Before the season even began, the Providence Friars were selected within the Big East to reside dead-last once all the conference games had been played.
They were forgotten before they even had an opportunity to be remembered.
"That's been the toughest thing for me psychologically, to make sure that I send the right message to the players, every day," said head coach Ed Cooley. "Somebody's gonna be picked first. Somebody's gonna be picked last. Do I think we belong there? No, not at all. But, we gotta go out there and earn it and prove differently. It's not what you deserve. It's what's you earn."
In his first season as the Friars' head coach, Cooley led the team to a 15-17 finish. The majority of their losses, 14 of 17, came within the Big East, where they ended in second-to-last place out of 16 teams, at 4-14, for the 2011-12 season.
"Right now we're focused on becoming a better unit individually, a better unit defensively, sharing the ball," Cooley expressed. "And, again, you gotta get lucky, too. You have to have a lot of luck. But I love our games."
So far this season, the Friars have elevated above .500 to a current record of 8-6.
Providence will be playing host to Syracuse at the Dunkin Donuts Center, a home-court that Cooley sees as a potential advantage. "I think playing in the Dunk is brutal," Cooley remarked. "I remember playing against it when I was an assistant coach. Going in there is not a fun night, not a fun night at all. I hope when team's come to play us, it's cold. I hope it's freezing out. The door's almost lock ‘cause they're icy. And they come in there and they're miserable."
The Orange are used to the cold climate, though, so it will be interesting to see how they respond if the Dunkin Donuts Center physically feels differently than the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse will enter onto Providence's court with a 2-0 record in the Big East, tied for the top with both Notre Dame and Marquette, while Providence is currently even with Georgetown for the bottom spot, at 0-2.
Despite their current record and their sub-par performance in the conference last season, Cooley has been working to build a prominent program behind-the-scenes that he intends to do great things for the institution on the court.
"Recruiting is always going to be what we begin and end our day with, recruiting," Cooley stated. "And I said it before, great players have great coaches and bad players have bad coaches. They go hand and glove on that. It's my job to make sure we continue to build a profile of our program where we're trying to go."
Two players brought in to help the Friars' program this season are Kris Dunn and Josh Fortune, both residing in the backcourt as guards. Dunn has played in all of the Friars' last five game, gaining at least five points per contest, but have struggled with turning the ball over. Dunn has had multiple turnovers in four of the five games he has competed in, including six in Providence's previous game versus the DePaul Blue Demons.
Fortune has played in all 14 of Providence's matches this season, averaging just under nine points and just shy of four rebounds per game in an average of 35 minutes on the floor per contest.
His minutes, however, went down once Big East play began, as he has scored a mere six points between the two conference contests combined for Providence, being more effective on the boards, grabbing nine rebounds combined in the two games the Friars have played in.
As Cooley prepares his players for their match with the Orange, he understands that the Big East has since become a shell of what it was.
"Coach [Jim] Boeheim, Syracuse to me, is probably the symbol of the Big East, was the symbol of the Big East," said Cooley. "But, you know what, time's have changed and if we don't embrace it, then we're gonna get left behind."
In thinking of a future without Boeheim across from him on the sidelines, Cooley acknowledged no longer competing against another well-known and respected Big East coach, Jim Calhoun, who retired after last season. "I'm gonna miss Coach [Jim] Calhoun ‘cause I think he's a pioneer for New England basketball and it's offered me the opportunity to do what I'm doing and shed light on New England basketball," Cooley shared.
Though Boeheim and Cooley will not stand across from one another as coaches in the Big East Conference after this season, they will meet again this season after this contest, for their match-up in the Carrier Dome on Wednesday, February 20th, at 7pm ET.