Bryce Cotton

Bryce Cotton, Providence’s marathon man, looking to lead the Friars on a run to the NCAA tournament

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source: AP
AP

Providence has found itself in double-overtime four times during Big East play this season. The most recent thriller came on Tuesday night against Marquette with the Friars’ NCAA tournament hopes undoubtedly on the line.

In his 50th minute of action — the fourth time he’s logged every minute of a double-overtime game in the past nine weeks — senior guard Bryce Cotton was able to make two winning plays with less than 10 seconds left and Marquette clinging to a 80-79 lead. As the Golden Eagles inbounded the ball, instead of fouling, Cotton went for a tie up, giving the Friars the ball back with the possession arrow.

Moments later, Cotton was fouled by Derrick Wilson. The once roaring Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowd became utterly silent as he drained his pair of free throws. On senior night, Cotton scored 25 points, grabbed seven rebounds and recorded nine assists in Providence’s 81-80 victory over Marquette. After shaking hands with the Golden Eagles, Cotton, who has racked up 1,207 minutes played in 30 games, had enough energy left in his 6-foot-1, 165-pound body to shout to his older brother, Justin Tarpley, in the stands.

“I was just telling him, ‘I told you. I told you. We did it.’ … stuff like that,” Cotton said. “Because where we come from there’s not a lot of opportunity to go to college and play sports. Since we’re here, you might as well take it as far as you can. That was a brief emotional moment me and my brother shared.”

Growing up on the north side of Tuscon, Cotton was frequently reminded by Justin, 29, of others who had the ability to do something great, only to be sidetracked and eventually lured down the wrong path.

“It wasn’t the best neighborhood to grow up in at a younger age, but my brother did a good job of keeping me away from any gangs that were around my neighborhood,” Cotton said. “He kept me focused. He did all the things an older brother should do.”

The focus drilled into him by his brother has stayed with Cotton. The latest example being his heads up play with nine seconds to go against Marquette, remembering not to foul, rather go for a steal or tie up, which set up Cotton’s heroics.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

For someone averaging 40.2 minutes per game, Cotton’s season has largely gone unnoticed, even if he doesn’t mind the lack of national recognition. He’s the reason why Providence is in the conversation for the program’s first NCAA tournament bid in a decade, though, he almost didn’t stick around to lead the charge.

In three seasons at Providence, head coach Ed Cooley has been able to land a handful of prized recruits to his hometown, players which would have given the Friars one of the nation’s most dangerous perimeter attacks. But several of those PC prospects never panned out the way the Friar faithful had envisioned when they had originally committed.

Providence native Ricky Ledo was ruled ineligible before the start of last season, declaring for the NBA draft that spring. Brandon Austin, a four-star small forward, was suspended indefinitely, along with Rodney Bullock, back in November. Austin has since transferred to Oregon.

Kris Dunn, the top point guard in the Class of 2012, has been plagued with shoulder injuries since the summer before his freshman year. He and Vincent Council were sidelined together for eight games last season, leaving ball-handling duties in the hands of Cotton. When it was announced in December that Dunn would be undergoing season-ending surgery on his right shoulder after appearing in only four games, Cotton was once again entrusted with running the offense.

“It wasn’t tough for me at all,” Cotton said. “People don’t realize that I played point guard my whole life until I came to college, so it wasn’t something that was new to me.

“Basically, it was me wiping off the rust. Due to some unfortunate circumstances I was able to showcase the ability not a lot of people knew I had.”

There weren’t a lot of people that knew much about Cotton as he made the journey from Arizona to Rhode Island to begin his collegiate career. He was not ranked by ESPN, while Rivals posted minimal information about him coming out of Palo Verde Magnet High School in 2010.

His state line reads 21.7 points and 5.9 assists per game. He’s had several clutch performances and his team has exceeded preseason expectations — picked sixth but currently third in the Big East behind two top-15 teams. You wonder why he doesn’t get more praise, more ink. Providence basketball has been down for the better part of a decade, and the Friars are still squarely on the bubble with a week and a half until Selection Sunday.

Then and now he chooses not to concern himself with the spotlight.

“I don’t think anything of it,” Cotton said. “My whole life I’ve flown under the radar and I’ve always had people question me about my play, my size. Honestly, I kind of like it like that. I just go out there and play my game. If people notice me, they do and if they don’t that’s not really my problem. I’m out there to win ball games.”

Tuesday night’s win marks the first time the Friars have won 20 games in a season since 2004. Cotton wants to end this year where that 2003-2004 Friars finished their season: in the NCAA tournament. However two years ago, it appeared Cotton wouldn’t even end his career in a Providence uniform, let alone lead the team to the Big Dance.

source:
AP

Cotton was on the other side of the country, more than 2,500 miles away from his family. Twenty days after his sophomore season came to a close, his grandmother, Mary Portley, passed away at the age of 72.

It was at that point that Cotton, who had just finished his first year playing for Cooley, was thinking about transferring from Providence College.

“The loss of my grandmother really hit me,” he said. “That was the person I was closet to. That really hit me a lot. I didn’t want to be away from the rest of my family after a tough time like that. It had a lot to do with some other things, but that was one of the bigger factors that really hit me mentally.”

He was told to stay at Providence, that things would work out for the best. He grew up with a strong bond with his mother, grandmother and faith, and he needed guidance from all three in order to choose his next move in life. While back at home to attend his grandmother’s funeral, it was his mother, Yvonne Cotton, who passed along a message, which helped him return to Providence for his junior year.

“My mom had told me, my grandmother loved Coach Cooley and thought I would have a bright future there,” Cotton said. “To hear all those people encouraging me to stay and to hear my grandmother think I’d have a great future there as well, I felt that was God answering my prayers.

“From the looks of things, I made the right decision by staying.”

When Cotton went to Cooley, informing him that he may leave the program, Cooley remained patient and allowed Cotton to take the time he needed in order to make a decision. When Cotton elected to return to the Friars, it became the start of a growing relationship between player and coach, as Cotton’s role continued to expand.

“He’s done a really good job of bringing a lot of new attributes out of me, character traits I didn’t think I’d ever show,” Cotton said.

“Coming in I was more a lead by example guy, quiet, kept to myself. He brought to my attention, the importance of bringing along some of the younger guys. He forced me to not only be a vocal leader, but an emotional leader as well.”

Those new attributes Cotton has displayed under the tutelage of Cooley have blended quite well with the virtues his family and faith instilled in him at an early age. The leadership and emotions were there as he exited the Dunkin’ Donut Center floor for the final time, another big performance in another big game for the tournament-hungry Friars.

Regardless of the win on Tuesday, Providence continues to play with little room for error. If the Friars pull off an upset in Omaha, handing Creighton’s its only home loss or rally off some wins next week in New York at the Big East Tournament, then Cotton will get his chance to introduce himself to the nation on college basketball’s biggest stage. Any slip up, and, like his talented basketball career up until this point, it’ll continue to fly under the radar.

“Either we’ll rise to the occasion or we’ll fold,” he said. “I feel that we have too much that we’re playing for. This is something we don’t get another opportunity to do. We gotta do all we can to seize the moment and make sure it happens.”

WEEKLY AWARDS: West Virginia shines again, but it’s time to pay attention to Oregon

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (24) drives past Arizona forward Ryan Anderson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Dillon Brooks, Oregon

The Pac-12 may not be as strong at the top as the other power conferences in college basketball, but there may not be a league in the country that is as balanced. There are as many as ten teams that are still in the running for an NCAA tournament bid, and the difference between No. 2 and No. 10 is really not all that drastic.

I say No. 2 because, at this point, I think that the Ducks are the clear-cut best team in the conference. They proved that this week, as they mollywhopped Colorado in Eugene and followed that up with a double-figure win over Utah. Dillon Brooks looked like an All-American on Sunday, putting 30 points and nine assists on the Utes, who had the reputation of being one of the better defensive teams in the conference entering the day.

Brooks’ offensive arsenal is just silly, but his name doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as some of the other stars in college basketball, probably for the same reason Oregon is flying under the radar. They were injured early and suffered a couple of ugly losses early in the year, to UNLV in Las Vegas and at Boise State. But they’ve won six in a row in the league (how about this run: USC, UCLA, at Arizona, at Arizona State, Colorado, Utah) and nine of their last ten. I think Oregon is Final Four good. Let’s see if anyone else picks up on it.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Brandon Sherrod, Yale: Sherrod broke the NCAA record of consecutive field goals made in Friday night’s win over Columbia, when he scored 25 points and grabbed eight boards. He had made 30 straight shots since January 16th.
  • Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State: Iwundu had 15 points, five boards and five assists in a loss at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, but he made this list for the 22 points and seven assists he had in the win over No. 1 Oklahoma, when he also was tasked with guarding Buddy Hield, who he “held” to 23 points.
  • Darryl Reynolds, Villanova: Reynolds had 13 boards in a win over Creighton during the week and followed that up with 19 points and 10 boards in the win at Providence. He entered the week averaging just 2.3 points with a reputation for being little more than the reason that Daniel Ochefu needed to play so many minutes.
  • Ryan Anderson, Arizona: The 31 points and 12 boards at Washington State were nice. The 22 points and 15 boards at Washington were even better. The road sweep that Arizona landed? The best.
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Maybe it’s Virginia’s struggles on the road. Maybe it’s because they’re a “boring” team to watch. Maybe it’s because their pace keeps his numbers down a bit. Whatever the case may be, no one is paying near enough attention to how good Brogdon has been this season. Myself included. He was terrific against in wins against Boston College and at Pitt this week.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: West Virginia Mountaineers

Here we are, the morning after the Super Bowl has ended, and none other than West Virginia is leading the Big 12.

Seriously.

It’s West Virginia.

Not Oklahoma. Not Kansas. Not Iowa State. West Virginia.

And I know what your initial reaction is going to be. “A schedule fluke”, right? Well, no. Not really. The Mountaineers beat Kansas at home. They lost to Oklahoma in Norman on a tip-in by Khadeem Lattin at the buzzer. This week alone they won at Iowa State and beat Baylor in impressive fashion in Morgantown. Bobby Huggins has this team playing some great basketball, and when they’re forcing turnovers, crashing the glass and getting Jaysean Paige to play like an all-Big 12 guard, they’re tough to beat.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Michigan State: The Spartans are back. After seeing Michigan State go into Ann Arbor and work over the Wolverines, I feel pretty comfortable saying that.
  • Louisville: The Cardinals got rocked by the news of their postseason ban, and responded by blowing out Boston College on Saturday. So good for them. The win over North Carolina was nice, too.
  • Texas: The Longhorns kicked off the week by winning at Baylor and followed that up with a better-than-you-think win over Texas Tech.
  • Oregon: Like we mentioned earlier, no one in the country is playing better ball right now than the Ducks.
  • Maryland: The Terps not only picked up a win at Nebraska during the week, but they also held serve against Purdue at home over the weekend, which gave them their second top 50 win of the season.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 10 Michigan State at No. 18 Purdue, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 14 West Virginia at No. 7 Kansas, Tue. 7:00 p.m.
No. 5 Iowa at No. 22 Indiana, Thu. 9:00 p.m.
No. 7 Kansas at No. 1 Oklahoma, Sat. 2:30 p.m.
Gonzaga at No. 12 SMU, Sat. 10:00 p.m.
No. 22 Indiana at No. 10 Michigan State, Sun. 1:00 p.m.
USC at No. 23 Arizona, Sun. 9:00 p.m.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY: Oklahoma leads final push toward Selection Sunday

Lon Kruger
(AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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With the Super Bowl in our rear-view mirror, eyes turn toward Selection Sunday – apologies to the diehard baseball fans who toss in the start of Spring Training ahead of March Madness.  Anyway, we’re a month away from the annual NCAA Tournament Selection Show and few bracket positions have been secured.  If you’re just joining the college hoops landscape, it’s been that type of season.  Welcome, by the way.

Oklahoma continues to lead the Field of 68, but the No. 1 seed line is far from certain.  At this point a year ago, we pretty much knew that Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Duke would be No. 1 seeds.  This year, we can’t lock anyone into place. Positioning along the top three lines is very much in flux, even if we have a good idea about the contenders.  The bubble is no different.  Strap on your seatbelt; it could be a bumpy ride to the finish.

As a reminder, Louisville self-imposed a post-season ban last Friday, which eliminates the Cardinals from bracket consideration.  SMU did the same before the season.  Thus, two at-large teams will be Dancing on Selection Sunday courtesy of the Cards and Mustangs.  Today, those two teams are Clemson and Saint Joseph’s.  In the Tigers’ case, a solid group of ACC wins (mostly at home) is lifting up non-conference schedule ranked No. 341.  Ultimately, that could cost Clemson a month from now – we’ve seen it before.  When a team goes 7-5 against one of the worst non-conference schedules in the nation, it takes an exceptional conference season to overcome the disparity.

Enjoy your week of college hoops.  You can find the complete Seed List at Bracketville.

UPDATED: February 8, 2016

Teams in CAPS represent the projected AUTOMATIC bid. In the event of a tie in the loss column, RPI is first tiebreaker. Notes: To simulate actual bracket conditions, we’ve used current conference leaders to receive the automatic bid. Exceptions are made for teams that use an abbreviation (ex: UCLA)

Several new bracketing principles were introduced a couple of years ago. You can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Cincinnati vs. Saint Joseph’s | Midwest Region
  • Clemson vs. George Washington | East Region
  • BUCKNELL vs. WAGNER | Midwest Region
  • HAMPTON vs. TEXAS-SOUTHERN | South Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

SOUTH – Louisville MIDWEST – Chicago                            
Oklahoma City Des Moines
1) OKLAHOMA 1) Kansas
16) TX-SOUTHERN / HAMPTON 16) BUCKNELL / WAGNER
8) WICHITA STATE 8) VCU
9) Colorado 9) Syracuse
Raleigh Denver
5) DAYTON 5) Arizona
12) VALPARAISO 12) MONMOUTH
4) Miami-FL 4) Texas AM
13) AKRON 13) ARK-LITTLE ROCK
Spokane St. Louis
6) Providence 6) Baylor
11) SAINT MARY’S 11) Cincinnati / St. Joseph’s
3) OREGON 3) Michigan State
14) UAB 14) NC-WILMINGTON
Brooklyn St. Louis
7) Duke 7) Pittsburgh
10) Seton Hall 10) Washington
2) Maryland 2) Xavier
15) BELMONT 15) NEW MEXICO ST
EAST – Philadelphia         WEST – Anaheim
Brooklyn Des Moines
1) VILLANOVA 1) IOWA
16) NORTH FLORIDA 16) MONTANA
8) CONNECTICUT 8) Florida State
9) Florida 9) SAN DIEGO ST
Providence Spokane
5) Kentucky 5) USC
12) Clemson / Geo Washington 12) CHATTANOOGA
4) Purdue 4) Texas
13) STONY BROOK 13) UC-IRVINE
Providence Denver
6) Notre Dame 6) Utah
11) LSU 11) Gonzaga
3) WEST VIRGINIA 3) Iowa State
14) YALE 14) SO. DAKOTA ST
Raleigh Raleigh
7) Indiana 7) South Carolina
10) California 10) Michigan
2) Virginia 2) NORTH CAROLINA
15) NC-ASHEVILLE 15) S.F. AUSTIN

NOTES on the BRACKET: Oklahoma is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Iowa, and Villanova.  Next in line: Virginia, North Carolina, Xavier, Maryland

Last Four Byes (at large): California, Seton Hall, Michigan, Gonzaga

Last Four IN (at large): Cincinnati, George Washington, Clemson, Saint Joseph’s

First Four OUT (at large): Oregon State, Butler, UCLA, Wisconsin

Next four teams OUT (at large): Georgia, Kansas State, Vanderbilt, Temple

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Virginia, Miami-FL, Notre Dame, Duke, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Syracuse, Clemson

Pac 12 (7): OREGON, USC, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Washington, California

Big 12 (6): WEST VIRGINIA, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Baylor

Big 10 (6): IOWA, Maryland, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan

SEC (5): LSU, Texas AM, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida

Big East (4): VILLANOVA, Xavier, Providence, Seton Hall

Atlantic 10 (4): DAYTON, VCU, George Washington, Saint Joseph’s

American (2): CONNECTICUT, Cincinnati

West Coast (2): SAINT MARY’S, Gonzaga

Mountain West (1): SAN DIEGO STATE

MAAC (1): MONMOUTH

Missouri Valley (1): WICHITA STATE

ONE BID LEAGUES: UAB (C-USA), Ark-Little Rock (SBELT), Yale (IVY), Montana (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), Stephen F. Austin (SLND), Chattanooga (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), North Florida (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), UNC-Asheville (BSO), Hampton (MEAC), South Dakota State (SUM), New Mexico State (WAC), Stony Brook (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Wagner (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)