This season has been somewhat of a setback for No. 8 seed Providence, who won its opening-round Big East Tournament game against ninth-seeded Butler 80-57 on Wednesday. The Friars went 18-14 and failed to win at least 19 games for the first time since 2012-13 season.
Not a total failure, but a cut below the elite winning that 8th-year coach Ed Cooley has achieved during his impressive rebuild of the original Big East school. Cooley’s squad will have to win the Big East tournament outright if it hopes to go back to The Big Dance. Last night’s win over Butler was the first step. Cooley hopes his team’s history of playing above their heads in Madison Square Garden holds true today at 12 pm against No. 1 seed Villanova who has also won two of the last three National Titles under Jay Wright.
“I’ve said it from day one. There’s something about this building that’s spectacular for the Friars,” said Cooley who took the Friars to the Big East Tournament championship in 2014.
Highlights of Providence’s 2014 BIG EAST Championship victory over Creighton.
During Cooley’s first seven seasons at Providence, the Friars have been to the last five NCAA Tournaments, had five 20-win seasons and just one losing season. In the seven seasons prior to Cooley’s arrival, the university had 5 losing seasons, never made the tourney and never won 20 games.
At his introductory press conference in 2011, Cooley stepped up to the podium, oozing with confidence and promised to bring the program back to prominence. He’s delivered to a large extent and the program is growing in stature.
Press Conference announcing the hiring of Ed Cooley as new head men’s basketball coach at Providence College March 23, 2011
The Friars hadn’t made the NCAA Tournament in 8 years before the hometown boy decided to return to Providence after a successful stint at Fairfield University from 2006-11.
Providence hadn’t taken back to back tourney trips since 1988-1989. Cooley changed that by assembling Top 10-caliber recruiting classes, and bringing a new fire and swagger to the program that has resulted in a steady climb up the Big East standings.
Providence was 15-17 that first season, then advanced to 19-15 and haven’t won less than 20 games since. A win over Villanova would put them at 20 wins on the season.
When asked about his chances against Nova, Cooley wasn’t making any predictions but didn’t express any trepidation. All of Cooley’s teams play with no fear and squads like that are dangerous and ready to play spoiler.
“Unless you’re God, I can’t answer that,” Cooley told the press after the game. “We’re going to play together. We’re going to play excited. We’re happy to advance. These tournaments, it’s about advancing and moving on. Everybody has said, well, are you tired? We have 18 to 22-year-old kids. Nobody has time to be tired. We came here to try to compete for a championship, and you can only do it one game at a time.
Villanova is a very tough out. We’ve played them a ton. We know exactly what they are. They know exactly who we are. We’re making some perimeter shots and not giving up threes, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity.”