PC’s Jared Bynum is a 1st team All-Big East pick by KevinMcSports (Photos by Louriann Mardo-Zayat)
So the calendar has flipped to March and for the first time in forever the Madness has certainly gripped Rhode Island.
Yes, this college basketball hotbed has buzzed plenty in recent years when the Providence Friars were locks for the NCAA Tournament or when Dan Hurley had the Rhody Rams atop the Atlantic 10. But this year has certainly been different.
Thanks to the best regular season showing (24-4) by a Friar team since the 1977 group rolled to a 23-3 showing, the buzz around PC basketball is nothing like I’ve ever witnessed. That’s what the best regular season in 45 years can do.
It also helps that Bryant is super-charging March as well. The Bulldogs host Mount St. Mary’s Saturday night at what will be a rocking Chace Center in the Northeast Conference semifinals. A win pushes Jared Grasso’s team to a Championship Week (ESPN2) appearance, in Smithfield, for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Anyways, March also means awards time. All the conferences are handing out their All-League honors and before we give you our take on the Big East, can we laugh a bit about the Northeast Conference? Now Bryant’s Peter Kiss is no altar boy. He’s been suspended for conduct unbecoming and generally carries himself with a gigantic chip on his shoulder. But he is the NATION’S TOP SCORER! on the top team in the conference. Even so, the NEC’s coaches voted Wagner’s Alex Morales as Player of the Year.
I’ve always been a proponent of coaches NOT voting for league awards, and this seems like the perfect example why. A combination of school representatives and media who cover a league would not come up with this decision. Coaches who hold a grudge against Peter Kiss/Bryant and want to `send a message’ would make this call. It’s kind of sad.
How special a season has this been for the Friars? Team publicity guru Arthur Parks may have to lug a heavy load of awards from the Big East next week. While Ed Cooley is a cinch to be voted (by his peers) Coach of the Year, the Friars have strong candidates for several other awards. Justin Minaya is in the top three in my mind for Defensive player along with Seton Hall’s Ike Obiagu and UConn’s Adama Sanogo. Jared Bynum really should win Most Improved and Sixth Man and it’s really not even close. That probably won’t happen so we’ll give him Most Improved and share the sugar with someone else.
Player of the Year: Collin Gillespie, Villanova
Freshman of the Year: Ryan Nembhard, Creighton
Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, PC
Defensive POY: Ike Obiagu, Seton Hall
Most Improved: Jared Bynum, PC
Sixth Man: Caleb Daniels, Villanova
1st Team All Big East: Collin Gillespie, Justin Moore (V’Nova), Adama Sanogo (UConn), Jared Bynum (PC), Julian Champagnie (SJU), Justin Lewis (Marquette).
2nd Team: Javon Freeman-Liberty (DePaul), Jared Rhoden (Seton Hall), Ryan Hawkins (Creighton), R.J. Cole (UConn), Nate Watson (PC).
3rd Team: Al Durham (PC), Ryan Kalkbrenner (Creighton), Posh Alexander (St. John’s), Paul Scruggs (Xavier), Tyrese Martin (UConn)
Get ready for some spins on the coaching carousel here locally. First, Cooley.
As one of the leading contenders for National Coach of the Year awards, Cooley will understandably be mentioned for any top shelf jobs that open. Right now Louisville and Maryland fit that bill, with the Ville job being substantially more attractive. There will no doubt come a time when Cooley will be contacted by another school but why is this even commented on from PC’s point of view?
Cooley is extremely well-paid, the second highest paid coach in the Big East as a matter of fact. PC’s most recent tax return has the hoop coach earning $3.2 million per year and he has seven years remaining on a long-term deal he signed in the spring of 2019. So when a media member asks athletic director Bob Driscoll about Cooley’s future why isn’t the response ‘he’s our coach, he’s on a long-term deal and extremely well-paid and he’s not going anywhere.’
That’s what I would say, and that’s the truth until someone calls Cooley and he decides to talk to them.
There are two other local jobs that could become news items. First expect to see Grasso’s name in the mix for some mid-tier jobs, like the opening at Massachusetts. Grasso is a hard-charger who has elevated Bryant’s program to the top of the Northeast Conference and his work ethic and background scream On-The-Rise. Actually if he’s not involved with some jobs around the East, athletic directors and bogus search firms aren’t doing their jobs.
And finally down in Kingston, the spotlight is going to turn to coach David Cox when this disappointing season ends. Cox is in the fourth year of a five-year deal he signed back in April of 2018 so it’s awful timing that the Rams are struggling through back-to-back tough seasons. Cox has shown he can coach a winner (21-9 in 2020) but with only one year left on his deal will Rhody offer an extension or look to move on?
Cox makes a base salary of a little over $300,000 and if the buyout of the final year of his deal is only that base, URI could choose to move on with little problem.
So will the cloud of an asterisk follow the Providence Friars to New York next week and even into hoop history?
No, or at least it should not.
The Friars are 14-3 and done with their Big East schedule thanks to the Covid-19 sparked cancellation of three games. Villanova is 15-4 with a game at Butler Saturday to wrap its regular season. Before this season started, the 11 Big East schools voted to make winning percentage the deciding factor in determining seeding for the Big East Tournament. PC’s winning percentage of .823 cannot be topped by a 16-4 (.800) Villanova finish so the Friars rightly celebrated their first Big East regular season crown and the No. 1 seed.
Now did Villanova sweep the Friars? Sure did. And are we hearing rumblings from Philly that this seeding is more than a bit shaky if the two teams end in a virtual tie since the Cats clawed the Friars twice? Yes we are.
Well, let’s just go back one season and look at the Big East standings:
1. Villanova 11-4 (.733)
2. Creighton 14-6 (.700)
Villanova played less games than the Bluejays in a COVID-wracked season and earned the number one seed in the BET. Winning percentage was the deciding factor, as agreed to by the schools. That was the deal then and is the deal this season.