranked Butler. A 12-1 record and a shot at the top 10? Can’t. Wait.

— Pack the Dunk, and buckle up for a memorable ride.

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: PC continues special season despite illness, injury 12.11.15 at 5:15 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering who might be the most-hated referee on the college courts these days?

— The environment inside the Ryan Center for the 126th renewal (or 128th, depending on whether you count exhibitions or not) of PC vs. URI on the basketball floor was as good as it gets for the college game. A great crowd, filled with energy, emotion and just plain loudness. My ears were ringing for two solid hours after the game had ended, and not just because Joe Hassett yelled in the headphones at the end of the game.

— But there was plenty to yell about. Rhody’s performance was outstanding, and the Rams still can be title good this season. They’re pretty good right now. Ben Bentil also is good right now — and more on him in a moment. His tip-in at the buzzer — and I know Rhody fans feel there was a push-off on Jarvis Garrett under the basket — was a great no-call by an officiating crew that really did a solid job on an emotional floor. Let the players play and decide the outcome every time.

— No, Hassett did not tell me to say that about the refs. But they were pretty good — Roger Ayers was a lead official and is as good in stripes as the Big East has.

— As a result of the huge road win, the Friars moved up to 15th in the Associated Press poll, and 18th in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Those are heights not seen around here since the days of Ryan Gomes. Are we witnessing something special with this team? We might be.

— And then, the bubble bursts. Hot-shooting freshman Ryan Fazekas doesn’t suit up against Boston College, out for an undetermined amount of time with mononucleosis. Kris Dunn takes ill on the floor late in the first half against the Eagles (happened right in front of Hassett and myself, unfortunately) and Bentil inadvertently steps on the foot of BC’s Dennis Clifford and turns his ankle.

— Bentil’s injury truly is unfortunate, with his play elevated to national-recognition level over the past couple of weeks. That spotlight has been focused on his improved play, his ability to score inside and outside, and a newly developed talent for being able to stay in games defensively with opposing centers — many of them larger than he is. It’s been fun to watch him play. Hope we get to see him play again, and soon.

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Thinking Out Loud: Kris Dunn lives up to hype at Providence, but students aren’t turning out to see it 12.04.15 at 5:46 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering what I’m really thankful for these days.

— Was it a good Thanksgiving week in California for Providence College? Let’s see — you left home after a narrow, who-are-we-really win over NJIT and came home as a Wildcat-conquering, Spartan-scaring Top 25 squad. Yup, good week.

— The Wednesday win over Hartford was one of those “gotta play it” games on the schedule that every team has. In other words, get through it, learn something and move on. What did the Friars learn? Some of the young guys have a lot of work to do to improve, and the Big East won’t be the place for that to occur.

— Kris Dunn’s second career triple-double? Ho-hum. That seems to be a prevailing attitude among some fans, as only 5,100 showed up at the Dunk on Wednesday night. You’re missing something special if you don’t get out to watch this young man play. He is a legitimate national player of the year candidate.

— So where are the students at these games? Practically non-existent at the Dunk, and I’ve had several people tell me they even leave hockey games early. WTH? Is this current generation of students simply numb to the emotion and school pride that college athletics can create? And what’s at the center of this “numbing”? Partying, booze or fixation with their cell phones and the electronic world around them?

— Whatever it is, it’s lame.

— As for the Top 25 ranking this week, it marks the second straight season for a PC basketball team to reach the national polls. And that’s the first time this has happened for the program since 1977-78. You can’t get pumped for that?

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: Minus its star, URI looks to reinvent itself under fiery coach Danny Hurley 11.28.15 at 7:55 am ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Mike Bibby?

— This is the most wonderful time of the year, if you ask me. Holiday tournament basketball combined with meaningful, playoff-caliber football? Sign me up.

— Providence College’s cross-country trip to Anaheim, California, for the Wooden Legacy Tournament has been a good experience for a young team, regardless of the game results. Kris Dunn showcases his obvious talents, PC learns what it might take to be elite (with Michigan State and Arizona present), and young players can make mistakes without the red-hot spotlight of the Big East beating down their necks.

— Providence’s win over Evansville could be one of those that will look better as the season progresses. With Wichita State’s early struggles, the Purple Aces may be a real player in the Missouri Valley this season — certainly better than a CIT team in the postseason.

— Ben Bentil hit for a career high 24 (to this point) against the Purple Aces, and is capable of so much more, if he does just one thing: Calm down. Around the basket, that is. His energy level is so through the roof, it’s almost as if he has a putter’s “yips” when he gets close to scoring. A little more experience should, hopefully, provide the opportunity to learn the poise needed to be a truly dominant player inside.

— The struggle for basketball life after E.C. Matthews got started this week for the URI Rams, with mixed results in Cancun. A win over the Big 12’s TCU preceded a resounding thumping at the hands of national title contender Maryland. What does it mean? Rhody simply will need to grind, grind and grind some more to win. It won’t be aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

— Strange that the alleged postgame handshake “incident” between Danny Hurley and Maryland’s Mark Turgeon Wednesday night was reported by the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, with direct attributions to what was said by a tournament official at the scorer’s table — and URI athletic director Thorr Bjorn reported he was satisfied that nothing was said at all. Who should we believe? As in all cases, the answer undoubtedly lies somewhere in the middle.

— I appreciate the fire with which Hurley guides the Rams program. Based on personal observation, however, there are times when he walks a tightrope on the line between energy, enthusiasm and absolute hysterics. It’s his style. And I’m quite certain it rubs other coaches the wrong way — you’ll perhaps recall Hurley and Ed Cooley shouting at each other two years ago at the Ryan Center?

— As for Maryland’s reaction to whatever was said in that handshake line, Turgeon also is known as being a bit flippant when it comes to emotions — I seem to recall a few years ago as coach at Wichita State he had a back-handed slap for the Friars after defeating them in Wichita, saying his team didn’t play well in a win over Providence.

— It would be nice, however, if some coaches could learn to be humble in victory, while also remaining gracious in defeat. Perhaps the pressure to win in college basketball‘s pressure-cooker simply has become too high for maintaining a certain level of sportsmanship?

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Read More: Ben Bentil, Danny Hurley, Kris Dunn, Mark Turgeon
Thinking Out Loud: URI starts to regroup after devastating injury to star guard E.C. Matthews 11.20.15 at 4:41 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering where in the world is Donnie McGrath?

— So much to look forward to, and then “bam!” E.C. Matthews’ knee injury is a kick in the groin for the URI Rams, no question. But the season doesn’t have to end before it starts, and that’s the task at hand for Dan Hurley — pick up the pieces and shattered dreams, and weave them back into something special.

— Rhody’s ultimate fate undoubtedly will be carried by several players, but for my money the most important one is sophomore Jared Terrell. Four McGlynn certainly can shoot it, but like most shooters he can be streaky. Hassan Martin will have teams give him the “hack-a-Shaq” treatment until he learns to make free throws with some regularity. Terrell will need to be a consistent presence as a scorer and defender for the Rams to remain relevant in the Atlantic 10.

— We saw all of the above come into play Tuesday morning in URI’s matchup with Valparaiso at the Ryan Center. It seemed to me they spent much of the game looking for Matthews’ ghost on the floor, which they never found. They’ll need some time to re-tool, and re-learn. But I’m not betting against Hurley, or this team.

— McGlynn’s near-buzzer beater that could have tied the score with Valpo was a left-handed heave at its intended target. Good grief. Can he do that and make one without desperation? That would be some weapon.

— Bryant has made it a habit in recent years to test its mettle in the season opener, and this year was no exception with the Bulldogs’ opener at Duke — the defending national champs. Lesson learned in a 113-75 loss? That schools in the power conferences operate on a different plane than those in the NEC — but Tim O’Shea’s players also learn quickly what it takes to be nationally competitive. Nothing like a cold slap of reality to start your year. And a nice paycheck, too.

— Here’s the reality for Providence Saturday — Brown has beaten the Friars twice in the past three seasons, including by an astounding 10 points last year at the Dunk. Brown isn’t a “gimme,” and the Bears aren’t necessarily coming to take their guarantee check and head back across town. They know they can win, and that’s a dangerous attitude.

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Read More: David Ortiz, Donnie McGrath, Doug Flutie, E.C. Matthews
Thinking Out Loud: Losing Dion Lewis hurts, but O-line injuries more concerning to Patriots 11.13.15 at 5:17 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering how John Farrell is coming along with his cancer recovery.

— Dion Lewis’ injury is tough to take, no doubt. Lewis has been a great story for the Patriots this year — an ongoing personal reclamation project that has won him many admirers in and out of the locker room. His on-field play has been spectacular at times, and gave the offense a dimension that made it almost indefensible.

— But there’s a reason why the Patriots are who they are — and why they do the things they do. This too, shall pass.

— Right now, for my money the offensive line injuries may be of greater concern. The mixing, matching and patching of players on the line is a credit to coach Dave DeGuglielmo and the offensive staff’s ability to create depth. This is precisely why having versatility is the No. 1 reason for keeping some players on the roster, as opposed to possibly letting them go elsewhere.

— I got the impression that the Patriots pretty much sleepwalked through the Washington Redskins to reach 8-0. Also got the impression that after losing Dion Lewis for the year, and getting Sebastian Vollmer and Duron Harmon hurt, that the Patriots’ scorched-earth tour just had a dose of cold-water reality tossed onto the train.

— It’s the first time in NFL history for three teams to be 8-0. Who will be the first of the three (Patriots, Bengals, Panthers) to lose? Looking over the schedules, I’ll take Cincinnati at Arizona in Week 11 as the most likely candidate for a pratfall. Next most likely defeats? Carolina at Dallas on Thanksgiving, New England at Denver three days later.

— Tweet of the Week, from @AdamSchefter: A little primer for Sunday’s Patriots-Giants game: Since start of 2008 calendar year, Giants are ONLY NFL team the Patriots have NOT beaten.

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Thinking Out Loud: Jeremy Kapstein would be good fit with PawSox 11.06.15 at 4:47 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to John McDonald?

— Our friend Nick Cafardo at The Boston Globe mentioned last week that another friend, Jeremy Kapstein, recently was told his contract would not be renewed with the Boston Red Sox after 14 years as a senior adviser. Kapstein was a Larry Lucchino confidant, so the move isn’t a huge surprise, even though it is disappointing.

— Kapstein has had a marvelous career — from Chris Clark’s on-air statistician years ago on Providence Friars radio broadcasts, to super-agent, to baseball executive and one-time political candidate. It will be different not seeing him sit behind home plate at Fenway with his radio headsets on, but I’ll wager someone with foresight will recognize Kapstein still has much to offer — in management, scouting or otherwise.

— Based on Kapstein’s relationship with Lucchino and his deep ties to Rhode Island as a native son, isn’t there a spot somewhere in the new PawSox hierarchy for him? On Monday the team officially will introduce Dr. Charles Steinberg as the new president, Dan Rea III (formerly special assistant to the Red Sox) as new GM, replacing Lou Schweichheimer, and Jeff White as the new treasurer. Mike Tamburro has agreed to remain with the new management team as vice chairman.

— Steinberg led much of the public discussion in the pitch for the new Providence stadium project, which has fallen flatter than a pancake. Not exactly a great start, Dr. Charles.

— In case you didn’t notice, the Red Sox reported this week that pitchers and catchers will begin workouts in Fort Myers, Florida, on Feb. 18. The countdown to “truck day” (Feb. 10) has begun. Will we need a spring respite in the middle of winter again?

— Now’s the time, Trader Dave Dombrowski. If you’re serious about the Sox competing again — and you should be with the payroll you’ll have — let’s see what you can do about finding some pitching. Right now, every option should be open and (almost) every player should be available.

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Read More: Jeremy Kapstein, John McDonald, Kris Dunn,
Thinking Out Loud: Patriots fans should put aside talk of undefeated season, but they won’t 10.30.15 at 6:29 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark?

— The Patriots are oh-so-lucky that 12 drops by receivers didn’t cost them a win against the Jets last weekend. Ironically, it was a drop/bobble in the fourth quarter by New York’s Brandon Marshall, however, that might have kept the J-E-T-S from a W-I-N in Foxboro.

— News Bulletin: The Jets are pretty good, and they should reach the playoffs this year. Unless Geno Smith re-enters the QB picture, or Ryan Fitzpatrick remembers he’s actually Ryan Fitzpatrick.

— Six drops from Brandon LaFell? Well, after all, he did have a lot of (not) catching up to do, having missed the first five games of the season. Maybe he spoke with Jerry Rice about some stickum? No official drops against the Dolphins on Thursday, by this count.

— You can forget the 16-0 talk, for now. But you won’t. The comeuppance could occur in a couple of weeks at the New York Giants, and if the first ‘L’ doesn’t happen there, how about in Denver at the end of November? Or on the road at Miami and New York to end the season? There is about a 3 percent chance for the Patriots to run the table, based on current numbers, scheduling and research.

— Said in my best Jim Carrey “Dumb and Dumber” voice: “So you mean there’s a chance?”

— If the Patriots defense plays at the level seen Thursday night against the Dolphins, there certainly is a chance to run the table. And the truly scary part for the rest of the NFL? This unit is Y-O-U-N-G. No one is older than 28 (strong safety Patrick Chung), and with two All-Pro caliber linebackers leading the way (Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower), the D is playing B-plus ball. And getting better.

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Thinking Out Loud: URI poised for run at A-10 basketball title 10.23.15 at 4:39 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to the Worcester Sharks?

— No surprise here: URI was picked second in the Atlantic-10 preseason men’s basketball poll by the A-10 media and coaches. Dan Hurley has this team poised to go where Rhody basketball hasn’t been for a while, which is exciting. With excitement comes expectation, however.

— Part of that expectation surrounds not one, but two Rams named to the preseason first-team all- Atlantic-10 team — E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin. First time that’s happened since Tyson Wheeler and Cuttino Mobley ran the show in the late ’90s. Not coincidentally, Matthews and Martin also appeared in CBSSports.com’s list of the nation’s top 100 players for 2015-16.

— Still think URI could use a little size, and perhaps the Rams have found some of that for the next couple of years. Providence faces the same situation this year as well.

— Dynamic guards — Matthews and the Friars’ Kris Dunn — might make this upcoming winter move along a little more quickly around here. Certainly, they’ll help heat things up. Just sayin’.

NCAA Tournament Friars-killer Dayton was the preseason No. 1 in the A-10, but the Flyers will miss arguably their best player for the first semester. Dyshawn Pierre, who scored 20 points against PC in Dayton’s 66-53 NCAA win last March, has had his reinstatement request rejected by a federal judge in Cincinnati. Pierre was suspended by Dayton for a semester for his role in a sexual harassment case. While he continues to pursue his exoneration, chances are he could return in time to be a factor for the Flyers in conference play.

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Thinking Out Loud: Patriots fans will settle for nothing less than embarrassing Colts 10.16.15 at 4:44 pm ET
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Rooke_JohnThinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to Jim Harrick?

— Should we allow for a mea culpa on URI football? Rhody earned a win last week, beating Delaware, 20-0, for just its fifth win in the past 41 games. I know there’s an old adage that says, “Winning cures all ills.” The trouble with that here is that there’s probably not enough winning available to cure anything with Rhode Island football.

— And speaking of URI football and success, former URI player and coach Darren Rizzi was named assistant head coach of the Miami Dolphins this past week. Good luck with that. No, seriously, good luck with that.

— Don’t know about you, but I felt let down that the Patriots-Cowboys game last week wasn’t a bit more competitive. Dallas is a mere shell of its former self, without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. But I will say this: New England’s defense was surprisingly stout across the board, and completely locked up tight end Jason Witten.

The Pats secondary is improving each week. They don’t have Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner back there, but the two young players in Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan are athletic and physical and they can make plays in the mold of a Revis. They make mistakes, too, but haven’t been burned much. Yet.

— Losing Nate Solder to a season-ending biceps tear is a blow, no doubt. But injuries are always a part of the game, and to get into Week 6 before having someone lose their season to an injury is about as good as it gets these days. The rotation system the offensive line has learned should pay off from here, as the Patriots now work to protect TB12’s blind side.

— Part of protecting the blind side is for Tom Brady to get the ball out to his receivers as fast as he can. Expect teams to muddle the middle of the field in an effort to reach him more often — which also puts a premium on using a talent like Dion Lewis. Get the man the ball, as often as possible. He makes defenders miss, and the move he busted to get into the end zone against the Cowboys? It was a video game-quality move.

Julian Edelman already calls Lewis “Jitterbug” for his stopping and starting, cat-like quick reactions. How about “X-box?” More relatable?

— Love the suggestion from Pats fan Max in San Diego, who wrote in to suggest the Lewis-LeGarrette Blount duo be nicknamed “Sonic Boom.”

— If the Patriots don’t lay a 40-dog or 50-burger on the Colts this week, I get the impression most fans around here will be disappointed. Revenge can only carry you so far, so let’s move on. Are the Colts a chief culprit in the whole Deflategate mess? Of course, but what would you rather be? The snitch who tried to make something out of a deflated football or the bully set to pound the snitch into the ground?

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