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Friars face Big East reality test every game

January 25, 2011

Providence College freshman Gerard Coleman has provided some reason for optimism this season.

For many years we’ve witnessed this perception vs. reality debate hovering over the basketball program at Providence College. Call it a man vs. wild struggle in which one side tries to impose its will over the other in the name of shedding light on what the expectations should entail.
Perception tells us that because the Friars reside in the top-25-laden Big East Conference, the chances of making the NCAA Tournament are better than schools competing in the Atlantic 10. The fact that this behemoth of a 16-team league is comprised of so many heavyweights only increases the chances of grabbing marquee, resume-building wins. It’s a league ripe with rewards if teams play their cards right, but also cruel when the ball doesn’t bounce your way.
Then there’s reality, which has struck the Friars in the face like a frigid New England morning since the Big East expanded to its current allotment. Not to beat around the bush, but recent history informs us that PC presently simply does not have the horses to compete with the likes of Pittsburgh, Villanova and Syracuse on a yearly basis. The top teams are trying to get to the Final Four and win the national championship. The Friars are trying to get to the NCAA Tournament once every three or four years and save the coach from becoming castigated by message board hounds and bigwig doners alike.
People around here expect the Friars to win and win big, as if for no other reason than once upon a time they did. Guess what? Those days are as gone as playing games in Alumni Hall. The sooner fans and alums come to grips with the reality that the Friars are a program that needs some time just to position itself for NCAA consideration, the better they can understand the direction PC is heading under Keno Davis’ watch.
The problem is that patience is at a premium, especially in a day and age of seat licenses, which no doubt play a role in spearheading the “win now” mentality. Nobody wants to hear Davis talk about future seasons when this one is still going on. They want (make that yearn) to see the Friars produce positive results. Looking at what tomorrow can potentially yield is sort of a cliché, one that has no bearing on the present.
Instead of promise, PC’s legion of followers continue to swallow heavy doses of skepticism. The 17-game Big East losing skid may have come to a merciful conclusion against Rick Pitino’s Lousiville club on Saturday, but what’s to say another downtrodden stretch doesn’t commence when Villanova, another of those crème de la crème Big East teams, invades The Dunk Wednesday?
Remember last year when PC followed up a late game meltdown against South Florida by knocking Connecticut to the canvas? Different personnel and different years, I know, but it should serve as a reminder that the win over the Huskies, as galvanizing as it was perceived at the time, represented the Friars’ last conference win in close to a calendar year.
If the Friars come out and get their doors blown off by the Wildcats, does that erase all the good vibes cooked up in their sigh-of-relief victory against the Cardinals? Or does PC fight hard and give everything its got against another top-10 club, yet only come up short? More importantly, is the perception that fighting to the final horn against ‘Nova another step in the right direction for these wet-behind-the-ears Friars? Or is a loss simply a loss, the only side effect is that it’s another reason to question Davis?
Welcome to standing at the precipice of another crossroad, complete with being woven into the perception vs. reality conundrum.
As trite as moral victories are, they are all that PC can hang its hat on this season. We knew back in the preseason that the Friars were in for their fair share of lumps, based primarily on the roster’s makeup. Yes, elite teams like Kansas and Kentucky have proven you can win with first-year players the moment they set foot on campus. The unprovens at Davis’ disposal aren’t afforded such a luxury. What the PC coach and staff must hope is that all the tough times accrued during their freshman and sophomore seasons – doing so in a league that takes no prisoners – will start to bear fruit by the time they become upperclassmen.
That should be the aim of everyone, from media to administrators to fans alike. Be patient, expect some tough moments, and hope with more experience that Vincent Council doesn’t spend the entire shot clock dribbling near half-court, a trait that didn’t endear him to one NBA scout who sat courtside Saturday.
Hope that Bilal Dixon realizes that grabbing one rebound in 12 first-half minutes against Lousiville is unacceptable and probably why he saw his playing time cut in the second half. Hope that Gerard Coleman develops a consistent outside shot to compliment his quick-as-lightning driving ability. Hope that Davis actually knows what he’s doing and that all his talk about the future isn’t a facade designed to calm the masses.
Hope that by the time they are juniors and seniors, the perception of the Friars cracking the upper half of the Big East is no longer some wistful dream. Until then, enjoy Providence for what it is: a work in progress. Confusing it for something else can only lead to trouble and frustration for the wrong reasons.

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