The 2017 NCAA Tournament Selection Show. I can only assume that every single Friars fan within an arms’ reach of a television remote tuned in.
I’m sure that PC fans who found themselves away from the confines of the living room, diligently surfed the web for live coverage or had their eyes glued to their smart phone.
Technology is a pain and everyone with a smart phone is well aware.
[Download] the NCAA March Madness app, wait…wait…wait…wait…OPEN (finally).
If you missed the start of the broadcast, your web-stream lagged behind, or your mobile application didn’t download by 5:30 PM, there is a very good chance that you missed PC’s name called as their meeting with the University of Southern California was announced almost instantaneously.
Providence fans, ridden with curiosity, were either thrilled beyond belief or utterly disappointed that the committee landed the Friars with a glorified play-in game, part of what the NCAA is calling The First Four. On one hand, the Friars reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season for the first time, a monumental accomplishment for a program that boasts a rich history of success. On the other hand, Friars fans found it hard to believe that the USC Trojans loomed over their heads, yet again.
This Seems Strange…
This matchup was certainly a head-scratcher. For one, Providence faced USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season as the 8 seed – 9 seed matchup. If I am not mistaken, this is only the second time in recent memory that two teams met in the first round of the Tournament in consecutive seasons. Secondly, Marquette, who Providence swept during the regular season, earned an at-large bid as a #10 seed, having finished the season with less wins than the Friars - ultimately avoiding a dreaded First Four matchup. Aside from all of the what- ifs, the most puzzling piece for Friars fans, is that Ed Cooley’s squad found themselves playing another game in March, in the state of Ohio. Just two seasons ago, the #11 seeded Dayton Flyers upset the #6 seeded Friars in the city of Columbus, Ohio, just one hour from their campus. Anything associated with “Dayton” whatsoever, drives Friars fans crazy.
As it turned out, PC’s rendezvous with USC certainly lived up to its ‘rematch’ hype. The finale of the First Four matchups, leaned in favor of the Trojans as they overcame a 17-point deficit, edging the Friars, 75-71. This turned out to be the Trojans’11th come-from-behind victory this season in games in which they were down by 15+ points.
First Half – Providence on Fire
On the first possession of the game, Alpha Diallo attempted an ill-advised kick-out pass in traffic that led to a Jordan McLaughlin steal and breakaway layup. Just about 20 seconds later, after a missed Rodney Bullock layup, Bennie Boatright drilled a three-pointer. After just 57 seconds of lopsided basketball, Coach Cooley used the team’s first timeout. Bullock bricked a three-pointer right after the timeout that led to another Boatwright jumper, giving USC an early 7-0 advantage. At that point, the contest felt like it was slipping away for Providence who were undersized and seemingly overwhelmed by the Trojans’ energy and poise.
Emmitt Holt began to lock in for the Friars on the following possession and got PC on the board with a layup at the 18:02 mark followed by a soft mid-range jumper about a minute later. A slight shift in momentum for Providence came to a halt when Jalen Lindsey’s three-point attempt got wedged between the rim and the backboard. Boatright followed suit with another three pointer but was able to convert on USC’s next possession, the score now at 10-4 in favor of the Trojans.
Jalen redeemed himself by knocking down a three on PC ensuing possession, which ignited the Friars’ offense for the remainder of the half. Jalen, a streaky shooter to say the least, caught fire. He finished the first half with 17 points, 12 of which came from three pointers. Rodney Bullock joined the fun as well, delivering a 10-point first half performance on a pair of threes, a two-handed slam dunk and a successful trip to the charity stripe. Emmitt Holt was efficient and productive on both ends of the floor, Maliek White and Kalif Young played confidently off of the bench and Kyron Cartwright orchestrated what turned out to be a flawless offensive first-half showing for the black and white. Providence led 44-29 at the half.
The Trojan Takeover
On PC’s first possession of the second half, Emmitt Holt found his way into the paint for a layup to give the Friars a 46-29 advantage and their largest lead of the game. From that point forward, the Friars’ offensive rhythm slowly dissipated and the game began to slip away, one USC possession at a time. College basketball is known as a game of runs. Teams can will their way back from a 17-point deficit in a matter of minutes. In this case, it took USC nearly 12 minutes to take the lead from Providence, outright.
It wasn’t until the 6:48 mark that USC began to slowly bury PC’s unthinkable season. A Chimezie Metu jumper from the wing, put the Trojans ahead 61-60. Metu, an imposing 6’11 forward, disrupted the Friars on both ends of the floor. Nothing came easily for the Friars undersized forwards, especially Isaiah Jackson and Alpha Diallo, who do most of their damage from the mid-range.
Metu stepped up his offensive attack in the second half, taking advantage of Emmitt Holt’s departure to the bench, due to foul trouble. USC had found their offensive rhythm when Metu and Nick Rakocevic, USC’s other 6’11 forward were on the floor simultaneously. Metu and Rakocevic are extremely athletic and versatile, both with a sound face-up game. All in all, just too much size for Holt, Bullock and Young to manage. All the while, Bennie Boatright and Jordan McLaughlin had a field day while the Friars did their best to contain the Trojans’ big men. USC managed to shoot 50% from the field in the second half and put together a run from the 10:06 mark to the 5:26 mark in which they didn’t miss a shot from the field. Conversely, Providence shot just 42% from the floor in the second half, a far cry from their well-oiled shooting outbreak in the first portion of the contest.
Overachievement at its Finest
Let’s face it – the Friars were picked to finish 9th in the Big East after the Media Day announcement. With a roster void of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, expectations for this season had been lowered a considerable amount. Last off-season was filled with nothing but speculation… Is Bullock the guy to step up and become PC’s next dominant scorer? What is Kyron Cartwright’s ceiling? Will Ryan Fazekas get his shot back? Will Jalen Lindsey develop and mature? How good is this freshman class? Will Jackson and Holt become key contributors? Is PC good enough to make the NIT????
Needless to say, all of these questions were answered at one point or another throughout the season. Ed Cooley has certainly fostered a winning culture in Providence. Coach Cooley expects to win games, his student-athletes compete at an extremely high level and the Friar Faithful is woven, yet again, into a period of great success. Friar fans should do their best to compartmentalize last night’s loss and appreciate this past season for everything that it turned out to be.
The Friars incoming freshman class has shaped up to be a BIG deal. Coach Cooley and his staff found two highly touted student-athletes that will certainly bolster their undersized front court.
Dajour Dickens – 6’11”, 205 lb. Center from Hampton, Virginia
Nate Watson – 6’8”, 250 lb. Power Forward from Arlington, Virginia