Ed Cooley

Are the masses sleeping on Ed Cooley’s Providence Friars?

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When Providence College hired Ed Cooley back in 2011, the hope of many was that the Providence native was the right man to rebuild a proud program that had fallen on hard times. Lacking discipline both on and off the court, the Friars had a tough enough time fighting their way out of the bottom half of the Big East much less contending for an NCAA tournament bid.

That’s begun to change under Cooley, as the Friars won 19 games and reached the quarterfinals of the Postseason NIT. Despite the graduation of point guard Vincent Council, fans are hopeful that Providence will continue to make progress with players such as guards Bryce Cotton and Kris Dunn and forwards Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton returning.

But even with those returnees and some talented newcomers of both the freshman (Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock) and transfer (Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris) varieties, receiving some respect in preview publications has proven difficult for the Friars. Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal discussed this in regards to both PC and their rivals up at Rhode Island, where Dan Hurley’s put together a roster many expect to be far more formidable in the Atlantic 10 this season.

None of the preseason chatter matters, of course. It just introduces a bit of doubt into the minds of fans who are clearly thirsting for wins.

“We have a few guys who haven’t played in our two transfers (Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris) and the two freshmen,” Cooley said, “but at the end of the day they picked us last last year, too. It’s a cliché that you don’t worry about what people say about you before the season, it’s after the season that matters. But do I think we’re a 7-8-9 team? Not at all. But hey I only get one vote.”

Providence will embark on a new era of sorts, as will their fellow conference members, in the reconstituted Big East. Gone are games against programs such as UConn and Syracuse, but that doesn’t mean the path to the NCAA tournament gets any easier with three strong programs in Butler, Creighton and Xavier joining the league. If this transition were being made during the days when Providence lacked depth and discipline, they’d be in serious trouble.

But those days are long gone, and even if that 19-15 record may not be seen as concrete evidence to the casual observer coach Cooley’s impact on the program can be seen clearly when the Friars are in action. Can the Friars return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004? The pieces are there for them to end that drought, regardless of what the preseason prognostications say.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Kansas/Oklahoma rematch highlights a fun day of hoops

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) and forward Perry Ellis (34) go to the floor with Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard, back, during the first overtime of an NCAA college basketball game in Lawrence, Kan., Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. Kansas defeated Oklahoma 109-106 in triple overtime. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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GAME OF THE NIGHTNo. 6 Kansas at No. 3 Oklahoma, 2:30 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview.

The rematch we’ve all been waiting for will happen on Saturday.

A little more than a month after Buddy Hield burst onto the national scene with 46 points in a triple-overtime thriller — thriller doesn’t do it justice, that was one of the best college basketball games of all time — the Jayhawks will may their return trip to Norman to take of the Sooners. Only the circumstances of Saturday’s showdown will be a little bit different than what they were on that Monday night in January, when the No. 1 team in the AP poll squared off with the No. 1 team in the Coaches poll.

Oklahoma is no longer the No. 1 team in the country, as they’ve gone just 3-2 in their last five games while needing last-second game-winners to hang on against LSU and Texas during that stretch. But Kansas is not longer ranked at the top of the polls either, as the Jayhawks have managed just a 2-3 record in the Big 12 away from Phog Allen Fieldhouse, with those two wins coming against TCU and Texas Tech. They needed to beat West Virginia on Tuesday night just to ensure that this game would feature two teams sitting at the top of the Big 12 standings.

And that, at the end of the day, is going to be the most important takeaway from this game. Kansas plays four of their last seven Big 12 games on the road, and three of those road trips are against top 25 teams. Oklahoma? They have four road trips left as well, but they will be paying visits to Texas Tech and TCU during that stretch. That’s what makes the result of this one so important. Oklahoma, with a win, would put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Big 12 title race, and with a (road) game left against West Virginia — the third team tied for first in the league — they would control their own title destiny.

Before I move on, there’s one other interesting point that needs to be made here. When these two teams last played, Hield and Kansas guard Wayne Selden both looked like Big 12 Player of the Year candidates. Since then, Hield has emerged as the clear favorite for National Player of the Year, Selden has fallen off the map. It’s been 10 games since these two last faced off. Selden blew up for 33 in the win over Kentucky, but in the other nine games, he’s averaging just 9.9 points; he’s scored a total of 21 points in three games since beating Kentucky.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 24 Texas at No. 14 Iowa State, 8:30 p.m.

The Longhorns are suddenly looking like a legitimate Big 12 contender, which was not exactly expected to happen during Shaka Smart’s first season in Austin. The Cyclones, on the other hand, are trending in the opposite direction. They just lost at Texas Tech, they’re starting center (Jameel McKay) has been suspended for two games stemming from the way he’s behaved in practice and, even with McKay in the lineup, Iowa State is working with, essentially, a six-man rotation. So here’s the question: Will this game be the turning point in Iowa State’s season, or will Texas continue their assault on the top of the conference?

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. Duke seems to have righted the ship when it comes to their season. The Blue Devils have won three straight and four of their last five, including Monday’s win over No. 13 Louisville. They get a visit from a streaking No. 7 Virginia at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, a team that has gone from being atrocious on the road to blowing out Louisville and Pitt in their own buildings.

2. No. 5 Xavier was mollywhopped by Creighton on the road on Tuesday. Butler? They picked up a critical win for their bubble profile at Seton Hall on Wednesday. The two will square off in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

3. We’re going to find out a lot about the SEC power structure this weekend. At noon on Saturday, No. 22 Kentucky will travel up to Columbia to take on South Carolina, both of whom are sitting in a tie for first in the league standings. Just an hour later, No. 15 Texas A&M — who was the best team in the SEC but now sits a game out of first place — will trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU. The Tigers? They’re right there with Kentucky and South Carolina, tied for first in the conference.

4. The bottom-line is this: Gonzaga will not be receiving an at-large bid to the tournament if they do not win at No. 16 SMU on Saturday. Tip is at 10:00 p.m.

5. There are two games that will be featured on NBCSN on Saturday: James Madison at UNC-Wilmington (3:00 p.m.), Hofstra at Delaware (5:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Saturday afternoon.

OTHER TOP 25 GAMES

  • St. John’s at No. 1 Villanova, 8:00 p.m.
  • Wisconsin at No. 2 Maryland, 6:30 p.m.
  • TCU at No. 10 West Virginia, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 11 Oregon at Stanford, 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 13 Louisville at Notre Dame, 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 15 Texas A&M at LSU, 1:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 Purdue at Michigan, 2:00 p.m.
  • Georgetown at No. 20 Providence, 12:00 p.m.
  • Texas Tech at No. 21 Baylor, 8:00 p.m.
  • Northern Iowa at No. 25 Wichita State, 12:00 p.m.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Wake Forest at N.C. State, 12:00 p.m.
  • Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 12:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas at Ole Miss, 12:00 p.m.
  • Georgia Tech at Clemson, 2:00 p.m.
  • Washington at Colorado, 2:00 p.m.
  • Tennessee at Missouri, 2:00 p.m.
  • East Carolina at Cincinnati, 4:00 p.m.
  • Ohio State at Rutgers, 4:00 p.m.
  • Alabama at Florida, 5:30 p.m.
  • Vanderbilt at Auburn, 6:00 p.m.
  • Saint Louis at VCU, 6:00 p.m.
  • Oregon State at Cal, 6:30 p.m.
  • Georgia at Mississippi State, 8:00 p.m.
  • Tulsa at UConn, 8:00 p.m.
  • Illinois at Northwestern, 8:00 p.m.
  • Creighton at Marquette, 8:00 p.m.

VIDEO: Monmouth hits a game-winner, Bench Mob member tries to disrobe

King Rice
AP
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Monmouth used a 17-2 run in the final minutes to beat Rider on Friday night, a win that will keep the Hawks within striking distance of the kind of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament should they fall in the MAAC tourney.

The run was capped by star point guard Justin Robinson, who buried this three with three seconds left to put Monmouth up for good, 79-78: