Thinking out loud … while wondering who might be the most-hated referee on the college courts these days?
— The environment inside the Ryan Center for the 126th renewal (or 128th, depending on whether you count exhibitions or not) of PC vs. URI on the basketball floor was as good as it gets for the college game. A great crowd, filled with energy, emotion and just plain loudness. My ears were ringing for two solid hours after the game had ended, and not just because Joe Hassett yelled in the headphones at the end of the game.
— But there was plenty to yell about. Rhody’s performance was outstanding, and the Rams still can be title good this season. They’re pretty good right now. Ben Bentil also is good right now — and more on him in a moment. His tip-in at the buzzer — and I know Rhody fans feel there was a push-off on Jarvis Garrett under the basket — was a great no-call by an officiating crew that really did a solid job on an emotional floor. Let the players play and decide the outcome every time.
— No, Hassett did not tell me to say that about the refs. But they were pretty good — Roger Ayers was a lead official and is as good in stripes as the Big East has.
— As a result of the huge road win, the Friars moved up to 15th in the Associated Press poll, and 18th in the USA Today coaches’ poll. Those are heights not seen around here since the days of Ryan Gomes. Are we witnessing something special with this team? We might be.
— And then, the bubble bursts. Hot-shooting freshman Ryan Fazekas doesn’t suit up against Boston College, out for an undetermined amount of time with mononucleosis. Kris Dunn takes ill on the floor late in the first half against the Eagles (happened right in front of Hassett and myself, unfortunately) and Bentil inadvertently steps on the foot of BC’s Dennis Clifford and turns his ankle.
— Bentil’s injury truly is unfortunate, with his play elevated to national-recognition level over the past couple of weeks. That spotlight has been focused on his improved play, his ability to score inside and outside, and a newly developed talent for being able to stay in games defensively with opposing centers — many of them larger than he is. It’s been fun to watch him play. Hope we get to see him play again, and soon.
— Suddenly, the national story surrounding BC’s bout with food poisoning leading up to the game with PC is as gone and buried around here quicker than an unplowed street in Cranston during February. Sorry, Mayor Fung.
— It took the Friars some time into the second half of an eventual 66-51 win over the Eagles to figure out just “how” to play, since the guys on the floor had actually never even practiced together. Players were in different roles and didn’t know their duties for certain play calls. Freshman Drew Edwards can be a Dunn-type of defender. He anticipates well. And Jalen Lindsey needs to keep shooting. Both are going to get plenty of playing time coming up.
— The semester exam break comes at a perfect time for PC. Bryant on Saturday, a week off for exams, then Rider at home before a final pre-Big East road test at UMass. Gain some health, get ready for Butler and beyond.
— Providence has scheduled what its calling a “special” announcement Dec. 15, ostensibly to announce a new gift to the athletic department that will support both men’s and women’s basketball in particular. The final donation that will make the new basketball facility a reality? Shovels are due to dig into the ground this spring.
— Fifteenth-ranked men’s basketball. No. 1 men’s hockey. Nationally ranked in soccer and men’s and women’s cross-country, too. Just wanted to point this out, if you weren’t aware of the budding juggernaut on Smith Hill. Jump on the bandwagon in Friartown, there’s plenty of room.
— Oh, and that No. 1 hockey team? Providence defeated a spirited Brown effort in a 4-1 Mayor’s Cup win Thursday at Schneider Arena, with a rematch remaining between the two sides on Jan. 3 at Meehan Auditorium. PC remains unbeaten in its last 19 games, dating to last season — and halfway to the NCAA record of 38 straight unbeaten games, held by RPI back in 1985.
— Know what’s really impressive about the Hockey Friars? A 75-3-6 record when leading after two periods under Nate Leaman as coach. They finish.
— In case you missed it, PC hoops will play in the Emerald Coast Classic next year during the Thanksgiving holiday break in Destin, Florida. Virginia, Iowa and Memphis also are scheduled to take part, which could give the Friars’ schedule another big boost if things play out well. This year, playing (and beating) Arizona, and matching up with current No. 1 Michigan State has the Friars’ RPI in the teens. Beating Notre Dame and Florida State last season at Mohegan Sun was a considerable boost to an NCAA Tournament-worthy resume.
— As for URI, its game with Houston on Tuesday was a great bounceback from its disappointment of last weekend. A “trap” situation existed, with an emotional drain from the Friars’ contest — but the Rams shook it off to get back into the win column. That’s a character trait for a contending team, no question.
— The disappointment, however, comes from the mere 3,633 fans in attendance at the Ryan Center for that one. What happened to the raucous Rhody crowd for PC? Hey, URI? If you want to be big-time, show up for everyone, like the fans do in the Big Ten or at places like Xavier and Creighton. Those players deserve your best, if you expect them to give their best. Every night.
— Not for nuthin’, that goes for Friars fans at the Dunk, too.
— Live by the 3, die by the 3. Villanova’s first loss of the season came in Hawaii, at the hands of a (cough, cough) very good Oklahoma team. Four-for-32 from 3 is no way to win a big game against a top team.
— As for the rest of the Big East, the league continues to clip non-league opponents at a 78 percent success rate as league play approaches at the end of this month. The conference has been No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the conference RPI rankings. Business As Usual.
— A programming note: Look for the return of “This Week in the Big East” at the end of this month on 103.7 WEEI-FM in Providence and on select Westwood One stations nationally. The show also will post on BigEast.com, and will air through SiriusXM as league play gets underway. The Providence Journal’s Kevin McNamara co-hosts the interview-and-information show with me for a second straight season.
— For my money, Xavier has emerged as a real favorite in the Big East. Villanova is good again, and so are Georgetown and Butler. But “X” just has the toughness of an old-school Big East team, and that always has proven to be a factor in the conference race.
— Speaking of the Hoyas, Brown got a taste of Georgetown last weekend. A 24-4 lead out of the gate ballooned to 46-15 at the half before the Hoyas settled for a 74-57 final at the Verizon Center. The Bears’ Cedric Kuakamensah did set the career Ivy League record for blocked shots, however, with his 253rd swat early in the game.
— Dealer Dave is at it again. Or perhaps that should be “after it again.” The Red Sox‘ trade of Wade Miley to Seattle for relief pitchers Carson Smith and Roenis Elias didn’t seem like much at first glance, until you really focus on the numbers. Smith’s first full season in the majors, at age 26, ended with a 2.31 ERA, 92 strikeouts and only 49 hits allowed in 70 innings pitched. Another power arm for the pen. Like it.
— Like it so much, in fact, that I actually checked my calendar for spring training dates this week. And I never do that. A month of spring training baseball usually equates to Chinese water torture for me.
— In the “Can’t believe this didn’t already happen” department, the Pawtucket Red Sox have announced the formation of an actual PawSox Hall of Fame, which will make its debut in the coming season with an inaugural class of inductees. Players, managers, coaches, executives and (ahem) broadcasters will be eligible for inclusion, with media, PawSox and Red Sox staff, business leaders and fans all having a say — which is great. Nominate your PawSox Hall of Famers by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by using the Twitter hashtag #pawsoxhof.
— Are you into the college football playoff? Me neither. Anything that has Clemson in it has lost me. But I will say this: Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich is the real deal. Even though the Owls lost in the AAC title game to Houston, Matakevich is doing well on the postseason awards tour, named as a first-team All-American, the Chuck Bednarik winner as the top college defensive player of the year, and recipient of the Bronco Nagurski Trophy. Some serious hardware for a serious player.
— Did you see the Patriots losing a second straight game after the Denver disappointment? I did. But I didn’t want to believe it could happen — call it buying into the hype, and not respecting 4-7 Philadelphia. Look, it’s pretty simple. This still is one of the youngest overall rosters in the NFL. Several of these players are learning how to play — and how to win — on the fly, because they have to. The letdown after an emotional finish against the Broncos should have been predictable.
— Statistically, this is the first time the New England defense has allowed 30 points or more in back-to-back games since 2001. I say statistically, because that’s what the scoreboard said. In reality, the special teams gave up 14 points and the offense coughed up another seven on TB12’s 99-yard pick-six against the Eagles. More tackling drills for the offense?
— Silly? OK, how about more pass-catching drills for the receivers? They dropped 10, by my count, against Philly. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski won’t be back for a while. Do Your Job.
— And the offensive line, just as it appears it’s getting as healthy as it’s been all season, needs to go back to the drawing board on run-blocking plays. LeGarrette Blount needs daylight. Not a crease, not a crack. But a full-blown door-busted-wide-open hole to get through. That’s where this team is at right now.
— It was disingenuous at best, and stupidity at worst, when Bill Belichick told reporters he was “just trying to do what we think is best” on that failed onside drop-kick attempt from Nate Ebner. The entire momentum of the game turned on a terrible trick play call. No coach, that’s just it. You couldn’t have been doing what you think is best, otherwise you would not have made a call tinged with arrogance like that one was.
— If Coach Belichick has a fault, it’s that occasionally he can’t see the forest for the trees getting in the way.
— Now other teams have seen the play. They’ve seen the Tom Brady-as-a-receiver play, too. Wouldn’t those have been better served for a potential playoff moment? Just sayin’.
— The Patriots get to go back on the road and face the Texans, who know New England like the back of their own hands. Or at least the front of their own hands. But I’ll argue that while Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrabel, George Godsey, Vince Wilfork and Brian Hoyer sure know the Pats from their time spent here, it also works the other way, too.
— J.J. Watt has 42 quarterback hits this season. Chandler Jones has 14? It’s not so much the sacks, as it is the hits that affect QB play. Tom Brady told the media he was “fresh as lettuce” this week. Watt might turn him into a Waldorf salad — full of nuts — by the end of the game Sunday night, broken hand or not.
— Did anyone notice that there were no Punt, Pass & Kick winners from Rhode Island this year? The regional competition for kids at Gillette Stadium, prior to the Eagles game Sunday, had winners from every other state except R.I. and Vermont — the two New England states that don’t play college football. Insert rim-shot here.
— Sorry, that was a cheap shot. But when you go 1-10 seemingly every year, you reap what you sow.
— I have been, grudgingly, breaking my own personal rule about not paying attention to the NBA before Christmas. The Celtics have been a pleasant surprise, and regardless of the outcome against the unbeaten champ Golden State Warriors, they’re worth a watch. There may not be a definitive go-to guy, but there is depth that should bode well as winter turns to spring.
— My buddy Statbeast sez there was a sad story making the rounds not too long ago about the time two NBA refs were forced to hitchhike from a train station and got lost in the nearby countryside. When they noticed some tracks on the ground, one turned to the other and said, “Deer tracks?” “No,” the other ref said. “Bear tracks.” That’s about the time when the train hit them.
— All kidding aside, basketball officials have had bullseyes on their backs for decades, and they seem to handle the criticism that comes their way quite well. They’ve had a lot of practice. But that criticism comes with the territory, and the really good officials know it. From the legendary Eastern-based college officials fans loved to hate — like Tim Higgins, Jim Burr, John Cahill, John Clougherty (all now retired), Ted Valentine, Ed Hightower, Reggie Greenwood, Dick Paparo and others — who are the villains these days?
— Ed Corbett, who has called national title games and was at the Dunk this week for PC-BC, probably is one of those guys you love to hate. Why? His demonstrative manner and cocksure attitude usually infuriate fans who don’t benefit from his whistles. Jamie Luckie, Pat Driscoll, Tony Greene and Karl Hess are a few others who probably need food taste-testers when they’re on the road. But they’ve earned respect in my eyes, even if they manage to miss a call or two — or seven, right Mr. Hassett? — every now and then.
— Want some examples of good refs? Top-of-the-line officials in the game today make upward of $3,000 per game. The previously mentioned Roger Ayers, Joe Lindsay, Corbett, Brian O’Connell (in spite of his call against Villanova that killed the Friars in the Big East Tournament last year), Providence’s Mike Stephens and John Gaffney are guys who try to “blend in” with the game — they let the players play for the most part, and when they blow a call they’ll let you know they blew it. They’re honest. They listen to the coaches. They get it. And they usually always come over to our table before a game to say hello. They all want to be on Hassett’s good side.
— Brittany from San Diego posted on Facebook this week about the Patriots: I am so frustrated with the last two games because we literally handed those games away. I hope that shakes up the team and we get back to the basics this week and stop the cute play calling. Brittany: I have the feeling many Patriots fans feel exactly the same way you do. Arrogance has killed kings and destroyed dynasties throughout history. Unless the Patriots get back to basics, this is how the rest of the NFL knocks them off of their pedestal — through their own doing.
— 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.