Thinking out loud … while wondering where in the world is Donnie McGrath?
— So much to look forward to, and then “bam!” E.C. Matthews’ knee injury is a kick in the groin for the URI Rams, no question. But the season doesn’t have to end before it starts, and that’s the task at hand for Dan Hurley — pick up the pieces and shattered dreams, and weave them back into something special.
— Rhody’s ultimate fate undoubtedly will be carried by several players, but for my money the most important one is sophomore Jared Terrell. Four McGlynn certainly can shoot it, but like most shooters he can be streaky. Hassan Martin will have teams give him the “hack-a-Shaq” treatment until he learns to make free throws with some regularity. Terrell will need to be a consistent presence as a scorer and defender for the Rams to remain relevant in the Atlantic 10.
— We saw all of the above come into play Tuesday morning in URI’s matchup with Valparaiso at the Ryan Center. It seemed to me they spent much of the game looking for Matthews’ ghost on the floor, which they never found. They’ll need some time to re-tool, and re-learn. But I’m not betting against Hurley, or this team.
— McGlynn’s near-buzzer beater that could have tied the score with Valpo was a left-handed heave at its intended target. Good grief. Can he do that and make one without desperation? That would be some weapon.
— Bryant has made it a habit in recent years to test its mettle in the season opener, and this year was no exception with the Bulldogs’ opener at Duke — the defending national champs. Lesson learned in a 113-75 loss? That schools in the power conferences operate on a different plane than those in the NEC — but Tim O’Shea’s players also learn quickly what it takes to be nationally competitive. Nothing like a cold slap of reality to start your year. And a nice paycheck, too.
— Here’s the reality for Providence Saturday — Brown has beaten the Friars twice in the past three seasons, including by an astounding 10 points last year at the Dunk. Brown isn’t a “gimme,” and the Bears aren’t necessarily coming to take their guarantee check and head back across town. They know they can win, and that’s a dangerous attitude.
— Harvard isn’t the Harvard of the past few years, but the Crimson still will be a factor in the Ivy League because they’re smart. On the basketball floor, too. The season-opening win for PC is a good one that will look better as the season goes on. Same for Illinois, although the Illini injuries are notable, missing three players who probably would have started Wednesday night.
— Kris Dunn’s debut against Harvard was a stat sheet filler, to be sure. The trouble now is that 32-point, eight-steal, five-assist, six-rebound games will be expected just about every time out. Dunn was named as the first Big East Player of the Week by the conference — and I’ll wager it won’t be the last time he earns the honor. The target on his back is growing by the minute.
— And Illinois almost exploited the size of that target by double-teaming Dunn on almost every offensive possession. He now can expect this from everyone else he sees this year, provided teams do their homework. He’ll need his teammates to step up more than ever — Ben Bentil did that Wednesday. It was just enough.
— Jalen Lindsey returned to the lineup after a one-game suspension, but his stroke doesn’t look fluid at all. Here’s hoping he can find his confidence, somehow. At the other end of the spectrum, Ryan Fazekas can flat-out play. His basketball IQ is huge, but what else would you expect from a Hoosier?
— More outside shooting from Kyron Cartwright, more shots for Fazekas, less outside shooting from Bentil, please. It’s OK to keep the opposition guessing, but not OK to throw away a possession on a 21-foot brick that puts a dent in the backboard.
— Not for nuthin’, but there were only 8,069 fans who showed up to the Dunk on Wednesday night for a home game vs. a Big Ten team. After listening to years of complaints from Friars fans that Providence doesn’t play a home schedule with attractive out-of-conference opponents, why the no-shows? Big Ten schools certainly seem to have little trouble attracting fans.
— Student support has never been terribly consistent at PC, with mostly indifference to fellow students representing them on the floor and in the spotlight. Not that way at places like Iowa or Illinois.
— Why on both counts? To the scheduling issue, I realize a midweek game is never the best time to attract an audience. But the power programs in this sport draw, period. You want to be a big boy? Show up. No excuses. As for the students, if the athletic department must resort to freebies and incentives to get college kids away from their computers, their friends and the bars, I’d say it’s a hopeless cause.
— Seven of the top 20 schools in attendance last year were Big Ten schools. There were two in the top 20 from the Big East — Creighton and Marquette.
— How about some smart professors offering extra credit to those who show up and offer a little school spirit? Maybe open up a computer-friendly student hangout at the Dunk? It used to be the chance to get on national TV was enough to get kids to show — but not anymore. Creative thinking is sorely needed, by many, to change the current culture.
— Speaking of culture, my buddy “Big E” sez he was told by a friend that the current Jewish year is 5776. Another friend in his office, upon hearing that information, mentioned that the current Chinese year is 4713. To which Big E replied, “Jeez, that’s terrible. How can you go more than 1,000 years without Chinese food?”
— The start to the season for the Big East had a couple of eyebrow-raisers, including Radford popping Georgetown. Maryland also dealt the Hoyas a four-point loss, but the Terrapins are a national title contender. Belmont winning at Marquette wasn’t a shocker, and shouldn’t be considered a real upset — the Bruins took Virginia to the wire in the NCAA Tournament last year, have four starters back and return the preseason Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year (Craig Bradshaw).
— Belmont also gave fits to an experienced Arizona State team on the road this week in an 83-74 loss to the Sun Devils — who are coached by former URI assistant, Duke legend and Dan’s brother Bobby Hurley. Hard to make this stuff up.
— How about Butler bombing The Citadel, 144-71? The Citadel is employing a similar offensive strategy under new coach Duggar Baucom that VMI used a few years ago to lead the nation in scoring — a fast-paced, pressing style that produced 96 possessions and 74 shots, including 47 treys. As a result, the Bulldogs set a school scoring record that might last for a long time, and the 144 points were the most scored by a single team in Division 1 since 1997.
— St. John’s might end up struggling on the floor this season for Chris Mullin, but he appears to be competing just fine, thank you, on the recruiting trail. The Johnnies announced top-50 guard prospect Shamorie Ponds — a one-time PC prospect — signed his letter of intent this week. Ponds is from Brooklyn, and long has been thought to be the Red Storm’s to lose. Ponds is the highest-rated recruit for SJU since Maurice Harkless, now in the NBA with Portland, signed in 2011.
— Biggest win of the early season to date might be George Washington’s 73-68 victory over then-sixth-ranked Virginia. Big for the A-10, sure. The Cavaliers became the first top-10 team to lose a game this season.
— PC’s hockey Friars, honored at halftime of the men’s basketball game against Illinois this week, still are ranked No. 1 nationally even with the two ties against Boston University last week. Goaltender Nick Ellis, the replacement for NHL-bound Jon Gillies, was the Hockey East Player of the Week.
— If you’re not sure about all of the fuss, Holly Holm beating the once-indestructible Ronda Rousey last weekend was a timely blow for the sport of MMA. Rousey had been compared to former boxing heavyweight champ Iron Mike Tyson — she was almost that unbeatable — and certainly helped put the sport into the public consciousness. But like Tyson, a meteoric rise can also mean a fast fall from the pinnacle of your sport when you eventually lose.
— Rousey helped drive attention, fans and certainly PPV revenue in the sport thanks to her athleticism, her skill and her looks — without a doubt. Now that she’s finally suffered a defeat, will fans still be interested? Perhaps, but I’ll argue that all sports need “bullies” in order to truly thrive, and in MMA, the bully finally met her match.
— Right, Patriots fans? So, which candidate is best-suited to beat up your current bullies in the NFL?
— The Patriots’ weekly inactive list is beginning to look like a MASH unit, thanks to the injuries. Julian Edelman‘s broken bone in his left foot may heal faster than a Pats fan’s psyche right about now.
— My expectations are that the offense might slow things down a notch, and find a way to get TE Scott Chandler more involved as a “replacement” for Edelman. LeGarrette Blount will be a workhorse, but with Rob Gronkowski facing certain double teams, Chandler would be my choice to open things up. If he can hold on to the ball.
— Injuries are just as much a part of the game in the NFL as touchdown passes and QB sacks. It’s how teams manage those injuries that separates the pretenders from contenders. You wonder why the Patriots rotate their players and positions? To create depth from within, and prepare for times like these. It’s why New England remains at the top of the NFL food chain, for now.
— Not surprised with the Giants‘ near upset. Some teams, inexplicably, just know how to play others. It’s a confidence factor, and Tom Coughlin has that over Bill Belichick. Say what you want about Coughlin and his inabilities, but his ability to figure out his one-time fellow assistant on the Giants staff years ago still is as sharp as ever, and that trickles down to his current players.
— Wait. The Patriots are playing the Bills on Monday night, right? Cue the Rex Ryan-false-bravado-full-of-hot-air-foot-in-mouth quotes in 3 … 2 … 1 — Rex? Rex? The cameras and microphones are on. We’re waiting.
— Instead, it actually was fascinating to hear Ryan all but throw in the towel to the Patriots in the AFC East race this season. Common sense is an amazing thing, really. Made even more amazing because we rarely hear it.
— In the “We saw it coming” department, David Ortiz‘s retirement announcement still was a bit surprising in its delivery (online, via The Players’ Tribune) and in its lack of attention from the Red Sox. No release, no announcement, no plaudits or praise — just a few provided quotes in reaction to his decision to walk away after the 2016 season.
— Perhaps the parade will come later? Just sayin’.
— I truly do not understand the Hall of Fame debate for Big Papi. Either you are worthy or you’re not worthy. How a writer and voter (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) today can say, “He’s not Hall-worthy,” but then say, “Check back with me in six years,” is beyond me. So your opinion will change in six years when he’s eligible, even though he won’t have played a single inning from his retirement to that time? Stupid is as stupid does.
— I’ve said it here previously, and I’ll say it again. Ortiz deserves to be in the Hall. He’s the greatest designated hitter in the sport to this point in time — with all due respect to Edgar Martinez — and last I checked, the DH has been a part of the sport for more than 40 years. On top of that, what he’s meant to one of the sport’s marquee organizations is incalculable.
— If you’re going for the Red Sox‘ version of Mount Rushmore, wouldn’t you at least consider Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Ortiz as your top three? The fourth face on the mountain is a toss-up. Boggs? Clemens? Tiant? Fisk? Lynn? Rice? A lot of candidates for immortality, but Ortiz is worthy of being in that mix, for certain.
— Stunned to hear the news of the passing of Boston College and Patriots icon Doug Flutie’s parents this week. His father Dick died of a heart attack in Florida after an illness on Wednesday. Within an hour of his passing, his mother Joan also suffered a heart attack and passed away. God bless both of those broken hearts.
— The tragedy in Paris last weekend should remind us all to be ever vigilant. No one likes to be inconvenienced, wait in lines, go through metal detectors or be searched prior to attending a sporting event. I’ll wager, however, fans attending the France-Germany soccer match where suicide bombers detonated their vests outside of the stadium last week are mighty pleased stadium security and personnel did their jobs — and kept these sociopaths from inflicting major harm. We live in different times, unfortunately. Remember this the next time you’re held up in a security line.
— Donnie McGrath played guard for the Friars the last time PC met Illinois, which was in 2003 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Friars fell behind 12-0 in that game before rallying for a big 70-51 victory over an Illini team that featured Dee Brown and Deron Williams in the backcourt. Still ranked 26th all-time in scoring in Friars basketball history, McGrath still is playing professionally, currently in the Liga ACB in Spain playing for Obradoiro. The past couple of years McGrath has played in Turkey, Russia and Italy.
— Allen from the UK posted on Facebook this week: John. What is this obsession you have with taking the ball after the coin toss? Allen: It’s really not an obsession. I’d say what the Patriots do every time they win the coin toss — defer possession to the start of the second half — is an obsession. I understand the philosophy, and sure, it often works to their advantage. But so does taking the opening possession and jamming it down someone’s throat to set the tone of a game, doesn’t it? All I’m advocating here is to throw a changeup every once in a while and take the damn ball. What happens when a pitcher throws a steady diet of fastballs? Eventually, the other guys catch up to it. Is changing it up too much to ask?
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