PROVIDENCE — While this may appear to fall under the category of “much ado about nothing,” the idea of late night college basketball excursions and the effect they have on the participants seems a subject worthy of exploration.
Saturday’s 9 p.m. start involving Providence at Rutgers begs the question as to why two teams residing in the Eastern Time Zone are waiting longer than usual to compete on the hardwood. It’s easy to point to the network the game is appearing on – ESPNU, with former PC coach Tim Welsh serving as the analyst – and say that any kind of national exposure and the coffers that are filled as a result are opportunities that can’t or shouldn’t be bypassed.
Yet there’s another side to consider. Players and coaches alike synchronize their body clocks for 7 o’clock games during the week and for early to mid-afternoon contests on the weekend. Sprinkle in a 9 o’clock start and suddenly these creatures of habit are subjected to a whole new stratosphere.
“You try to get your guys to prepare late and talk to them about coming out with energy and enthusiasm,” said Providence’s Ed Cooley. “You don’t change too much because the day is just longer. You try and stay as consistent as you can.”
Added PC sophomore LaDontae Henton, “It’s a little tougher to stay mentally focused because you’re anxious to play the game.”
PC’s later-than-normal primetime venture against Rutgers marks the second of three 9 p.m. Big East contests. The Friars’ initial taste occurred two Wednesdays ago down in South Florida. The Bulls sprinted out to a 20-7 lead and enjoyed a 14-point advantage late in the first half before a spirited second-half showing resulted in a 77-66 Friar win.
Providence chartered a flight to the Sunshine State with Cooley no doubt desiring to make sure his players would be back on campus for class the next morning. Asked if PC’s latest unusual start time is easier to digest due to it taking place on a Saturday, Cooley answered, “No, but the good thing is that we’ll draw from our experience at South Florida.”
On the road, teams are at the mercy in terms of when they can get into the building for the pregame shootaround. At the South Florida Sun Dome, Cooley was able to secure time early in the afternoon. Once the session on the court is through, the focus shifts to video and scouting sessions.
This may not appear a stretch from the routine that’s typically adhered to, but what’s the next step once the opposition has been thoroughly combed over and there are still roughly six hours before gametime?
On the periphery, rest seemingly becomes a player’s best friend, yet that all depends on the individual.
“Some guys listen to their music and meditate and some take naps,” noted Henton, who prefers to close his eyes and rest. “You get to spend more time by yourself.”
“Most people make the most of it by laying down and getting their minds right. There’s also homework to fit in,” said junior Lee Goldsbrough. “You want to make sure you have enough energy for the game.”
“I tell them to get off their feet and think about winning and what your role is,” Cooley stated. “Put yourself in the moment, which is what I tell them all the time.”
PC’s third and final rendezvous with 9 p.m. contests takes place Tuesday, March 5 at The Dunk against Seton Hall. Unlike South Florida and Rutgers, the game against the Pirates will air locally on OSN. All told there are 12 Big East games this season that already have or will tip off at 9 p.m. in arenas residing in the Eastern Time Zone.
Cooley expressed a strong desire to move past the 84-59 bludgeoning his Providence squad suffered at the hands of Syracuse earlier in the week – so much so that the idea of sitting down and revisiting the horror show at the Carrier Dome via film study was nowhere to be found on the itinerary.
Not to look too far ahead, but Cooley understands that if the Friars can best the Scarlet Knights, it would create some much-appreciated separation from the bottom four in the conference standings. The last four seeds (11-14) are slated to play on the first night of the Big East Tournament with seeds 5-10 tipping off the following day.
Taking into account that Connecticut is barred from postseason play, the Friars at 6-8 sit in 10th place. At 4-10, Rutgers is positioned 11th.
“I’ve got to be as positive as I’ve ever been,” the coach said. “At the end of the day, if we’re fortunate to win on Saturday, it puts us in (Wednesday’s Big East tourney contest) with a chance to move up versus playing Tuesday. That’s what you’re looking for.”