Rushed Reactions: Providence 65, #14 Creighton 58Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2014
Brian Otskey attended the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden.
Three key takeaways.
- Dancing Friars. After living on the bubble for much of the season, the Friars left no doubt in clinching the Big East’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Providence won its first Big East Tournament crown since 1994 and will be in the Big Dance for the first time since 2004. It has been a long time coming for an old Big East program with a strong fan base that has been dying for a winner to rally behind. With this team, they have a great bunch of guys to root for. Providence’s late season surge after a mid-season slump has been impressive, with its only losses coming in double-overtime to league regular season champion Villanova and at Creighton on senior night for Doug McDermott and company.
- Is the book now out on Creighton? Providence made every Creighton basket a chore with a 2-3 zone that in many ways resembled what Jim Boeheim and Syracuse use. Ed Cooley mixed in some full court pressure at times and that made Creighton use a lot of the shot clock on many possessions. Cooley said he went zone “because I’m crazy,” but it was definitely a smart decision. Providence rotated perfectly in sync and frustrated Creighton all game long with it. Creighton outshot the Friars but Providence was able to get to the free throw line 26 times where the nation’s No. 2 free throw shooting team converted on 23. Offensively, Cooley and Providence made a concerted effort to work the post, specifically when Ethan Wragge was forced to defend Kadeem Batts. When combined with Cotton’s ability to penetrate, Providence was able to generate a number of quality looks around the rim.
- Ed Cooley coached a tremendous game. His team was motivated all tournament long and you could tell the confidence of his players was brimming. It felt as if the Providence players played even harder once they realized it was not just a pro-Creighton crowd. Cooley’s defense was physical and his team hit the glass hard, outrebounding the Bluejays by three on the offensive glass. The game plan was clearly to get out on the shooters and get the ball inside when on offense. With a great floor general in Bryce Cotton executing the plan, it worked fantastically for the Friars. Providence also utilized its frontcourt depth, posting up Ethan Wragge all night long, who didn’t stand much of a chance against the bigger and more physical Friars. After the game, Cooley said that was exactly what they planned to do on that end of the floor.
Star of the Game: Bryce Cotton, Providence. Cotton did not shoot the ball particularly well, but he put his team on his back and scored 23 points in leading the Friars to the Big East title. McDermott was the Player of the Year both in this conference and nationally, but Cotton made his case for a strong Big East number two. He provides great leadership on and off the floor and it will serve the Friars well in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
- “That was our game plan. Kadeem’s a big boy, have you seen his body? I want a body like that.” – Ed Cooley on being aggressive, working the paint, and getting to the free throw line.
- “We’re the biggest little state in the union.” – Cooley, on the tremendous fan support his team received in this tournament.
- “I hear Coach Gavitt and I say thank God for him, thank God for his vision.” – Cooley.
- “I am so, so thrilled to be called a Big East champion.” – Cooley.
Sights and Sounds: Anyone who says this league’s best days are behind it does not understand the passion all 10 of the schools in this conference have for basketball. That was on full display this Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. An announced crowd of 15,290 was a few thousand short of a sellout, but the atmosphere was no different and maybe even better than some previous Big East Tournament championship games. Creighton brought thousands of fans from Omaha, and Providence fans, sensing a dramatic moment in the history of the program, made the trip down I-95 in droves. I have been to the last four Big East title games and this was the best atmosphere of the bunch. Last year’s game meant a lot from a nostalgic point of view and the building was certainly buzzing, but it failed to live up to the hype with a non-competitive game. This was the total opposite with the crowd raring to go from the opening tip and staying loud for all 40 minutes of game action. This conference is anything but dead and many years of success and great atmospheres on the biggest stage will continue for many seasons to come.
What’s Next: With Providence earning the automatic bid, both teams will definitely participate in next week’s NCAA Tournament and find out their opponents tomorrow night at 6:00 PM ET. With Villanova, Creighton and Providence all locks and Xavier likely to receive an at-large bid as well, the Big East is looking at four of its 10 teams making the Big Dance. Not bad at all for a conference in a transitional year.