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.”

Five Things We Learned This Week: Gonzaga’s a talking point, Monk’s a terror, Duke hasn’t changed

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 9: #5 Nigel Williams-Goss of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives past #10 Brandon Brown and #15 Stefan Jovanovic of the Loyola Marymount Lions, on his way to the basket at Gersten Pavilion on February 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
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1. Gonzaga is going to be the team that we spend the most time arguing about for the next two weeks: That was probably already going to be the case given that the Zags get no credit for their record as a member of the WCC, but losing at home in a game where they led by 16 points is going to throw that argument into overdrive.

Can Gonzaga win a title? Is this a team you can trust in March? Do the Zags deserve a No. 1 seed? Are they nothing but a bunch of frauds?

I tried to warn you that this was coming six weeks ago.

Guess what: it’s here.

2. UCLA beat another elite team with some clutch defending: A little more than two weeks ago, Oregon went into Pauley Pavilion, opened up a 19-point lead and looked like they were ready to cruise to a blowout win over the Bruins, that is until UCLA finally decided to stop defending like a CYO team that just found out their postseason pizza party was canceled.

The same thing happened on Saturday night in Tucson.

Only this time, the Bruins switched to a 3-2 with 15 minutes left in the game, crashed the offensive glass and totally took the air out of the ball and Arizona out of their rhythm. For 25 minutes, the Wildcats got whatever they wanted offensively against UCLA. For the final 15 minutes, they looked like they had never practiced zone offense.

The concern with the Bruins is always going to be how well they defend. As good as they are offensively, they have to be able to get some stops if they’re going to be the elite teams across the country. They’ve down that the last two times they’ve faced an elite team in conference play and now own wins at Kentucky and at Arizona, and, if it wasn’t for Dillon Brooks hitting a buzzer-beating three, they’d have a win at Oregon, too.

The Bruins have their flaws, but man, this team still looks pretty dangerous.

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3. Is North Carolina the best team in the country?: That’s the argument that I made when the Tar Heels picked off Louisville at home on Wednesday. Where is their weakness? Is it Joel Berry II’s consistency? Because that’s less of a concern with Justin Jackson playing the way that he has been playing.

Is it their health? Theo Pinson and Isaiah Hicks have battled injuries this year and the Tar Heels need both of them on the floor because it’s unclear just how good they actually are defensively. Hicks is also always in foul trouble, which is never a good thing in a single-elimination tournament, and neither is a team that doesn’t have a multitude of great shooters.

But when compared to the rest of the elites in college hoops, those question marks seem relatively minor. Kentucky is too often a one-man team. Gonzaga’s guards might not be good enough. Duke and Kansas have no inside depth. Louisville’s scorers can’t score. Arizona doesn’t have a point guard. Oregon has had some issues with consistency. UCLA doesn’t defend.

We can play this game with everyone.

The issues that are brought up with the Tar Heels, however, just seem relatively minor in comparison.

4. Malik Monk is the scariest player in college basketball: It’s not like this is breaking news or anything. Monk has been lighting up defenses all season long. He’s been single-handedly winning games for Kentucky since the start of the season. He had 47 points in the win over North Carolina. He had 31 points in the second half and overtime to help the Wildcats avoid an upset loss to Georgia. He had 33 points against Ole Miss.

This is just kind of what he does.

But Saturday’s performance felt different because before Monk went for 30 second half points to help lead the De’Aaron Fox-less Wildcats to a win over No. 13 Florida, a win that gives them the inside track to an SEC regular season title, he played one of the worst halves of his career. He was 1-for-5 from the floor with three points, five turnovers and two fouls. That came after he had just 11 points in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win at Missouri.

Monk turned it on like that in a game where Florida, a top five defensive team in the country, spent 20 minutes executing the “Stop Malik Monk” game-plan to perfection.

You don’t want to see a guy that can do that on your side of the bracket.

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 14: Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers at Rupp Arena on February 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Malik Monk (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

5. Duke is exactly who they were a week ago: I’m done trying to tell people what to think of Duke. You all made up your minds weeks or months ago. If you’re like me, you see a roster that includes Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen and you pick them to win most of the games they play in. But if you look at their lack of interior defense, their depth issues, the injuries that won’t go away and the point guard question marks and worry about a team like that making a run, you’re certainly not wrong.

Duke is beatable.

We saw that this week, when they fell on a banked-in, buzzer-beating 23-footer at Syracuse and lost by five at Miami.

What I will tell you, however, is that if you let those two losses change the way you felt about Duke prior to Wednesday’s tip, you’re being silly.

Winning on the road in the ACC is hard. There’s a reason there are people talking about the conference as maybe the best ever. There’s a reason that only one team in the league has less than five league losses with two games left in the regular season. These are two road games to likely tournament teams decided by a total of eight points.

Losses like that are the kind of thing that happen in college basketball.

Team of the Week: Miami Hurricanes

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 20: Bruce Brown #11 of the Miami Hurricanes shoots the ball over Devon Hall #0 of the Virginia Cavaliers during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on February 20, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images)
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Believe it or not, Miami actually entered this week without having an NCAA tournament bid locked up.

They had just two wins over tournament-caliber teams on the season and four loseable games left on their schedule.

Well, things change fast in college basketball, and now we’re looking at a situation where the Hurricanes might be able to climb their way up as high as a No. 5 seed. It started with an overtime win at No. 18 Virginia, where the Hurricanes matched Virginia stop-for-stop in a 54-48 overtime win. (You didn’t misread that score.)

They followed that up by picking off No. 10 Duke at home as Bruce Brown played like the best freshman in the ACC and the Hurricanes once again looked like one of the nation’s best defensive teams, holding the Blue Devils to 50 points and Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard to a-combined 10-for-36 shooting.

The Hurricanes may now find themselves ranked in the top 25 this week.

Not bad for a team that was still in doubt of being in the tournament at this time last week.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Butler: The Bulldogs just keep winning. For a team that has already amassed wins over the likes of Villanova at home and Arizona on a neutral floor, this was probably their best week of the season. Not only did they hand Villanova’s player their first-ever loss at The Pavilion, but they also picked off Xavier in Cincinnati.
  • UCLA: The Bruins made a statement on Saturday night, as they went into Tucson and beat Arizona, making a run in the second half that was built around their defense and ability to crash the glass. UCLA now has the best pair of road wins — they won at Kentucky as well — of any team in the country.
  • Providence: The Friars have just about played their way into the NCAA tournament, assuming they don’t find a way to lose to St. John’s or DePaul in the last week of the regular season. They picked off Creighton and Marquette this week after beating Xavier and Butler last week.
  • UNC: The Tar Heels clinched at least a share of their eighth regular season title in the last 13 years this week when they beat Louisville and won at Pitt. The Tar Heels also staked their claim to being the best team in college basketball.
  • Iowa State: The Cyclones have turned things around since they slotted Solomon Young in the post in their starting lineup. They’ve won five straight games, and this week alone they won at Texas Tech and picked off Baylor at home.

Player of the Week: J.J. Frazier, Georgia

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 21:  J.J. Frazier #30 of the Georgia Bulldogs drives toward the basket as Yuta Watanabe #12 of the George Washington Colonials defends during the CBE Hall of Fame Classic game at the Sprint Center on November 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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J.J. Frazier deserves more credit and more attention than he has gotten this season, and there’s no better time to give it to him than this week.

In two games — two wins that keep Georgia’s minuscule hopes of getting an at-large bid alive — Frazier averaged 28.5 points and 4.5 assists, leading the Bulldogs to wins at Alabama and over LSU at home despite the fact that they are playing without Yante Maten, who sprained his knee in last Saturday’s game against Kentucky.

Frazier, by the way, had 36 points in that game against the Wildcats.

All told, he’s gone for at least 28 points in four of his last five games and has spent the better part of February as arguably the best guard in the SEC. Yes, that includes Malik Monk.

The unfortunate part of this is that the J.J. Frazier takeover happened too late. The Bulldogs are likely going to end up on the wrong side of the bubble because they have six losses in league play by six points or less or in overtime. They lost at Florida in OT. They lost at Kentucky in OT. They lost to Kentucky at home by five. They lost to South Carolina twice by a combined eight points. They lost at Texas A&M because the clock stopped running on the final possession, meaning that they didn’t get their final shot off in time despite the fact that there were 5.6 seconds listed on the clock when the shot was taken.

It’s been brutal.

The least we can do is give the kid his shine.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Adebayo is starting to play his best basketball of the season. It started with a 22-point, 15-rebound performance in a win at Missouri on That was followed up by the 18 points and 15 boards he put on Florida, damn-near finishing with a first half double-double that kept Florida from being able to open a lead Kentucky couldn’t bounce-back from.
  • Eric Mika and Elijah Bryant, BYU: The best performance from a Cougar that we saw this week was the 29 points and 11 boards that Mika had when BYU won at No. 1 Gonzaga and ended their undefeated season. But Bryant, who had 14 points in that win, also went for 39 points during the week as BYU beat Portland.
  • Justin Jackson, UNC: Jackson seems to have taken control of the race for ACC Player of the Year thanks for the 21 points he scored in UNC’s emphatic win over Louisville on Wednesday. He followed that up with 23 points in a win at Pitt.
  • Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris had 23 points and six assists in an overtime win at Texas Tech on Monday night, following that up with 17 points and seven assists as the Cyclones picked off No. 9 Baylor in Hilton Coliseum on Saturday. They’ve now won five straight games.
  • Bruce Brown, Miami: The Hurricanes scored 109 total points in wins at Virginia  (in overtime!) and over Duke at home this week, and Brown had 39 of them, scoring a team-high 14 points against the Wahoos before popping off for 25 against the Blue Devils.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Kansas, North Carolina vault past Gonzaga, Villanova

AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives around Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center on February 25, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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With Gonzaga taking their first loss of the season on Saturday night, it’s time for a reshuffle at the top of the top 25 standings.

We went with Kansas in the top spot, although I’m not sure if they’re actually the best team in the country.

I think North Carolina may be more complete, and while the Jayhawks have some serious front court depth concerns, if you were to give me the choice of a top seven vs. top seven, I would probably pick Kansas.

Anyway, here is the rest of this week’s top 25:

1. Kansas (26-3, Last Week: No. 3)
2. North Carolina (25-5, 6)
3. Gonzaga (29-1, 1)
4. Villanova (27-3, 2)
5. Oregon (26-4, 5)
6. UCLA (26-3, 8)
7. Louisville (23-6, 4)
8. Arizona (26-4, 7)
9. Kentucky (24-5, 11)
10. West Virginia (23-6, 10)
11. Baylor (23-6, 9)
12. Butler (23-6, 24)
13. Duke (22-7, 12)
14. Florida (23-6, 14)
15. SMU (25-4, 17)
16. Purdue (23-6, 13)
17. Notre Dame (22-7, 18)
18. Saint Mary’s (26-3, 19)
19. Florida State (23-6, 20)
20. Iowa State (19-9, 21)
21. Cincinnati (25-4, 16)
22. Wisconsin (22-7, 15)
23. Wichita State (27-4, 25)
24. Oklahoma State (20-9, UR)
25. Miami (20-9, UR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 22 Virginia, No. 23 Northwester
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 24 Oklahoma State, No. 25 Miami

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