Thinking out loud … while wondering whatever happened to the old “College Bowl” quiz shows?
— The steady drop in the national polls for the Providence basketball team is predictable, given the fact that the Friars have lost five of their last seven games. However, they’ve remained a fixture in the Top 25 thanks to their early season successes. That’s why they are also still very much in the picture for the NCAA Tournament, despite the gloom-and-doomsayers.
— Twelve straight weeks in the rankings, at the present time, represents the longest stretch since 1977-78. Trying to look at this glass as half full, for the most part.
— Now the other shoe drops. PC’s game at eighth-ranked Xavier this week underscores the lessons in futility this team is now realizing. First, there is no reliable, consistent scoring threat beyond Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Second, when the Friars don’t defend (as they didn’t in the first half against the Musketeers), they’re not very good. Third, when either Dunn or Bentil suffer from lapses under the previously mentioned numbers 1 and 2? Mediocrity ensues, along with five losses in seven games.
— Now, having said this, the Friars are still a very good team. They’re capable of winning any game they play, but also capable of losing any game they play. The golden moments in November and December have become fool’s gold in February.
— The Friars need to string together at least three wins in the last four regular-season games to stay clear of the NCAA bubble. This season, however, the bubble is pretty soft. That should play into PC’s favor if “push comes to shove.” The Arizona and Villanova road wins are very strong. A 4-4 record vs. the AP Top 25 is also more than respectable.
— By the time Providence takes the court next Thursday at Seton Hall, it will have been more than a month since the Friars beat anyone not named Georgetown. Think about that for a second. That’s how rough February has been, after PC went undefeated in December.
— How does Ed Cooley and his coaching staff solve (some of) the problems in time to keep this season memorable for the right reasons? Dunn needs to take over. Rather than try to create scoring chances for his teammates (other than Bentil) which they clearly cannot handle, Dunn needs to simplify his game. In the words of FS1’s Bill Raftery: “Take it to the rack, big fella!”
— Even this strategy is easier said than done. Teams that double off of screens and the pick and roll do this because they want Kris to distribute the ball first. Since his teammates aren’t converting their chances, the coaches could simplify matters by spreading the floor and allowing Dunn to go one-on-one as much as possible. No one in the league can stay with him on the dribble. Or off of it, either.
— I hate to say it, but yes. Tell Kris he’s in the NBA a couple of months early. Isolations. One-on-one. Beating your man off of the dribble. Showtime, just like in the pros. It’s the best remedy for what ails this team if the Friars want to play on in March, under the bright lights. Call it a preview of life in the fast lane for Dunn? Absolutely.
— In spite of its loss at Butler this week, Creighton has been charging hard, and has at least entered the discussion for NCAA play. Seton Hall and Butler are both fighting for survival, but both are tournament worthy. These last three weeks will be big for them, and for the Big East, with the league hoping to place at least half of its teams in the tournament again.
— This uncertainty also means the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden is wide, wide open. Before you go off and anoint Villanova again, the balance in the Big East has been great to see unfold this season. Hot hands will matter. Hot shooters will matter more.
— This March, the madness is all about getting hot at the right time. There may be 10-15 teams nationally that stand more than a puncher’s chance of reaching the Final Four in Houston. Incredible really, to consider. Fun to be a part of, if you get there. Watch for teams with great guards, inside guys who can be matchup problems, and streaky teams on a roll.
— Not for nuthin’, but did I just describe the Friars?
— The team I’ve felt all along that could make a run and take a legit shot at a national title is the one PC played this week — namely, Xavier. The ingredients are there, but can coach Chris Mack put everyone in sync at the right time?
— Other teams I’ve liked all along: Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12, Virginia and North Carolina from the ACC (but the Tar Heels are soft inside), Kentucky from the SEC, Iowa and Michigan State from the Big 10. Sleeper pick? Outside of Xavier, a team that intrigues me is Virginia. The Cavaliers defend as well as anyone in the country.
— Can’t imagine anyone sleeping on Dayton this year — not after what the Flyers did to Providence last year in the tournament. And Purdue has good size; the Boilermakers will be a tough matchup for most teams.
— It looks as if it will be “Wait ’til next year” again in Kingston, barring an unforeseen run by URI in the A-10 tournament. I know many fans thought this right after E.C. Matthews ripped an ACL in the season-opener, but I remained hopeful. The Rams have talent — perhaps the emotional loss of their leader was just too much to overcome. This is precisely why Danny Hurley needs to cultivate other options — and other leaders, physically as well as emotionally — for Rhody to finally return to the NCAAs.
— Providence has that right now with Ben there, Dunn that. But we all know the key for PC postseason success comes from any one of Rodney Bullock, Jalen Lindsey, Ryan Fazekas, Kyron Cartwright, Junior Lomomba or Drew Edwards joining the dynamic duo with some kind of offensive production. It’s not the Patriots’ mantra of “Next man up.” It’s “Will any man step up?” Just sayin’.
— Felt like the move for Jerod Mayo to retire was coming, especially after he landed on season-ending injured reserve this past season for a third straight year. Mayo can still stop the run, but with the versatility shown by opposing offenses these days, it’s not enough for an everyday linebacker to be just a run-stuffer.
— Mayo played a huge part in getting the Patriots a fourth Super Bowl ring along the way, even if he wasn’t an active part of the actual game last year. Eight years is definitely a lifetime in the NFL, and that’s what Jerod had with New England. Wise choice, smart man. He saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and the freight train was about to roll right over him.
— Yes, the Patriots will address his absence as a potential move to make in the offseason. But the areas of immediate need are in the offensive backfield at running back, and at wide receiver. TB12 needs guys he can depend upon in crunch time, especially when No. 11 and No. 87 might not be available.
— Why not Chris Ivory at running back? The soon-to-be-former New York Jet led the AFC in rushing yards last year, is only 28 years old, and fits the mold of a power-back type the Patriots have had in recent years. If the Jets don’t re-sign him, his arrival could “pump a little more air” into the NY-NE rivalry. Oh. Too soon for that?
— Anyone else notice the sudden disappearance of all things Peyton Manning loves to commercialize? It seemed as if we had to endure Papa John’s or Nationwide in every commercial break during any sporting event on any channel. Now? Crickets — compared to before the Super Bowl. It’s virtual silence.
— By the time you read this, almost every Major League Baseball team will have its pitchers and catchers reporting for duty. Smell that in the air? That’s the smell of spring, of leather gloves and cowhide baseballs. And suntan oil. Bring it on.
— Except for the New York Mets‘ Jenrry Mejia, who was suspended for 162 games last summer by MLB for a second positive PED test — after serving an 80-game suspension for the same thing a year ago. Now he’s apparently done it again, and Mejia has received baseball’s first-ever “lifetime” ban from the sport this past week. Stupid is as stupid does.
— In reality, Mejia can apply for reinstatement after what amounts to a two-year suspension. So much for the “lifetime” thing. Maybe the guy needs to find a better chemist? Or lean on someone like A-Fraud for a little support? He has had similar problems, you know.
— Less than 50 days before the season opener at McCoy Stadium for the Pawtucket Red Sox, which actually sounds comforting. It wasn’t long ago that the very real threat of a move to Providence — or somewhere else — was being tossed around like so much spaghetti on a Wednesday. And if you don’t know what this reference is about, Google it.
— There were still murmurs rumbling around that Worcester, Springfield and even Fall River might try to lure the PawSox to their respective cities, as recently as a month ago. For now, the focus appears to be settling on nothing more than mending fences with Rhode Islanders, and rebuilding this year’s team into another possible International League contender.
— Have to admit, NBA All-Star Weekend is never a big draw for me, even when I was in the NBA during the 1980s. But the slam dunk competition was riveting stuff this year. Orlando’s Aaron Gordon had a dunk that rivaled anything ever thrown down by Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins or Spud Webb, and he still lost the competition to Minnesota’s Zach LaVine.
— My annual suggestion to inject some life into this normally humdrum affair? Put $1 million in cash on the floor, and let the guys jump for it — or over it. People will come, Ray, oh, they will most definitely come.
— A final score of 196-173? That’s not basketball, that’s a skills competition. To be basketball, there’s got to be at least a little defense thrown in there somewhere. What this year’s NBA All-Star Game was was not basketball in the least.
— The time has come for the All-Star Games in football and basketball to go the way of the dinosaur. Baseball has the, um, World Series home-field advantage to play for; the NHL actually made some nice changes to its All-Star Weekend with three-on-three competition within divisions. Perhaps the NFL and NBA could learn something here?
— How about the AFC East All-Stars against an NFC West team? I might watch that, whereas I will go out of my way to not watch the present configuration of Pro Bowl players.
— Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are in the Eastern Conference mix. For this year. And don’t tell this to Cleveland.
— No trade for the C’s by the deadline? I had cooled on the whole Dwight Howard-from-Houston idea anyway. Probably not the best influence for younger players on the roster. That goes for Kevin Love, too. Al Horford’s availability was intriguing, but he wouldn’t be enough for Boston to beat Cleveland in the East, would he?
— Don’t look now, but the Providence Bruins are still the hottest thing going in the AHL. Currently sitting in the fourth spot in the Atlantic Division, the P-Bruins have not lost a game in regulation time in 2016. Last time they lost without overtime? New Year’s Eve. Providence is at No. 2 Hershey on Saturday night.
— A classic weekend is shaping up for the fifth-ranked Providence Friars hockey team, playing host at Schneider Arena to seventh-ranked Notre Dame for two games. The Friars have won 20 games for a third straight year, and it’s the third time in team history to accomplish the feat. Nate Leaman also won his 100th career game as head coach last weekend against UConn, and became the fastest coach to 100 wins in program history.
— How about this one? An event known as the Rhode Island Ethics Bowl was held on Valentines Day and was won by a team from the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts. In its 20th year overall and held throughout the country, this inaugural Rhode Island event had student teams facing off against each other, defending their moral take on complex social, political and business issues.
— Why did a team from Massachusetts win the tournament? Because there were no teams entered from Li’l Rhody. Can’t make this stuff up. What I want to know: Were there any teams even qualified to enter this tournament? Or were they automatically disqualified for being, well, Rhode Islanders? I don’t blame the kids — remember who they learn from.
— My buddy Statbeast sez since electricity comes from electrons, there’s no doubt in his mind that morality comes from morons.
— If you’re a member of my particular generation — or older — you remember the “G.E. College Bowl” student quiz show, which was very popular in the 1950s and ’60s. The College Bowl began on radio in 1953, then moved to TV in 1959 on CBS. NBC carried the program from 1963 through 1970, before it resurfaced again in 1977 as part of a national non-televised competition that lasted for more than 30 years.
— The competition actually returned to radio in the late ’70s with former “Jeopardy!” host Art Fleming as the moderator. Two tournaments in the ’80s were also televised by Disney and NBC, with Pat Sajak and Dick Cavett serving as hosts. Former “Password” TV game show host Allen Ludden (late husband of actress Betty White) was the original host on CBS, before giving way to Robert Earle on NBC during the show’s heyday. Scholarship grants from General Electric were the main prizes won (other sponsors were later added) and teams retired as undefeated champions after winning five consecutive matches.
— Early dominant teams came from Colgate, Lafayette, Hobart, Cal-Berkeley and Davidson. In fact, smaller schools usually won out over Major State U, although Rutgers represented state schools pretty well, as I recall. The “G.E. College Bowl” was a forerunner to today’s March Madness in college basketball, where everyone loves the underdog.
— Jeremy from North Kingstown, Rhode Island, posted on Facebook this week: The pink hats are hating on PC these days. Diehards see a possible 11-7 and 23-8 record and think what a great ride this season has been. Only one team wins the national title, the real fun of CBB is the ride to the NCAA tourney. After that it’s all gravy. Jeremy: Spoken like a fan who has a sense of reality and appreciation at the forefront of your thoughts. But you know, you’re way too logical and reasonable for pink hats, or black hats, or whatever you want to call malcontented fans. Remember, “fan” is short for “fanatical,” and most fanatical people have a screw loose in some way, shape or form. We (as in the collective “we” in New England) love to complain about things. It’s the legacy 86 years of Red Sox failure left us, before finally winning it all in 2004. No, Ernie D and Marvin Barnes are not walking through that door for the Friars, but the guys that will? It is fun to watch them take the program to heights not seen in almost 40 years, no matter the finish. Enjoy the ride.
— 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.