In just his second year at helm, Ed Cooley has turned Providence from Big East doormat to rising young upstart. (Photo courtesy of The Sporting News)
Before the season started, Providence coach Ed Cooley turned heads with this bold guarantee of what to expect from a Friar team picked last in the conference's preseason poll:
"I like when people overlook us, because we're going to bite some asses. Believe me when I tell you that." - Ed Cooley at Big East media day
Four months later, Cooley has guided Providence College to a 14-11 record with four consecutive wins to move the Friars to 6-7 in the Big East, and Providence still has three more winnable games against the likes of Rutgers, (Saturday) St. John's (March 2nd) and Seton Hall (March 5th) after their next contest at the Carrier Dome tomorrow night against Syracuse. Not only that, but the Friars are in prime position to get to a place the program has not been since 2009: The postseason, when Keno Davis guided a team led by Geoff McDermott and MarShon Brooks into the NIT.
If Providence can win the aforementioned three games, plus steal one of their remaining two on the road against Syracuse and UConn, (March 9th at Gampel Pavilion) the Friars could be in position to possible secure the school's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2004. However, with an RPI of 99 despite a strength of schedule rank of 49, (these numbers come courtesy of RealTimeRPI.com) Cooley's bunch will likely need at least one, maybe two, wins in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden to solidify their resume for the selection committee. At the moment, resident NIT expert and friend of the website John Templon of Big Apple Buckets currently has the Friars as one of the four No. 7 seeds in the NIT in his most recent bracket projections, and has them traveling to the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville to take on Mike Anderson and Arkansas in a game that would not be for the weak at heart, pitting Cooley's aggressive defense against the Razorbacks and head coach Mike Anderson's "40 Minutes of Hell."
Wins over likely tournament teams Villanova, (whom the Friars swept) Cincinnati and Notre Dame will almost certainly go a long way when the 68-team field is deliberated upon in the days leading up to March 17th, but Providence's record in close games should also be considered. With ten of their losses coming by ten points or less, (six of those ten were defeats of four points or less, as the Friars' one true decisive loss was an 80-62 defeat to Louisville at the Yum! Center, arguably the toughest road environment in the Big East and possibly the nation) Providence has shown the ability to compete in almost every game this season, something that has been nonexistent in recent years.
Cooley's player development has been a significant contribution to Providence's sudden hot streak, with both Bryce Cotton (the Big East's leading scorer at 20.4 points per game) and Kadeem Batts (just outside the top ten in scoring at 14.9 points per game and ninth in the Big East with seven rebounds per contest) emerging as legitimate candidates for the conference's Most Improved Player award while sophomore LaDontae Henton enjoys yet another consistent campaign with averages of thirteen points and eight rebounds per game. Having Vincent Council and Kris Dunn on the floor at the same time has given Cooley the luxury of having two point guards who can distribute equally to all others on the court while spearheading a drastic defensive improvement from last season, as the Friars have embraced their coach's ball control mantras by yielding just 64 points per game compared to 69 in a 15-17 campaign last year that saw Providence win just four conference games, a mark they have already improved by two thanks to four consecutive victories.
In addition to the headline-grabbing quote at Big East media day, Ed Cooley also had this to say:
"I love the 'us against the world' mentality. I want guys that are edgy and pissed off. Those are my kind of guys."
Ed Cooley's guys have already taken on some of the best the world has to offer and beaten them on multiple occasions, with an appetite for something bigger now clearly noticeable. Save this team a table at this year's postseason buffet.