In a season of ups and downs, the Friars have persevered and played themselves into the mix for a spot in next month’s NCAA Tournament.
Like many other fans, I too had my doubts about this team, particularly halfway through the season. Among the losses of Kris Dunn, Brandon Austin, and Rodney Bullock, was an epic beating that the Friars took at Villanova on January 5 to drop Providence to 0-2 in the Big East, a beating that it seemed they may never get back up from. On top of that, the Friars had dropped their Big East opener less than a week prior in a heart-wrenching double-overtime loss to Seton Hall.
I admittedly was ready to write this team off for the season at that point, as many others probably were. But am I surprised where they are right now? Not entirely.
This basketball program and all of those surrounding it have too much pride to just pack it in. Led by head coach Ed Cooley and All-America candidate Bryce Cotton, who is undoubtedly the most underrated player in the country, the Friars have put together a more than respectable season, leaving themselves an opportunity to claim third or fourth place in the Big East with just three games remaining.
Tough tests still lie ahead with road games at Seton Hall and Creighton and a home game against Marquette. Realistically, the Friars need to win two out of three, in my opinion, to keep Tournament hopes alive. On top of that, they would need to win at least one game in the Big East Tournament. If they did at least that, Providence would finish 21-12 and have a strong case to make it to the dance.
I don’t want to look too far ahead, but it’s definitely doable. Having a player like Cotton makes anything seem possible. He’s single-handedly kept his team in games this season and would unanimously be the Big East Player of the Year if it weren’t for Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who’s probably the favorite for the Naismith Award, honoring the top player in the country.
Cotton and the Friars need a strong effort in a must-win Friday night at Seton Hall, who are still trying to find their identity late in the season, giving Creighton all they could handle on the road Sunday night before dropping a game to lowly DePaul Tuesday night.
I know being on the bubble isn’t ideal for many, but it’s more than I expected from this team after that loss at Villanova. If the Friars continue to play up to their potential, they just may be dancing for the first time since 2004.