Thinking out loud … while wondering what I am truly thankful for this year.
— Let’s start this week by saying I’m thankful Rhode Island has college basketball as a marquee sport in this state. Largely ignored elsewhere in New England — and I don’t consider Connecticut real New England, more like Eastern New York — high-level hoops have always been the goal, and more often than not, the reality, too.
— For a hoop-head like me, having watched it, played it and covered it for a half-century, it’s nirvana. When our teams are among the best, the games and the seasons go by way too fast.
— URI’s matchup with then-No. 1-ranked Duke last week at Mohegan Sun was a bit anticlimactic, but then again, Duke has always had a way of making things anticlimactic — by beating up on you.
— The Rams didn’t play poorly, but the Rams also didn’t play well enough to beat one of the best — even without several of their best players. Imagine what the Blue Devils will be like when they’re healthy?
— The good teams — the really good, elite teams — always have a way of picking themselves up when they’re down. Duke’s defense on E.C. Matthews was a decided factor, as the Blue Devils realized Matthews could NOT go off if Duke was to win. Mission accomplished, even if some of it was self-inflicted by Matthews.
— Rhode Island is a good team, make no mistake about that. The win over Cincinnati is a great start. But if the Rams are to challenge and beat the elite, they’ll need everyone to contribute. That’s no surprise. They also might need more of that defensive effort used to get back into the Duke game more often. Plenty of time to work on things as the season unfolds, with a big date at the Dunk looming.
— Next season the Rams will face some of the elite in the NIT Season Tip-Off during Thanksgiving week, with the tournament field announced this week. Returning to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, URI will be joined by Virginia (ACC), Seton Hall (Big East) and Vanderbilt (SEC). In order to be a big dog, you’ve got to run with the big dogs.
— Providence is playing in the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Florida, this weekend, and the tournament features some strong teams and hot players for early in the season. Four teams lead the NCAA in four different statistical categories through two weeks (Virginia No. 1 scoring defense, Memphis No. 1 in assists, St. Francis No. 1 in 3-point field goal defense, Savannah State No. 1 in 3-point field goals made per game).
— Four players in the tournament also lead the nation in individual categories as well — Memphis’ Dedric Lawson has four double-doubles in four games, Iowa’s Peter Jok is tops in free throw shooting, Savannah State’s Casey Wells is No. 1 in 3-pointers made, and PC’s Kyron Cartwright leads the nation in assists at 9.3 per game, heading into play.
— The Friars prepped for their spotlight moment against some big names this week in Florida, with Memphis, Iowa and Virginia on the horizon. PC is a bit of an enigma right now, and even with a win or two this weekend will remain a Work In Progress as the younger players get things figured out.
— Freshman big man Kalif Young is like a young colt trying to find his racing legs. He can flat-out get up and down the floor, but he’s terribly rushed around the basket. Ever heard of the phrase, “Let the game come to you?” That’s what he’s learning right now.
— Providence has had mixed results leading into its games in Florida, largely due to Ed Cooley’s substitution patterns. This is a time where you need to find out who might be able to contribute, as well as teaching time needed for growth. It’s awkward — just like when kids grow up.
— The rotation will work itself out and winnow itself down to 7-8 players for league play, which starts between Christmas and New Year’s Day. At least, it better — or the Friars could be in some trouble.
— Speaking of trouble, has anyone checked on Georgetown lately? After shocking losses to Maryland (losing a nine-point lead in the final 2 1/2 minutes) and at home to Arkansas State — a clear case of letting the Maryland loss beat them twice — the Hoyas seemed to regroup in Maui with a win over 13th-ranked Oregon.
— The Hoyas then proceeded to get blown out in Hawaii by an unranked Oklahoma State team. Hoya Shocka! With the 2-4 start, the cries for John Thompson III’s head are as strong as they’ve ever been. But as long as the large father (Providence grad John II) remains a presence within that program and on that campus, I can’t see JT3 leaving. Quietly or otherwise.
— Not surprisingly, Villanova and Xavier are good again. So is Creighton — maybe every bit as good as when NCAA Player of the Year Dougie McBuckets (aka Doug McDermott) patrolled the floor three years ago. I’ve heard from a couple of coaches who believe the Blue Jays may be Final Four-good, they have such ability and depth.
— Brown’s Steven Spieth is off to a great start. He was named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his three-game performance at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. Spieth averaged 22.3 points per game and shot 63 percent from the floor against URI, Marist and Albany, and very nearly recorded the Ivy’s third all-time triple-double with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against Niagara.
— Pretty good week for the entire Spieth family, too, as younger brother Jordan won the Australian Open for a second time — this one in a playoff — as the PGA Tour enters some downtime before the new golf season begins.
— An even better week for Providence’s soccer Friars? One of the absolute, all-time great comebacks in any sport for PC in a 5-4 NCAA tournament win at No. 1-ranked Maryland last weekend.
— Do yourself a favor and find those highlights on YouTube. PC rallied from a 4-1 second-half deficit — on the road at the No. 1 team in the nation, no less — and Joao Serrano’s game-winner in the 82nd minute on a curling corner kick was a spectacular finish.
— Congrats to Coach Craig Stewart and the Big East regular-season champ Friars, who play at Big East rival Creighton in the Sweet 16 on Sunday. They’ve got another one to remember, for certain.
— Good finishes for both women’s and men’s cross-country teams at Providence, as the ladies placed 13th at the NCAA championships last weekend. The men finished 24th nationally.
— ICYMI, this past week possessed a significant date in New England sports history. Nov. 22, 1959, was the day the Boston Patriots came into existence, 57 years ago. And for the first 25 of those years there was never much to be excited about, was there?
— Another Patriot facing a four-game suspension this week, with Alan Branch allegedly failing a drug test for marijuana. That’s three player suspensions this season, in case you’re not counting at home. Are the Pats turning into the NFL’s new bad boys — or are they already there? Just sayin’.
— I’m no fuddy-duddy. I get why players smoke weed. It helps extensively in pain management, as opposed to non-natural substances prescribed by physicians. But weed is on the NFL no-no list, even if it will be legal for use in Massachusetts. Players like Branch know the rules. He isn’t helping his team in this situation, even if he believes he’s helping himself.
— Or, he doesn’t care.
— Jabaal Sheard’s curious fall from Patriot grace also comes at a most inopportune time, with the defense struggling to remain (or even get to) championship level. The real head-scratcher here is Sheard is in a contract year. So, he’s either ready to hang ’em up, by my way of thinking, or he just can’t do it anymore — in which he should hang ’em up.
— New England’s day in San Francisco was little more than a chance for TB12 and JE11 to serve as Homecoming Kings for the day. With better efficiency (and defense), a 30-17 victory could have been a 25-30-point beating on the Bay.
— Not for nuthin’, but Brady needs just one more win to tie Peyton Manning with 200 career NFL victories. G.O.A.T.? He takes another large leap toward that moniker with this milestone.
— His current passer rating of 123.3 leads the NFL, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers holds the single-season record of 122.5. Like the Red Sox’ David Ortiz, TB12 is turning it on when most mere mortals turn it off.
— Brady’s pocket presence is uncanny, as he shows escapability we haven’t seen — ever. But he’s always had that sixth sense of knowing when to step up and avoid decapitation, hasn’t he?
— So, when do the drug allegations begin? They will, just like they did for Big Papi’s big-time performance at an advanced age. Fair? In this day and age, sadly, yes. Believe nothing, question everything.
— The return of Dion Lewis is significant, if only that he’ll give Brady another potential game-breaker as a target. These Patriots now need to realize that to win the Super Bowl, they’ll simply need to outscore the other guys — as obvious as that may be to say.
— Is it just me, or has J-E-T-S week lost a little (OK, a lot) of its luster? New York’s fault, of course. And the Thanksgiving week holiday also detracts from the enmity a bit, doesn’t it?
— Revis Island still is a destination for receivers in the NFL, it seems. But now, it’s a place they’re more eager to book than in previous years. The island’s host definitely is more generous these days.
— But the NYJ run defense still is its best attribute. Can’t imagine the Patriots deciding to load up and run LeGarrette Blount 25 times at that front four, can you?
— If you lost count, 12 PATs were missed last weekend by NFL kickers. That’s the most in 50 years, for one week. All of a sudden, you’re finding you can’t take extra points for granted, can you? Nor can you get up to go to the bathroom, either. Time for a new pregame and in-game strategy.
— Anyone else think the NFL will do whatever it can to keep the Raiders as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, in an effort to keep the team in Oakland?
— Have you heard about Bud Light’s new “golden can” promotion? Beginning Nov. 28, some 37,000 gold cans will be placed in 18, 24 and 30 packs of Bud Light — yes, just like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’s “golden ticket.”
— But getting a golden can doesn’t necessarily make you an automatic winner, as in the movie. Instead, you find a golden can, you earn a chance to win Super Bowl tickets for life, if you follow the instructions.
— Happy, um, hunting.
— My buddy Statbeast sez he walked into a men’s room recently and saw a sign posted over one of the, uh, rest stops. It said. “WARNING: Consumption of alcohol may make you think you are whispering, when you are not.” That’s some good advice right there, if you ask me.
— Another “Only in Rhode Island” moment this week, right? House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s district race turns up with 208 votes missing, then the missing votes show up again after an initial recount? The RI State Police say no crime was committed, as challenger Steven Frias was hoping to have an 85-vote margin overturned.
— Votes lost, and then suddenly found. The speaker wins by 85 of them. Is that anything like “cooler and warmer?”
— I am thankful for many things in life, and not necessarily in this order: Good beer, my family, my job(s), a good cigar, my home, a dirty martini, my friends and my (relatively) good health. I am also thankful for your interest in reading down the page this far, for a seemingly never-ending list of topics to cover and for posting your comments (good and bad) on those subjects that might hit home with you. In this crazy world, during a particularly crazy time over the past few months, I’m thankful we can sometimes agree to disagree — and remain friendly. I try to never lose sight of humor, and the foibles in life that allow us to tolerate each other. Myself included.
— Deep breaths now — the holidays are here!
— Chris from Dallas posted this week on Facebook, on the Friars’ early-season wins at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center: Need to improve in many areas, but I see promise. Chris: It’s a fair observation, even if it is early in the year. It’s tough to tell a lot when you’re facing teams that aren’t what you’re used to facing every night in the Big East. But in this instance, with so many younger players needing to grow up quickly, the mass substitutions and inconsistency with playing time are Ed Cooley’s way of deciding who can really go — when the time arrives. This team may be a year away from being “really good” again, but then again, this staff can coach ’em up with the best coaches in the country. 2016-17 is a gravy year for the Friars — it will be fun to see how much they can ladle onto the rest of another very good Big East Conference. Any kind of postseason play would be a bonus, and another positive building block for the program.
— 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/tweets right here! Follow me on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster, and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke.
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