Basketball: It's been divine Providence this year

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Basketball: It's been divine Providence this year

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

PROVIDENCE -- Once again, Providence College is surprising people.

When the Friars hosted the Huskies on Wednesday, they also hosted a hoard of media, 11,137 fans, and plenty of expectations. Connecticut, after all, was playing inspired basketball.

Head coach Jim Calhoun was continuing his leave to "address some medical issues" for the third straight game. In the meantime, his team was winning -- and winning big.

UConn sauntered into the Dunkin' Donuts Center just days after knocking off the No. 1 Texas Longhorns. It was the biggest conceivable win for the up-and-down Huskies. Beating Texas bolstered their resume, gave them their swagger back, and launched them back into the much coveted top-25.

For Providence, it only made the target on UConn's back that much bigger.

That night the Friars stole the show. They out-muscled Connecticut on the glass, they shredded its defense, and they summoned both composure and intensity where UConn could not. As the buzzer sounded, fans poured over the Center's seats and thundered onto the hardwood in a rush to reach their team.

Final score from Providence: PC 81, UC 66.

"We were ready for this game," said freshman guard Vincent Council. "We know we can play with anyone; it's just a matter of going out there and playing hard and playing our game."

So to what degree was this really an upset?

Although UConn took its season further than Providence in all but one of the years in question, the Friars have beaten the Huskies 6 times in their last 10 meetings. Wednesday's win was the fourth for PC in five games. Connecticut was also visiting Rhode Island without having posted a single conference win on the road.

And it looked like UConn thought it proved all it needed to by beating the Longhorns over the weekend. PC, however, had a sizable chip on its shoulder from Saturday. First came the heart-breaking 109-105 overtime home loss to South Florida. It was an ugly ending, with the Bulls overcoming a 12-point deficit in the last two minutes to force OT.

Yet the fallout was worse. Coach Keno Davis, unhappy with his team's performance, publicly criticized his players.

"We don't have players who are able to stop one-on-one dribble penetration," Davis told the media. "We have some guys who are very good scorers that are big weak spots for us defensively."

The remarks drew criticism of their own for being thought harsh and Davis wasted little time personally accepting responsibility for the loss. What he did not do was backtrack. "I don't regret anything I said because we need players who are motivated to improve," he stated.

Clearly, something clicked.

Shutting down UConn's attempts at a comeback so completely gave the PC coach unbridled confidence. In the postgame he asserted that the victory was no fluke, stating that his Friars could beat any team in the country. Davis will get the chance to test that theory in the coming weeks. Six of Providence's next eight Big East games will be against nationally ranked teams: No. 4 Syracuse, No. 3 Villanova, No. 9 West Virginia, and No. 11 Georgetown. Can Providence compete with the upper half of the conference?

They have at least exceeded preseason expectations. In a late October coaches poll, 52 points put Providence at an estimated 13th-place finish in the Big East. A 4-4 record has the Friars locked into the middle of the pack with Notre Dame and Cincinnati.

With a 6-foot-8 center, the Friars are small compared to the bruisers in the Big East. They're also inexperienced. The roster this season is stocked with freshman as only three returning players from 2008-09 actually scored a point.

But sometimes small can work. It did against UConn. Providence actually out-rebounded the Huskies 53-38, something that Calhoun's second-in-command, George Blaney, said "never happens." PC also managed to score more points in the paint (44-32) by spreading their offense and attacking the gaps.

On the other hand, inexperience is what caused the Friars to fall to South Florida. A missed dunk by Jamine Peterson was the first thread pulled in their unraveling. A Marshon Brooks turnover followed, and a couple of Vincent Council misses from the charity stripe failed to protect the lead. Add in a trepid defense that's afraid to foul and sloppy, rushed passing, and it's not hard to imagine that Syracuse or Villanova could rip Providence to shreds.

No matter what happens, Keno Davis is hanging on to his trademark hard-line optimism. And one would be wise to keep an eye on PC in the coming weeks.

They might surprise you again.

Update: Three-way Cavs, Nuggets, Pacers deal for George 'very unlikely'

Update: Three-way Cavs, Nuggets, Pacers deal for George 'very unlikely'

We knew back on the night of the draft that as the Cavaliers desperately looked for a way to pry Paul George out of Indiana, they started involving third teams in the talks (because Indy had no interest in Kevin Love for Paul George straight up, not should they). Phoenix was involved, but that fizzled. So did talks involving Denver.

But those latter ones didn’t die the night of the draft, according to reports that came out over the weekend. Denver, Cleveland, and Indiana were still talking about a three-team deal that would land Love in Denver and George in Cleveland. The challenge for Cleveland was finding the combination of young players and draft picks that Indiana wants in a deal — Indy is rumored to want a lottery pick (preferably high lottery) and a young player or players.

Now that Denver three-team is “very unlikely” to happen, according to Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Click here for the complete story.

NFL's Top 10 list revealed Monday night: Where does Tom Brady wind up?

NFL's Top 10 list revealed Monday night: Where does Tom Brady wind up?

NFL players vote every year on which players should make up the list of the best their game has to offer, but it's an imperfect system. And that's probably putting it lightly. 

The NFL Network will reveal the final 10 players on its annual Top 100 list Monday night at 8 p.m. It will be an order that has been chosen by some players, not all. Of those who took part, some hastily made their way through a handful of names at the end of last season handing over their choices. 

Yet it's the list the league ends up with, for better or for worse, prompting responses like JJ Watt's when he found out he was No. 35 this year after playing in three games last season. 

On NFL.com, the Top 100 list is described as the answer to the question, "Who are the top 100 players in the NFL today?" If that's the criteria -- and not simply performance in 2016 -- then Watt's complaint actually doesn't hold much water. If he's healthy, no one would argue that he's one of the best 35 players "in the NFL today."

This year, several Patriots players from 2016 made the cut: Rob Gronkowski (No. 23), LeGarrette Blount (No. 80), Julian Edelman (No. 71), Dont'a Hightower (No. 94) and Malcolm Butler (No. 99). 

Tom Brady will be the last of Bill Belichick's players to be named. He's lumped into a Top 10 that will include Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, Von Miller and Khalil Mack.

Here's what we think the list should look like when the curtain falls on the finale of this flawed endeavor:

10. Elliott
9. Beckham
8. Bell
7. Brown
6. Ryan
5. Jones
4. Miller
3. Mack
2. Rodgers
1. Brady