Thinking out loud: Providence-URI is good for college basketball

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Thinking out loud…while remembering Tiger Woods used to play golf, amiright?

• The State of Rhode Island’s one, true event that it can all its’ own:  PC vs. URI, in men’s hoop.  Missed ya’ last year.  Glad you’re back.

• We’ve opined here – and you’ve seen or heard elsewhere, certainly – that the game has outlived its’ relevancy.  Two games per year?  Based on the way college basketball has traveled over the past 20-30 years, once is probably more than enough.

• Conference play means more today than it ever has.  However, strong out-of-conference games (and wins, losses not so much) can make or break an NCAA Tournament resume.

• The Football Five leagues and the teams in the Big East know that…and can afford to dodge some of those bullets because of their league schedules.

• But let’s hope they don’t completely ignore rivalry.  College athletics (fueled by many greedy college presidents) is already big bidness, hiding in the shadows of collegiality.  Keeping long-standing rivalries, like PC-URI, is still good for the college
game.

• Right.  The games.  Gotta keep the customers happy, and the income coming in.  Almost forgot about trying to make that buck.

• No one on Rhody’s current roster has ever played in a PC-URI game.  And only Nate Watson and A.J. Reeves have for Providence.  To the players, this isn’t a ‘rivalry.’  It’s the next game on the schedule.

• The Friars showed a grittiness and a toughness against Texas Tech this week we haven’t seen in a while.  They also showed an ability to beat a good team without Nate Watson’s oftentimes overwhelming presence.

• In case you’re wondering, that’s good for PC.  Bad for the other guys.

• Noah Horchler is also a huge x-factor for this team.  He’s the team’s best shooter and rebounder.  And they beat Tech without his best effort, too.

• Future Big East stardom?  Might be in Omaha in the person of Creighton’s Ryan Nembhard, already a 3x Rookie of the Week in the league this season.

• Don’t look now, but DePaul is (was?) the last unbeaten team in the Big East this season.  Javon Freeman-Liberty is 4th in the nation in scoring at 23.5 points per game, and the Blue Demons rank 5th in scoring at 88.5.

• UConn’s Adama Sanogo is the Big East Player of the Week and is certainly emphasizing the frontline talent Dan Hurley has in Storrs.  But the Huskies struggled this week with Sanogo and ex-URI guard Tyrese Martin out of their lineup.

• Martin may, or may not, be back in time to face the Friars on Dec. 18th with a wrist injury.

• Think Rhody isn’t ready for Saturday’s challenge?  Sure looked to me like they were ready for anything with a big roadie at a good Harvard team this week.

• Two URI fans yelled up at me in my booth at Gillette last week and proclaimed, “we’re not any good!”  Yeah, right.  Sandbaggers grow on the greens in South County, don’t they?

• URI is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX by adding women’s lacrosse as a varsity program – the 11th women’s team and 19th varsity sport in Kingston.

• Good win for Brown, great game for Tamenang Choh at UMass Lowell Wednesday.  Choh hit the 1K career scoring mark in getting a career high 26 points for the Bears.

• Bryant puts on its’ big boy pants this weekend.  After committing 20 turnovers in a loss to Dartmouth, the Bulldogs travel to nationally ranked Houston and to Cincinnati.  For what, we’re not yet sure.

• Is it possible that retiring Duke patriarch Coach K has a national champ on his hands for his last season?  Who else thinks he knew what he had and planned to go out this way?

• PC’s NCAA soccer run ended in the Sweet 16 to Big East rival Georgetown.  It was the 4th time in program history to travel that far through the NCAA’s.  But it’s starting to feel like a rule, rather than an exception.

• Speaking of which, 13th ranked Friar Hockey has had three straight Hockey East Players of the Week. East Greenwich’s Brett Berard took this past week’s honor with six points scored in wins over Dartmouth and Brown in the Mayor’s Cup game.

• Brown women’s volleyball won the Ivy League title for the first time in 20 years, earning a bid in the upcoming NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.  The Bears play at Washington late Friday night.

• UConn’s Paige Bueckers this week became the first NCAA athlete, male or female, to sign a marketing deal with Gatorade.

• Teammate Azzi Fudd has been playing for UConn for less than two months, but has NIL deals with Chipotle and sports drink BioSteel in addition to appearing in a commercial for TikTok.  Maybe the name on the front of the jersey is a reason the name on the back is making bank?

• Cool story of the week:  It’s been nearly a year since Bishop Feehan’s A.J. Quetta suffered a spinal cord injury that has left him paralyzed from the neck down.  But this week, the school added Quetta to the boys’ coaching staff as an assistant.

• Tweet of the Week, from @KAGS_Lucas: “Absolutely wild Urban Meyer stat I had to quadruple check to believe: 7 seasons at Ohio State, 83-9. 11 games with Jacksonville, 2-9.”

• Say whatever you like about Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (after finally beating Ohio State).  But you can’t call him cheap, or out of touch.

• Any bonus he reaps as a reward for his teams’ success (up to a few mil) he will turn back to his assistants and others in the athletic department for the pay cuts and layoffs they endured during the height of the pandemic.  A very decent thing to do.

• It’s gross.  It’s ugly.  But it’s also life these days.  There is little-to-no loyalty in sports anymore, including within the college game.  It’s all about big bidness, and anyone who tries to whine, moan, complain or tell you otherwise is disingenuous at best.

• And lying at worst.

• Sign of the Times I: Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley became the first Sooner head football coach to leave for another DI job since 1947, heading for USC.

• Sign of the Times II:  Benched OU QB Spencer Rattler hits the transfer portal.  Might there be a reunion in Southern Cal?

• Another stunner – Brian Kelly leaves ND for LSU, the first Irish football coach to ever leave Notre Dame for another college job…and he just this year became the winningest coach in their storied gridiron history.  10 years and $95 million will do that to a fella.

• But it’s also true he’s done this previously (leaving Cincinnati, and Central Michigan before that).  What else could he possibly have done in South Bend?  He had the program competing in the national limelight, reaching a couple of playoffs – and maybe another this year.

• But could this Son of Assumption have won it all at ND?

• Unlikely, considering the academic standards for recruiting he was forced to follow.  And get this – his goodbye speech to his team, a team that has won 11 of 12 games – was all of 3 minutes.  That’s all they meant?  Something happened on the Grotto, certainly, that wasn’t to his (or the schools’) liking.

• Now, Kelly better win.  Coach O won a natty two years ago, went 6-6 this year and pffffttt.  Gone like **** through a goose.  That’s the game these days.  And a long way from Everett, MA (where he was born) and Assumption College where he learned his, um, business sense.

• Jeff Hafley is extended at Boston College after a 6-6 (2-6 ACC) season with a new deal keeping him at The Heights through 2026.  Of course, as long as the Eagles get to bowl games and stay relatively competitive, he’ll be fine.

• Hafley has had two relatively productive seasons.  But win football championships?  At BC?  Not in this lifetime, or the next one.  And Hafley has little say in that matter.

• Funny isn’t it, that colleges won’t “pay” athletes, and some continue to cut varsity sports because of Covid or some other fiduciary reason.  But they’ll pay the “ol’ ball coach” upwards of $10 mil per year these days at some places.  Hop on the football bus, Gus.

• My buddy “Big E” sez his doctor told him he needed to lose weight, and jogging might add years to his life.  He told me, “you know what?  He was right.  I feel 10 years older already.”

• I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having these feelings of déjà vu all over again (sorry, Yogi) when it comes to the Patriots.

• Six straight wins?  Six weeks ago, literally no one expected such a turnaround.  It’s exciting, sobering and even a bit “expected” by many in and around Fort Foxboro.  You know who you are.

• How did this happen?  Two ways:  1) They’ve eliminated crippling mistakes, like turnovers. 2) They forced the other guys to make mistakes, like turnovers.

• And the child under center (or in the shotgun) is leading them just like another did before him, some 20 years ago.  This will be the only time I invoke the ghost of TB12 in the same thought process as Mac Jones.  Further comparison is pointless.

• Even if it is somewhat historically familiar.  And he did just file a trademark request for “MJ10.” The guy is no dummy.

• Jones is the Offensive Rookie of the Year.  It’s his honor to lose at this point.  Matt Judon is a lead dog in the Defensive Player of the Year race…and J.C. “Mr. INT” Jackson may not be far behind.  Three playmakers should get you more than just eggroll.

• And you’ve dated yourself, horribly, if you understand that last one.

• How’s BB’s drafting turned out this year?  Wonder if my buddy Eldred in North Carolina still loves Bill the Coach, and still hates Bill the GM?

• Just reading this week about the Dallas Cowboys’ Covid issues made my skin itch.  And made me reach for a mask.

• Speaking of Covid, is it over yet?  Caught the Patriots’ J.J. Taylor and Kyle Dugger this week.  Several teams in the AHL, including the Providence Bruins, are down double-digits in players due to protocols, sez Mark Divver.  Games this weekend have been postponed.  Boston’s Bruce Cassidy was hit this week, too.

• Jake DeBrusk asked for a trade?  Nice job of whining.  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out if you can’t man up and do your job.  Just sayin’.

• On the other hand, with Brad Marchand’s suspension this week, he sorta goes in the other direction, doesn’t he?  But would you trade him, even if he continually ‘misbehaves’?

• He may be a pain in the ***, but he’s our pain in the ***.

• Supporters’ Shield?  Shield, schmield.  The Revs blew it, big time.  Best regular season record EVER in MLS, and a first-round KO at the hands (or feet) of NYCFC.

• What a missed opportunity to gain a toehold on relevancy within Boston and New England sports fiefdom.

• Winning it all, finally, might have raised a few eyebrows.  Now, it’s just “typical Revs.”  The Buffalo Bills of Major League Soccer.

• And MLS had a hand in this monstrosity – making its’ best team wait 23 days between the end of the regular season and their playoff game.  It’s not an excuse, that falls on the Revs to be prepared.

• But if soccer really wants to mainstream itself within American sports public consciousness before man goes to Mars, it will stop trying to be Euro/Premier League Light.  Schedule wisely.  Attract the audience, don’t repel it and give it a reason to get onto something else after 23 days.  We won’t wait.

• And for the love of sport, a game should be decided on the field until someone scores or drops, no matter how long it takes.  Penalty Kicks?

• It’s like deciding the Super Bowl on field goal tries.  Or college football games on
two-point plays.

• Wait, wut?

• Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement between owners and players expired Wednesday, and baseball activity – including a pretty good Hot Stove League thus far – came to a screeching halt.  First lockout for baseball owners in more than 30 years.

• Like soccer hierarchy, baseball brass often can’t see the forest for the trees.

• Anyone else notice the flurry of baseball deals before Dec. 1?  The first month of the offseason produced nearly $2 billion worth of guaranteed deals for about two dozen players.

• But no one of note coming to Boston.  If you believe Jackie Bradley’s return, or the signing of 41-year-old Rich Hill is all good, I’ve got swamp land in Florida to sell you.  I’m an eternal optimist, but also a realist.

• And Chaim Bloom’s attitude worries me.  It should worry you.

• We could start feeling better, however, with just getting baseball back on the map with a new agreement between owners and players.  That would help.  Both sides need to ‘give,’ and perhaps the entire sport could ‘get’ in return.

• Like paying customers.  This year’s World Series and All-Star game were the second-lowest rated games, ever.  And now, a lockout?  We all know much about this sport today is unwatchable, from pitchers taking forever to throw, batters stepping out of the box instead of in, defensive shifts and mound visits.

• Just play the game!  In three hours or less, preferably.

• Players want to make more money.  Don’t we all?  Allow them to go to arbitration earlier, let teams keep the present free agency system intact.  Winner, winner.  Playoffs should be expanded, somewhat.  More teams in it, more interest in the game.

• And for the love of all that is holy, make the DH universal.  It’s time.  No one wants to see a lifetime .038 pitcher swing and miss at curveballs.  Or any kind of balls.

• You don’t like a defensive shift?  Neither do I.  But I’d tell my guys to hit it where they ain’t.  And keep doing it until the other guys abandon shift.  Simple.

• And hey, baseball?  Learn to tell the truth.  Reports this week had MLB using two different kinds of baseballs this past season, unknown to the players.  First, they were deadened.  Then, they were juiced.

• If I’m the players, I don’t trust the hierarchy…to have any balls at all.

• Not for nuthin’, but that wallflower you see standing over there in the corner, away from the party?  That’s the Sox.  They used to be playas.  No one will dance with them.

• Except Milwaukee.  They’re the ones giggling in the other corner after ditching JBJ (and his .163 batting average) back onto the Sox’ roster.

• Rumor in the sports marketing industry pegs the Fenway Sports Group (Red Sox and now Pittsburgh Penguins owners, among others) as looking for new teams and leagues to conquer.  Like the NBA.

• I remember the first pro golf tournament I ever attended, the Colonial NIT in 1969.  It was won by Gardner Dickinson, but I remember my friends and I watching Lee Elder play.  It was the first time I had seen someone of color play golf, especially professional golf.  And he had a powerful swing.

• The man undoubtedly endured more racism than most see in a lifetime, because of the sport he played.  But if not for Lee Elder, Tiger Woods (and others) never follow.

• He broke down barriers to make that possible, including becoming the first black to compete at The Masters.  Elder passed away this week at age 87.

• Speaking of Tiger Woods, he tells us he won’t play a full schedule on the PGA Tour again, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – new stars continue to emerge in the game nearly every year.  But one like Tiger?

• Oh, he’ll still be around for the ‘choice’ events.  And the media will continue to fawn all over him.

• One thing is for certain – after watching some of his first news conference since his auto accident nearly knocked him for a permanent loop…dude doesn’t miss an upper body day at the gym, does he?

Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here!  Would appreciate the follow on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and join in on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

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