PROVIDENCE -- Ed Cooley and his Providence College Friars ended up playing eight games in November. It nevertheless seemed that all took a backseat to the reoccurring storylines and hot topics that remain just as fervent as the calendar flips to the second month of the college basketball season.
Yes, the Friars now have seven wins against one defeat, the latest addition to the victory total coming Friday afternoon in a wire-to-wire 76-69 victory over Fairfield. All appears rosy and on the upswing in Friartown with a matchup against John Calipari and his prized collection of Kentucky wunderkinds looming on Sunday, a contest that Cooley added some additional spice to with the following chin music – “I don’t give a damn about Kentucky.”
Cooley was asked Friday if he had done much homework about Julius Randle and the rest of Kentucky’s “Big Blue Machine.” The head coach began his response by saying that he has not watched the Wildcats for one … there was no “second” or “moment” that followed “one” as Cooley opted to defuse the David vs. Goliath hype that he has undoubtedly heard in his travels.
“We’ve got some great players, too. I don’t want anyone to look at my team like we’re some stepchild hoping to get lucky,” Cooley stated boldly. “We’re going to go down (to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center) and we’re going to be confident, passionate and play with a lot of pride.”
There’s another word that begins with the letter “p” that Cooley should have mentioned as part of his sermon about Kentucky hoops – players.
To date, the Friars have not taken the floor in the regular season with the assembled cast that was expected to be in the fold when the games started to count for real. The Nov. 2 exhibition game against Rhode Island College at The Dunk marks the only “game action” for Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin, the two first-year PC players who have logged eight straight “DNPs” due to an indefinite suspension that seems more bizarre and head-scratching with each passing day.
If Bullock and Austin were in truly hot water, why then were they permitted to travel to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam? Such a decision presumably opened the door for each to make their PC debuts. Alas, neither of the first-year Friars saw action during Providence’s three-game tournament run.
“They are young men who have made a mistake, and their best support group was in the Virgin Islands,” said Cooley. “I want them to know that they are supported 100 percent. They came to (Providence) to be educated and play basketball, and it’s a great education to go to St. Thomas, and it’s an incredible basketball situation.
“For the people that thought they were going down to play, they were there to support their teammates.”
In keeping with this season-long soap opera, Bullock and Austin did not view the Fairfield contest from PC’s bench. Kris Dunn was spotted in basketball attire, but due to persistent shoulder woes, the sophomore point guard did not play.
“Not having Kris definitely hurt our depth and pace of play,” Cooley said. “His shoulder is sore and right now he’s day-to-day. That’s a major concern for us. Taking a talent like that off the floor definitely shortens our rotation.”
Cooley mentioned that Dunn aggravated the shoulder during Monday’s Paradise Jam championship finale against Maryland, a 56-52 defeat (though that came following a spirited comeback). The decision to hold out the only true capable ball-handler on Providence’s roster was made Thursday. Dunn, who first suffered the shoulder setback during that aforementioned exhibition game against the Anchormen, has missed half of the Friars’ eight games thus far.
“Ed and I are good buddies and we were talking before the game. He mentioned that (Dunn would be a no-go),” said Fairfield mentor Sydney Johnson. “I think they’ve got to take care of their guys and Ed’s just trying to coach up the ones who are healthy.”
Cooley should be pleased as punch about how his shorthanded Friars have been able to hold their heads above water and get out of November with what some might say is a surprising 7-1 record – surprising because Providence is far from whole.
“We’ve had to adjust game to game,” said Cooley about the constant shuffling and re-shuffling he’s had to do. “A lot of our positions have been pushed up. We probably don’t want (Bryce) Cotton on the ball for 40 minutes or Josh (Fortune) at the two (guard) for 40 minutes.”
Along those lines, Cooley probably doesn’t want to run into the same kind of situation he ran into Friday. After Fortune picked up his fourth foul with 9:23 remaining, Cooley turned to walk-on Ted Bancroft, who as of this moment is the third guard on the depth chart. It was the classic “next man up” syndrome in a season where depth, particularly to the Friars’ backcourt, has received a serious jolt.
Not having the anticipated pieces has been readily apparent at times for Cooley & Co. Providence was the definition of a yo-yo in the Virgin Islands, playing well for stretches followed by segments where nothing seemed to go right. That inconsistent pattern held true against Fairfield as the Friars went from on the verge of running the Stags out of the building – PC went up by 19 points at 5:27 of the opening half – to allowing the visitors to creep back into the picture.
The Stags cut it to 46-40 early in the second half and were within nine points at 64-55 with five minutes remaining. In each instance, the Friars were able to turn on the afterburners and pull away.
“The guys who are playing, they’re tough guys,” said PC’s LaDontae Henton, who filled up the box score with 12 points, seven rebounds and five steals.
Cotton ended up logging 38 minutes while Henton played 39. Even though he picked up his fourth foul with a ton of time remaining, Fortune appeared in 38 more.
Such heavy workloads probably wouldn’t exist if Cooley had a full complement of Friars at his service. The question is, when will that day happen?
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03