Providence College Is Making A Push Toward March Madness


Lucy Kratman

Lion’s Roar staff Chris Cooke and Will Denio interview PC Legend Coach Ed Cooley at LHS last spring as Lucas Parent films.

Lucas Parent, Lion's Roar Editor

Providence College Basketball once looked like a fish out of water. For the Friars, this was in 2018. Prior to this torrid stretch, Friartown’s favorites made it to the field of 68 five straight times, reaching the second round in three straight seasons: 2014, 2015, and 2016. The 2014  run, featuring soon-to-be lottery pick Kris Dunn and former NBAer Bryce Cotton, marked the first time the Friars made March Madness in a decade. From 2014 all the way back to the departure of Rick Pitino in 1987, when the Friars made a program-best run into the Final Four, the team had only made it to March Madness six times in 27 seasons. 

When Ed Cooley took the helm, everything changed. Cooley followed up Keno Davis, who compiled a 46-50 record in three seasons at Providence. Cooley immediately improved the team, going 34-32 in his first two seasons before improving to 23-12 and clinching a March Madness berth for the first time since 2004. Cooley has been a legendary figure in college basketball, especially in Providence. For a school that does not typically appear on the map, and gets little to no high-starred major prospects, Cooley has led Providence to 11 straight seasons of .500 basketball or better. In the past two years, however, the program has ascended to new heights. 

Big East basketball has seen many faces over the years; Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson put Georgetown on the map, and the 2010s were headlined by the dominance of teams like Villanova, Xavier, and Creighton. For many, Providence was an afterthought. That was until last season, when the Friars rose up the ranking to number eight (tied for a program high since 1974). Cooley’s team was able to peak at number eight on the rankings, earning Cooley National Coach of the Year honors and various accolades in the Big East and beyond. After a 27-6 season, featuring a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, the Friars are following it up with another great season. 

One cannot look at the Friars and not give a nod to the spectacular play from some of their players this season. In a youth movement, the Friars’ scoring has been headlined by two sophomores this season. Forward Bryce Hopkins is averaging nearly 17 points per contest this season, along with over nine rebounds. His impact was felt in the double-overtime win over Marquette, as his 29 points and 23 rebounds were enough to push Providence over the top. Fellow underclassman Devin Carter has played a crucial role as well this season. The former South Carolina Gamecock is averaging a career-high in per-game points (13.5), rebounds (5.0), and assists (2.5) this season all while shooting a career-high 44.1% from the field. Senior guard Jared Bynum has been fundamental in aiding the fundamentals of the team this season, averaging about nine points and five assists in 22 appearances this season.

This season, as of February 16th, the Friars are 19-7. On Tuesday, they earned another crucial Big East win over 18th-ranked Creighton. This season, the Friars have played five games against ranked teams, and won three of them. Perhaps the highlight of the season was the win the Friars picked up against then-four-ranked UConn. The game was highly anticipated; After a win against 24th-ranked Marquette in double overtime, fans at the Amica Mutual Pavillion made it clear who was next, chanting, “We want Uconn!”. On January 4th, they got their wish. Bryce Hopkins led the Friars with 27 points, and the Friars held their lead for the entire second half en route to a 73-61 victory. 

The win over Creighton is likely going to boost the Friars’ rating past 24th, heading into a weekend that will see them square off against a lowly Villanova squad. The Friars are hosting: a benefit as they have won 14 of 14 games at home this season. A win over Villanova on Saturday, as well as wins against Seton Hall and Xavier at the beginning of March, would see them finish perfect at home. After Villanova on Saturday, the Friars will visit Uconn and Georgetown. If the Friars hold their ranking, it will be the first time since a stretch from 1972-1975 in which they were ranked at the end of the season for two or more consecutive seasons. As it looks now, Cooley and his men are ready to take on March once again.