Friar Basketball

Friars Prep for Butler, BET

Baldwin vs. Duke Associated Press

An already atypical season for the Providence Friars will now include an NCAA tournament without fans, as well as the potential of the latter stages of the Big East Tournament being played in front of no one as well due to the coronavirus.

The Big East Tournament opens Wednesday night, and fans will be in attendance, but the NCAA announced late Wednesday afternoon its decision to play without fans for the NCAA Tournament. A few hours later, the Big 10 announced its conference will not have fans in attendance beginning on Thursday.

The Big East could potentially decide to make a similar decision tonight or tomorrow.

This certainly will not be like any March we have seen (assuming the NCAA tournament isn’t scrapped completely, as has been speculated in multiple places), which is somewhat fitting since the 2019-20 Friars are not like any team the Providence faithful have seen before.

An NCAA tournament bid seemed impossible a month and a half ago, but Ed Cooley’s group has rallied, winning eight of their last ten games, five straight over ranked opponents, and six in a row to close out the regular season. Most recently, they trounced DePaul, 93-55, on Senior Night.

The Friars are set to meet #24 Butler on Thursday afternoon (2:30pm) at the Garden. The two teams split their games this season, with each team picking up a road win. Butler came to Providence on Jan. 10 as the sixth ranked team in the country and controlled the pace in a 70-58 victory at the Dunk. PC returned the favor three weeks later by taking out the Bulldogs (albeit without point guard Aaron Thompson), 65-61, behind 22 points from Luwane Pipkins.

This will be the third Big East Tournament meeting between these two programs, with Providence holding a 2-0 advantage. Friar sophomore Ben Bentil scored the second most points (38) in tournament history in a 74-60 win in 2016, while a year ago Maliek White caught fire (8-11) to lead PC to a second half romp (80-57). Providence shot nearly 56% from the floor against Butler in MSG last year, with Alpha Diallo adding 18 points on 7-13 shooting and freshman David Duke going 6-8 for 16 points.

Diallo was named to the Big East All Tournament team in 2018, making him the only Providence underclassman to ever do so. Diallo was force for the Friars during their run to the Big East Championship game against Villanova. That game ended in an overtime loss for PC, and it was also the third straight tournament game in which Providence played into overtime.

No Friar coach has had the Big East Tournament success of Cooley, who enters with eight career wins. That’s three ahead of Pete Gillen and Rick Barnes, who are tied for second. Cooley’s predecessors, Tim Welsh and Keno Davis, combined for two conference tournament wins — which in fairness, came in a deeper Big East conference.

Cooley won a Big East Tournament championship in his third year at Providence, reached the finals four years later, and he has led the Friars to at least 10 conference wins in six of the past seven years.

While Providence has enjoyed success against Butler since their entrance in the Big East (12-4 all time), this is a stiff challenge for PC. Butler boasts the third most Quad 1 victories in the country with 10. Senior Kamar Baldwin, fresh off of a 36 point performance against Xavier, is a 1st Team All Big East selection, while their defense allows the 11th fewest points in the country. They also rank in the top 25 in the nation in field goal percentage defense.

Baldwin has terrorized opponents in the second half this season. Twenty five of his 36 points against Xavier came after the intermission, while he also scored 20 second half points in a January win over Creighton, 18 versus Minnesota, 17 against Stanford, 19 at Ole Miss, 16 at Villanova, and 29 points in the second half and overtime of a win over Marquette.

Both Providence and Butler are playing for NCAA tournament seeding on Thursday. Both teams also know that top seeded Creighton could likely await on Friday, and the Jays are without star point guard Marcus Zegarowski — a critical blow because of Zegarowski’s role and how scorching hot he had been coming down the stretch.

That could open the door a bit for PC or Butler, but business will have to be taken care of on Thursday, in what should be a physical game at the Garden.

3 Comments

  1. PK

    March 12, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    Oh man, this stinks. No BET. Likely no NCAA. You hate to see it as a fan, but I feel for the players. Especially the seniors. They battled so hard to fight back from the slow start, and it all just ends without a climax. It’s a shame.

    I somehow wish they still play the games eventually or give medical red shirts to all seniors, but I doubt anything like that will happen. Sad day in Friartown.

  2. rayi

    March 12, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    At least ended season on such a positive note and last home senior night best game of the yr, everything was working.

  3. B Hall

    March 14, 2020 at 10:44 am

    Has anyone heard any news where the Mitchell twins might be leaning towards?