Where: AT&T Center – San Antonio, TX
How: TNT (Marv Albert, Steve Kerr, Craig Sager) /WEEI 103.7 FM (John Rooke and Joe Hassett)/Westwood One (Brad Sham and Will Perdue)
- The Friars and the Tar Heels have met only 3 times all time with UNC leading the series 2-1. The two teams have never met in the NCAA Tournament but their first meeting was in the NIT in 1971 with the Tar Heels taking the game at Madison Square Garden, 86-79. The next time the team’s would meet would be the famous “Blizzard Game” in 1978 (click here for a great story from Craig Leighton of FriarBasketball.com on his recollections as a student and RI resident in ’78) which PC took. The following year, PC traveled down to Tobacco Road for the 2nd half of that home and home and fell to UNC 89-58.
- The Friars are 14-16 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and this will be their 16th appearance in the Big Dance. Their last win was in 1997 over UT-Chattanooga in the Sweet 16. Their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance was in 1964 when they fell against Villanova, 77-66. Their first ever win came the following year when they thumped West Virginia, 91-67.
- This season, PC had a 3-6 record against other NCAA Tournament teams with the 3 wins coming against Creighton (2) and Xavier and the losses coming against Villanova (2), Kentucky, UMass, Creighton and Xavier.
- Bryce Cotton is currently averaging 21.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg. He is trying to become 5th player from a major conference to average 20 or more points and 5 or more assists in a season since 2002. The 4 guys that have accomplished that feat: Jason Williams (Duke – 21.3 ppg, 5.3 apg ’01-’02); Tyrese Rice (Boston College – 21.0 ppg, 5.0 apg ’07-’08); Evan Turner (Ohio State – 20.4 ppg, 5.0 apg ’09-’10); Nolan Smith (Duke – 20.6 ppg, 5.1 apg ’10-’11).
- PC’s last Big East Championship before 2014 was 1994. The ’94 Friars went on to lose in the first round to Alabama, 76-70. Cotton was the MOP player while LaDontae Henton was named the the All-Tournament Team. The MOP trophy is named after Dave Gavitt. Cotton is the 2nd Friar to ever win the trophy with the first being Michael Smith in 1994.
- Coach Ed Cooley has never appeared in the NCAA Tournament as a head coach. He has been to the Big Dance 5 times as an assistant coach under Al Skinner. If the Friars win Friday night, Cooley will have more wins NCAA Tournament wins as a Providence head coach than Tim Welsh and Rick Barnes combined in their 5 appearances in the NCAA Tournament as the head man at PC.
- Cooley is looking for his 58th career win as the head coach at Providence which would tie him for 8th all time with Edward Crotty who reached that mark after 111 games in 7 seasons from 1938-1946 (no team in ’43-’44 – WW2). A win Friday would also be the 150th career win for Cooley in his 8 seasons as a head coach.
- Providence will be looking for win number 24 Friday night. They haven’t won 24 games since they went 24-12 in 1997.
- The Friars have never faced a 6 seed before in the NCAA Tournament. They are 4-2 in 6 games against teams with an 8 seed or better (both stats since the field expanded to 64 in 1985).
- With 4 or more days between games this season, PC is 7-3.
- Kenpom sees this as a 75-71 victory for UNC.
- Line opened at PC +5
It’s been a fun week reveling in the glory of the first Big East Tournament Championship in 20 years. That win on Saturday night at the Garden felt like the marking of Ed Cooley officially bringing this program back from the depths of the last 9 years which were filled with losing, off the court struggles and not much defense. So here this team is on that blue carpet that Cooley has been talking about for the last few weeks. They are realizing that dream and don’t mistake Cooley’s calm attitude for the fact that Cooley is just as excited as the players on this team. It’s his first time in the Big Dance in his 8 year head coaching career. It was a nice feeling on Sunday knowing that PC didn’t have to worry about being in. The only questions were who, where and when. The who is the 6th seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. The where is San Antonio as part of the East region with a chance to be back at Madison Square Garden with 2 wins this weekend. The when is Friday night on TNT.
An 11 seed is the worst seed ever for the Big East Tournament Champion in the 35 year history of the conference and it came as a shock to pretty much everyone to hear that, had Providence not beaten Creighton on Saturday to earn the conference’s automatic bid, they likely wouldn’t have been part of the field of 68. But they took that out of the hands of the Selection Committee and popped any bubbles that were out there.
This matchup with the blue blood Tar Heels is an interesting one. A fair amount of national pundits have pointed to this game as a potential for an upset. Vegas and Kenpom both see this as being around a 4 point advantage for UNC. But Vegas had Creighton as 7 point favorites on Saturday and the Friars beat the Blue Jays by 7. This is March Madness. Anything can happen. An 11 seed has beaten a 6 seed in the Round of 64 9 straight years. It has happened 15 times during those 9 years.
The keys to this game will be similar to the keys for pretty much every PC game this season. The Friars will need to control tempo and control the glass. UNC is a very good offensive rebounding team(18th in the nation in off reb % – 37.8%) but so are the Friars (43rd in the nation in off reb % – 35.5%). Both teams are below the national average (31.5%) in giving up offensive rebounds too (UNC – 168th 31.3% and PC – 103rd 29.9%). Who controls the glass will likely win this game. UNC wants to grab the defensive board and push the pace and if the break isn’t there, they will run the secondary break. PC will need to get back on defense and be in position to negate any transition for the Tar Heels. PC will likely look to run their flex offense and eat up large chunks of the shot clock each possession while looking for a quality shot and ultimately getting to the free throw line early and often. As much as Coach Cooley said this wasn’t a game about Marcus Paige vs. Bryce Cotton, that may end up being the case.
One big concern I have for this game is that the NCAA Tournament games tend to be officiated tighter than Big East conference games and obviously PC cannot afford to get into any kind of foul trouble with their extreme lack of depth. Ultimately, I actually like this matchup. I feel that PC will be able to control the tempo and manage to do enough on the offensive glass to get a lead and make their free throws to ice the game.
Prediction: Providence 72 North Carolina 69