Thinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to former Big East bully Danya Abrams?
— In no way is this an excuse, but isn’t there at least a game or two every season that you just give away? That’s what last Tuesday night in Chicago felt like, when the 11th-ranked Friars fell to DePaul. It was an inevitability, no matter what happened.
— Three things in life are inevitable: Death, taxes, and losing one you thought you were going to win.
— Ben Bentil’s injured ankle was a big reason for Providence’s inability to eventually win that one. The Blue Demons had no clue how to guard him in the paint, so they did their best to keep the ball out of the paint and limit PC’s penetration. Plus, flopping to the floor and rolling up on Bentil from behind — like you see done on a football field to guys who blow out knees — that also helped, too.
— Add to the mix Kris Dunn’s relatively rare inability to put the ball in the hole, and a motivated opponent, and you have ingredients necessary for an upset. Providence beat DePaul by 27 at Allstate Arena last year. Some of those players remembered. Even though coach Dave Leitao wasn’t there, HE remembered. New Bedford guys (which he is) have long memories.
— Not for nuthin’, but Dunn is showing an alarming inability to finish some spectacular moves at the basket, which is a pretty good indication he’s trying a bit too hard. He’s also not getting contact calls when going to the basket, which is highly inconsistent for officiating crews who have been instructed to make these calls. Doubly frustrating for him, and for the Friars.
— And for my broadcast partner Joe Hassett, who rarely agrees with any call by an official. But he did compliment referee Mike Stuart at the DePaul game for “not stinking” the other night, so there’s that.
— One other thought from the first loss in a true road game (now 6-1) this season — Jalen Lindsey’s illness and absence shows how effective he’s been on the glass. Providence was killed on the backboards, 48-24, and DePaul isn’t tall.
— Before last week began, a 1-1 week is where you hoped to be anyway. And that’s what the Friars got, thanks to a nice win at Georgetown. It just didn’t pan out the way you thought it might. Just sayin’.
— The final four games of the season at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center are sold out, so hopefully, you haven’t missed out. Told ya’ so. It starts Saturday with third-ranked Villanova, and a win against the Wildcats would mean a season sweep over a potential 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Who are the knuckleheads thinking PC is now a bubble team? Please identify yourselves, and turn in your fan-boy cards.
— Butler’s Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin are two players I wouldn’t want to coach against in this league, but somehow they’re not held in the highest regard by several in the media. Martin was once a Friars recruiting target, and he popped for 34 points in one game last week. Jones is the kind of player everyone loves, but nobody likes. If that makes any sense.
— While Martin is an outstanding sixth man for the Bulldogs, Xavier’s James Farr has been the best off the bench the Big East has to offer so far this season. Adding a deadly mid-range jumper to his physical presence at the rim, Farr is a nightmare to defend — and get around. Consistently, he causes trouble for everyone but his own coaches and teammates.
— Another player who has popped into league eyes and minds is Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead. Simply put, he’s growing up, and at the same time, SHU is getting better. A big-time Brooklyn talent who was whiny as a freshman and a factor in Sterling Gibbs’ transfer to UConn, Whitehead is very much living up to his advance reputation as a player — period.
— It’s midseason in the Big East, so if you’re wondering, here you go, to this point: Player of the Year? Dunn, in a close, close call over Bentil and Villanova’s Josh Hart. Coach of the Year? Xavier’s Chris Mack. Ed Cooley is still in the game, if his team finishes strong. Farr gets the sixth man nod, and Dunn takes Defensive Player of the Year. Rookie of the Year? Henry Ellenson from Marquette, and that one isn’t close. But I happen to like Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, a lot. Friars fans will get an eyeful.
— What has happened to URI? Forget the injuries, which definitely have been a factor. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but where is the passion? That has to start with the players who are able to play, and I’m not seeing any. Passion, that is. Rhody has players. But do they have the energy to push on? There’s still a season to play out, and the chance to set the cards straight for a phenomenal ’16-17.
— The Sporting News shared its thoughts this week on the top 20 states for college basketball, and frankly, I’m very disappointed. Rhode Island rates no better than 19th? In order to truly get at the crux of what matters in college sports, you always have to include the entire landscape — and not just the relative worth of a team. RI has a nationally ranked team, the four D1 schools have some great players, and fans are selling out the Dunk. What else are they looking for?
— Of course, RI could be Connecticut or Massachusetts — neither of which made TSN’s top 20 list. Take that, and move on.
— A tip of the hat to Johnson & Wales too, with the Wildcats 19-1 on the season (13-0 in their conference) and ranked 17th nationally in D3. Senior guard Quarry Greenaway just topped the 2,000-point mark for his career, making him the NCAA‘s active career scoring leader. The ‘Cats are beating opponents by an average of more than 28 points per game.
— National signing day, in case you didn’t notice, was Wednesday. Only in Boston is this day misunderstood. In every other locale in the country, especially south of the Mason-Dixon Line, it’s bigger than big. Maybe because they don’t play college football in Boston?
— Oh. Right. My bad. They used to play it at a pretty high level at BC, but now? What’s lower than irrelevant?
— Boston College actually finished No. 1 in total defense in the ACC this season, but the Eagles lost all but one defensive coach to other teams since the season ended. Seems a little like rats jumping a sinking ship, if you ask me.
— It was great to see so many Rhode Island high school athletes sign their letters of intent to play college sports this week. Football, soccer, cross-country, lacrosse and water polo all were represented, which begs the question: Are our kids getting better at sports, or is the opportunity for them to participate simply increasing? How about a little of both?
— It is rare, however, to see a Rhode Island kid sign to play football at an SEC school. But that’s what happened when former Mount Pleasant star Joseph Putu signed on as a defensive back with the Florida Gators. Putu spent the past two years playing in North Dakota — which makes this story even more intriguing. Rhode Island to North Dakota to Florida?
— One item also sliding under the radar: URI and Bryant signing Rhode Island athletes. This is talked about quite a bit in other places, but keeping your share of talented local kids at the local schools is a program building block anywhere you go.
— Big weekend ahead for the PC hockey Friars, who slipped a bit to sixth in this week’s national polls. The 3-1 loss to UNH last Saturday was the first regulation home loss in more than a year. A home-and-home with the Maine Black Bears can put a little grease on the skates for the rest of the season, if things turn out well for Providence. The Friars are 9-0-1 in their last 10 against UMaine.
— Some good PR has come the way of former UMass product Frank Vatrano getting his time — and some good time, too (remember his hat trick in December against Pittsburgh?) — with the Boston Bruins this season. Don’t forget, former Friar and one of Johnston’s own, Noel Acciari, also has laced ’em up for the Providence Bruins in his first season out of college hockey.
— One of the truly nice men in the big, bad business of radio passed away this week. Norm Jagolinzer had a passionate following for his work as a maestro of the easy-listening format, especially during the days when his voice dominated WLKW’s airwaves in the ’70s and ’80s. Norm was quintessential “smooth.” I loved listening to his commercials! And he loved playing the big-band favorites for his audiences. Jagolinzer, who was inducted into the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame in 2009, will be missed by many.
— It was mentioned to me this week by someone who would know, but don’t be surprised if former Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has a larger role again within the organization. Retiring two years ago from active coaching, Scar has stayed on in a consultant and scouting role — and hasn’t ruled out a return to the sideline to replace Dave DeGuglielmo, who replaced him as line coach.
— Sure, it would have been great for Tom Brady to snub the Commish and the NFL and spurn the offer to be honored as a past Super Bowl MVP. We all wanted Tom to accept that trophy on the podium after winning the championship again, only to see Roger Goodell squirm in the process. It didn’t happen, but TB12 is handling this the right way — the classy way. He doesn’t need more controversy, he needs to get past this as best he can. Showing up, playing the role of good guy, and proving he isn’t “above the game” is really the only thing he can do.
— Otherwise, he feeds into the “noise” that has surrounded and hounded him for 12 months.
— OK, show of hands here. Who is surprised the NFL decided NOT to release any of the tests conducting PSI levels of footballs? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
— What is the true “State of the NFL’? That business is booming, good as always, better than ever? I’ll buy that. But what about the lies, deceit and treachery among ownership and the league office that also seems apparent? The real state of the NFL is that Business as Usual means, ‘Watch your back.”
— Who ya’ got? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not getting the “zing” for Super Bowl week as I normally do. Is this a case of Patriot malaise? That, and a mix of being tired of Cam Newton and Peyton Manning stories. So this is how the rest of the world looks at us, huh?
— Not surprised in the least to find out this week Ken Stabler had signs of CTE. Stabler passed away last summer at age 69 after a long struggle with cancer, and had his brain dissected for clues into his physical football past. The mind of the former Raiders QB had slipped, precipitously, according to friends and family, over his last few years. It was discovered, then announced this week he had a severe case of the disease, with widespread lesions affecting all parts of his brain.
— This week marked the 15-year anniversary of the XFL. Remember “He Hate Me,’ aka Rod Smart? The XFL lasted just one season, but the WWE’s foray into pro football did slap the NFL into the realities of showmanship, certainly. From player introductions with fireballs, to skimpier cheerleader costumes, to providing fans with access previously unthinkable (like coaches and players wired for sound), the NFL should thank Vince McMahon for at least a portion of its present-day popularity.
— But there won’t be a royalty check coming his way. Count on that.
— Would we have HBO’s “Hard Knocks” without having had the XFL? As much as coaches crave control, it’s doubtful. They have zero control over HBO’s presence.
— I like the Celtics‘ apparent thinking on Dwight Howard. It’s too bad Houston’s price is too steep, apparently, but Danny Ainge is right. If you can’t grab a go-to scorer, grab a big for the middle and see if what you have is enough to build around him. You might be able to win in the East, right now.
— The Zika virus outbreak might just threaten this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, according to Forbes magazine. I don’t mean to make light of a serious health issue, but really, if you can bring back DDT to kill off the mosquitos and stop having sex for three weeks, what’s the issue?
— Just say no. Easier said than done? Probably.
— My buddy Statbeast sez he can get over boredom pretty quickly. He likes to randomly text people with the message, “I am pregnant.”
— In case you’ve missed it, more than 13,000 fans have signed a petition to remove former Bruin Mike Milbury from NBC’s NHL broadcasts. I truly did not know that many people cared, one way or the other, about his analysis or criticism of players and coaches — but do they not realize this is even MORE of a reason for NBC to keep him around? Fans love to hate. TV execs care not a whit, one way or the other.
— Much of the vitriol headed Milbury’s way comes from his previous comments on goon-turned-All-Star John Scott. Fans are loving John Scott, all of a sudden, thanks to his “everyman” persona. It is a bit funny, however, when you remember Milbury, who famously went after a fan with a shoe, trying to disrespect a player who models himself after — wait for it — none other than Mike Milbury.
— Danya Abrams was one of those guys, like Ryan Arcidiacono of Villanova is right about now, that you wondered if he would ever graduate. Seemed like he was on the Boston College team forever, when in actuality, Abrams played for the Eagles in the Big East from 1993-97. It sure seemed like he was there longer, and that’s a tribute to his playing abilities. With a big body, and as a powerful force under the basket, Abrams scored more than 2,000 points in his career. He helped BC to a Big East regular-season and tournament title in ’97 as the Eagles advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAAs, then went on to a professional career that included Puerto Rico, Spain and Greece over parts of 14 seasons. Now he’s BC’s radio analyst and he runs an insurance firm. And, I’m told, he’s a huge fan of Ed Cooley — and Ben Bentil. Small wonder — Bentil is almost as unstoppable as he was.
— Chris from Washington, D.C. (@redsoxed) tweeted this week: I came from DC for this game [DePaul in Chicago] and don’t regret it for a second. Sometimes you just don’t win. Love this team. Chris: Spoken like a true fan. I don’t begrudge the whining and moaning when a team loses one it shouldn’t lose, because frankly, that’s part of being a fan — an abbreviation for “fanatic.” What I have a harder time understanding, however, is the constant beatdown and complaining when little things go wrong. This Providence team has been nationally ranked for 10 weeks. Most likely, the Friars will reach the NCAAs for a third straight year. And they have arguably the two most talented players on the floor every night. Are they perfect? No. But I’m enjoying this ride. Glad you are too, Chris.
— 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? Send ’em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to email@example.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke.
— Don’t forget to join Scott Cordischi and me on Providence’s 103.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. for Southern New England Sports Saturday! Call in at 401-737-1287 or text us at 37937.