Obviously the result of this game wasn’t what Providence fans wanted. The 15 point halftime lead never truly felt comfortable. That’s a product of watching plenty of Providence games over the years that has fans always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Usually that other shoe is a player transferring or an injury or a coach leaving that cripples the program in the short term and sometimes even the long term.
This year it was blowing a big lead in the second half of an NCAA Tournament game. And if you think about it, you realize how far this program has come under Ed Cooley when the other shoe doesn’t drop until the NCAA Tournament. Coming into a season when the team lost two players to the NBA Draft and was picked 9th in the preseason Big East coaches poll Providence earned an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament. They now own the school record for being the first team in Providence’s history to make the NCAA Tournament four straight years. With the full complement of players expected back for next season plus the additions of two talented incoming freshmen big men the outlook for 2017-18 certainly seems higher than the one for this year’s team back in October.
But you aren’t ready to talk about next year yet. And that’s ok. But keep in mind that Cooley is building a program at Providence and part of growth is failure. He’s now 1-4 in NCAA Tournament games. The optimist would point out that Cooley coaching in 5 NCAA Tournament games is a feat in of itself for a coach at little old Providence. Tim Welsh only coached in 2 in his 10 seasons with 0 wins. Providence has a unique situation with Cooley that he appears to be committed to the school to the extent that he isn’t looking to jump ship after some mild success. If that’s true then Providence fans need to remain committed to Cooley as he learns on the job to try to get the Friars over the hump and into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament and beyond.
Before this current stretch of four NCAA Tournament appearances in a row, Providence had been to the NCAA Tournament only 15 times. Cooley’s four appearances account for more than 21% of Providence’s all-time appearances in the Big Dance. Add in the NIT appearance in 2013 and Cooley’s five postseason appearances now account for more than 13% of all Providence postseason appearances in the school’s 90 seasons playing college basketball.
In 2014 after Providence got the Big East’s automatic bid by winning the Big East Tournament, it felt like Providence and Friar fans were just happy to be in the NCAA Tournament. A great back-and-forth game against 6 seed North Carolina that year had a tough finish but people remained positive after because it was Providence’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2004. Fast-forward to this season when it seemed like Providence and their fans were happy to be there but the attitude among the team and fans changed. Providence wasn’t just happy to be in the NCAA Tournament. That’s a subtle difference but shows how quickly expectations have changed in the last few seasons for a team that got their first NCAA Tournament since 1997 last March.
People being upset about blowing a lead in an NCAA Tournament game shows how far the Providence program has come under Cooley and that fact that it was a First Four game shows how far they still have to go. I tend to think this experience will only help Cooley down the line and he’s shown that he can continue to bring in talented recruits to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. At some point Providence will need to make a run to the Sweet 16. That point may even be next season.
But for now, try to look through the fog of this loss and realize that it was a fun year to see Kyron Cartwright step up to the plate and be in the top-5 in the country in assists, that it was fun to see Emmitt Holt step in and become part of the Friar family in no time, that it was fun to see Jalen Lindsey take a giant leap forward, that it was fun to see freshmen like Maliek White. Kalif Young and Alpha Diallo get better as the season went on, that it was fun to see the Friars in the NCAA Tournament. You don’t have to be happy about this loss and how it happened, but try to be happy for where your program is right now. The future remains bright in Friartown.
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