NEW YORK – For one final time, the Providence player with deep New York City roots trudged off the floor at Madison Square Garden with an empty feeling in his stomach.
Vincent Council’s last chance at Big East Tournament glory resembled his previous three experiences at this hallowed cathedral – with the Friars serving as an all-too familiar one-and-done casualty. As a result, the senior point guard hailing from Brooklyn is left to ponder whether the glass is half-full or half-empty.
While becoming the all-time assist king in the Big East and at PC has a nice ring to it, the smile across Council’s face turned upside down upon asked about not winning a single Big East tourney game during his Providence years. For someone who owned Garden experience dating back to his days at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School, Council admitted following Wednesday’s 61-44 ouster at the hands of Cincinnati that there’s a part of his career that feels incomplete.
“It’s really tough losing games, especially being from here,” noted Council.
Council’s Providence teams fell by an average of 18.2 points during his four Big East Tournament appearances. The only game that was competitive came during Council’s freshman year in 2010 when PC fell in a shootout to Seton Hall, 109-106.
Much like the Friars Wednesday against the Bearcats, Council’s performance did not go accordingly to plan. His confidence appeared shaken after two early drives ended with thunderous rejections by Cincinnati center Sheikh Mbodj, a bruising sort who finished with five blocks.
In 35 non-descript minutes, Council finished with three points on 1-of-7 shooting and five assists. Providence head coach Ed Cooley is fond of saying that the Friars are dangerous when Council is facilitating first and looking to score second. Wednesday’s flat performance against the Bearcats served as yet another glaring reminder of what can happen when a team’s best playmaker is knocked off kilter.
In some ways, Council’s final Big East game typifies just how uneven of a senior year it was for him. A season that began with promise after he was selected to the preseason All-Big East first team was thrown for a loop after suffering a hamstring injury five minutes into PC’s season opener. Upon returning from an 11-game absence, Council had to deal with coming off the bench for the first time in his career while trying to get his speed and strength back to 100 percent.
“There were ups and downs,” Council acknowledged. “I worked hard all summer, then I got hurt and couldn’t play for two months.”
One piece of coaching strategy that largely flew under the radar during PC’s 7-2 finish to the regular season was Cooley choosing to have Council and freshman Kris Dunn on the floor at the same time. By having two pass-first distributors working in tandem, the Friars were able to turn the corner and achieve a .500 conference finish for the first time since 2009.
“It was cool playing with Kris, knowing that I could rest off the ball,” Council said.
The youngster Dunn appreciated having someone of Council’s veteran ilk to lean on during his initial voyage through the Big East waters.
“VC taught me how to be poised and how to get the team involved, but also how to be a leader and make sure everybody is getting their shots up,” stated Dunn, who as it stands right now, will be the only point guard at PC’s disposal next season.
Without naming Dunn specifically, Cooley cast an eye toward the future when asked about Council.
“Vince has done a good job for Providence. We’ll miss him, but we’ll embrace the opportunity for the next guy to come in and try to do the same,” said Cooley.
There’s a chance that Wednesday marked PC’s final game of the 2012-13 season – especially if the committee in charge of selecting the 32 teams for the National Invitational Tournament doesn’t extend an invitation to Cooley & Co.
The Providence coach made it perfectly clear that you will not see the Friars in the CBI (College Basketball Invitational).
“I won’t play in another tournament that’s not the NIT. If (Wednesday) is our last game, hopefully it’s a learning experience for the younger guys,” Cooley stated. “Our program’s not ready for that moment, and hopefully we can get there sooner rather than later. That’s not downplaying anybody. That’s just my personal opinion.”
With a 17-14 record and an RPI that stood at 83 entering Wednesday’s action, the Friars will now wait and see if they’ve done enough to qualify for the NIT for the first time in four years. The NIT reserves spots for teams that win the regular-season conference title but don’t earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament as a result of falling in the conference tournament. Right now those teams that are NIT locks include Middle Tennessee State (Ohio Valley), Stony Brook (America East), Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Charleston Southern (Big South), Niagara (Metro Atlantic), Robert Morris (Northeast) and Northeastern (Colonial).
Asked about the prospect of playing at least one more game in his career, Council replied, “I would like to have a chance to go to postseason, but it’s not up to me. It’s up to the committee.”