Friar Basketball

Is Ed Cooley the Big East Coach of the Year?

CooleyClapping1

Story Highlights include:

  • Picked last in the preseason, the Friars are among hottest in Big East
  • Steve Lavin “Cooley far and away” coach of the year
  • Few coaches have won Coach of the Year without finishing in top 4

Ed Cooley didn’t see it.  With a 1st Team All Big East point guard running the show, he couldn’t fathom how his team was picked to finish 15th in the 15-team conference by his fellow Big East coaches in the preseason.  He wasn’t shy about vocalizing it at the time either. “Our players are going to be pissed off,” Cooley said at the Big East’s media day. “They really will be because they know how far we’ve come and what we’ve done in a year’s time. The amount of work that these kids have put in, that’s crazy. I don’t see that number.”

“I don’t think we’re going to be there (15th). I can’t wait to get back to practice and talk to them about that. I was surprised by it, but that’s our coaches’ reality to our program right now. We have to go out there and earn something. I’m very, very surprised at that. I don’t know if there’s ever been a preseason first-team guy (Vincent Council) and his team picked last, so that’s motivation.”

By the sound of it, Cooley didn’t seem like he believed an 8-8 record in the conference would merit Coach of the Year talk, but that was before the speed bumps starting cropping up.

You know the story by now: the aforementioned point guard went down with a hamstring injury three minutes into the season, with some fearing he might be lost for the season.  His backup, an All American in high school a season ago, was shelved for six months after shoulder surgery and not due back until mid-December, with others fearing he might also miss the entire year.

In their absence, Bryce Cotton emerged as the point guard, but he too battled through an assortment of injuries, missing a pair of out of conferences games with knee and ankle injuries (both losses).

At one point in November Cooley was left with so few options that walk-on Ted Bancroft, he of the 35 or so career minutes, played 45 in an overtime loss to Penn State.

These were the challenges the second year Providence head coach faced in the season’s first three months, but they aren’t the obstacles that led St. John’s coach Steve Lavin to say Cooley is “far and away” the Coach of the Year in the Big East after St. John’s fell to the Friars on Saturday night (a win that marked PC’s sixth in seven games).

No, Lavin has Cooley as the Big East’s top coach this season because of what came later.

Bottom falls out

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PC battled while short-handed early

Hopes were high after Dunn debuted with a PC freshman-record-tying 13 assists.  Suddenly, the core of Cotton, Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton and Josh Fortune — a group that somehow got PC to an 8-2 record early — was set to welcome not only Dunn, but Council and Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson as well.

Then the bottom fell out.  And when the bottom falls out on a team that has finished with a mere four Big East wins in the past three seasons, there usually isn’t any recovering.

The chemistry built fighting through early adversity vanished quickly in late December.  Despite 33 points from Cotton, PC lost to struggling Boston College, they suffered an embarrassing loss at Brown five days later, and the collapse was complete when they were beaten up by perennial Big East cellar dweller DePaul at home.

By the end of January the Friars stood at 2-7 in conference play with another lost season seemingly in the books.

Then the unthinkable happened. Cooley’s bunch won five of six in February, and then their first game in March, which suddenly, shockingly has the coaches’ pick for 15th in position to grab the 7th seed in the Big East Tournament should they win their final two regular season games (home against Seton Hall, at Connecticut).

“I can’t say enough about the job Ed Cooley has done.  In my book he’s the Big East Coach of the Year in a runaway, in particular because they were 2-7 and it’s so difficult in this league to bring a team back from the ashes,” Lavin said on Saturday night.

Taking Lavin’s point a step further, this wasn’t just a team that Cooley dragged out of the ashes, but a program and a fan base.  The “same old Friars” of January are now winning in ways not seen around here since the NCAA Tournament season of 2003-04.

Will it be enough to earn Cooley Coach of the Year honors?  History tells us this will be difficult.

A closer look at former selections

Since the 1999-2000 season, only one coach has won the honor without making the NCAA Tournament (Louis Orr at Seton Hall in 2002-03 — a team that went 10-6 in the Big East).

In that 13 year span, seven of the winners were coaches whose teams finished first, while two others were second

Orr won coach of the year despite missing NCAAs

Orr won coach of the year despite missing NCAAs

place finishers.  Aside from Orr at Seton Hall, the worst a team has finished that had the Coach of the Year was 4th (which happened twice, last season South Florida’s Stan Heath won, and Jay Wright’s Villanova team went 13-5 and finished 4th in 2008-09).

This season, Georgetown’s John Thompson III and Marquette’s Buzz Williams would both be fine choices.  Neither team was a unanimous top 25 club in the preseason and now the Hoyas could be looking at a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Marquette is surprising nearly everyone as they stand a game out of first place.

For the Friars to make the NCAA Tournament, they’ll most likely have to win their final two regular season games and reach the semifinals of the Big East Tournament (winning two games in New York to get there).  That’s certainly not an easy task, but Cooley has overcome the biggest obstacle in a season filled with them — his team has established itself as a presence in the Big East again.

Thompson or Williams may get the nod for Big East Coach of the Year, but no program has taken a larger step forward than Providence in 2012-13, and for that reason this will be a group that Friar fans remember fondly, no matter how the rest of the season plays out.

The team once in the ashes has become a program on the rise.  March basketball is relevant in Providence once again.

 

Email Kevin at kevin.farrahar@friarbasketball.com

 

 

 

 

 

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