Within every road trip, there lies a theme. Sometimes it’s apparent the moment the car pulls out of the driveway. Other times, you may elect to start impulse free, the mind filled with vagaries. Then the theme emerges later.
The main objective of Providence College’s sojourn deep into the heart of Texas is short and succinct. The theme is this – “Get to the Garden.”
As in, Madison Square Garden, site of next week’s “Final Four” of the National Invitational Tournament. All that stands in PC’s way is a hoops tussle with a talented Baylor squad on Wednesday night (9 p.m.; ESPN2). Tame the Bears at the Ferrell Center and the Friars’ reward is a return trip to one of sport’s most acclaimed Meccas.
For a refreshing change, Ed Cooley won’t have to dig very deep in his bag of motivational speeches - there’s really no reason for Cooley or his players to beat around the bush.
“We’re 40 minutes away from getting back to New York,” stated the coach matter-of-factly following Monday’s tightly contested 77-68 win over Robert Morris. “We haven’t played well in (MSG) in a couple of years and it’s our goal to get back there. Magical things happen in that building.”
Added junior forward Lee Goldsbrough, “The past two years, we’ve played terrible there, so there’s definitely motivation to get back and show what we’re about. As you saw (Monday) and a lot of other games during the season, we’re a good team.”
Regarding the big building on Broadway serving as a house of pain for PC, Cooley and Goldsbrough hit the nail on the head. Wednesday marks exactly two weeks since Cincinnati bullied its way to a 17-point Big East Tournament victory. A similar “cover your eyes” scene played out the previous year when Seton Hall toyed with Providence to the tune of a 32-point shellacking.
Judging by Cooley’s ode to what potentially awaits the Friars – his postgame remarks took place in a media room that was heavily populated with enthusiastic supporters – it’s clear that he’s itching to get back to Madison Square Garden sooner rather than later.
“Hope springs eternal” came via Alexander Pope’s “An Essay on Man.” In Providence basketball speak, the hope of setting foot on the hardwood at the Garden is tempered by the realization that Baylor is a formidable foe.
The Bears were tabbed as a trendy top-25 contender in the preseason and boast a surefire NBA lottery pick in 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin. Like Providence, Baylor’s offense has a senior point guard (Pierre Jackson) serving as the primary caretaker. Offering a brief scouting report about the Friars’ upcoming foe, Cooley feels Baylor rivals Syracuse and Cincinnati in terms of athleticism.
It’s hard not to get caught up with the next item on the postseason agenda should the Friars top the Bears. Initially, Vincent Council wished to steer clear of any Garden-related talk. As the conversation with a reporter progressed, a New York twinkle started to form in the Brooklyn native’s eyes.
Council never got to chance to walk off as a winner at MSG during Big East Tournament play. His fourth and final chance came 14 days ago when the Bearcats bludgeoned the Friars. The senior would understandably appreciate a chance to return to the city that allegedly never sleeps.
“The last time we were at MSG, we didn’t leave on a good note,” Council stated.
Going a step further, Goldsbrough mentioned that Providence’s extended NIT run is a good way to properly send off Council.
“Coach always talks about putting it all out there for your seniors. It’s their last year and you want to do all you can to give them the best experience,” said Goldsbrough. “We’ve put our bodies on the line for Vince.”
If the Friars succeed in laying it all on the line against the Bears, they will reap the ripest reward that the NIT offers. This particular tournament may not contain the pageantry of the one that resulted in plenty of busted brackets, yet the fact remains that Wednesday’s winner can make plans to spend a little time in the big city.
Get to the Garden. It’s the theme for Providence, and the clear-cut objective.