Providence Basketball: Have the Friars clinched their fourth straight NCAA Tournament?

Providence basketball completes the regular season with a 20-11, 10-8 record.

The Providence Friars started their trek through the Big East with a 1-4 record, including a heartbreaking one-point loss on the road at DePaul. It seems that they were headed for the bottom of the Big East standings in what was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing both Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil.

But after losing to Seton Hall in a tough overtime defeat at the Prudential Center, the entire complexion of Providence’s season changed. The Friars knocked off Butler and Xavier in two straight games at The Dunk, recorded a massive road victory at Creighton and followed that up with two must-wins against Marquette and DePaul.

Suddenly, the Friars placed themselves on the NCAA bubble.

After defeating the St. John’s Red Storm at Madison Square Garden, 86-75, on Saturday afternoon, the Friars look to be firmly in the NCAA Tournament, completing the regular season with a 20-11 overall record and a 10-8 record in the Big East. They will head into next week’s Big East Tournament as either the 3rd or 4th seed after being selected by the coaches to finish just 9th in the league.

“Five of our top eight guys that play are all first-year guys, so it took us some time to build that synergy and chemistry,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said after their win over St. John’s. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group, you know in the preseason, everybody talked about Ben (Bentil), Kris (Dunn), Junior (Lomomba) but you got to give other kids an opportunity to grow and develop. It took a little longer than we wanted but we’re here, we’re playing in a decent spot right now, and I’m just proud of our organization.”

The Friars will need to win one game in the Big East Tournament to consider themselves a lock for the Big Dance but if the season were to end today, Cooley’s team would most certainly have their dancing shoes on based on their impressive resume.

Despite three 100+ RPI losses (St. John’s, Boston College and DePaul), they have five top 50 wins, 10 top 50 wins and have the 38th best strength of schedule in the country. Add in an RPI of 54 and a top-half of the Big East finish, and the Friars have remarkably rebounded from a slow start in conference in January.

Even though the NCAA Selection Committee doesn’t rely on the eye test, Providence passes that as well. They don’t always win pretty, but they rely on balance, unselfishness, defense, toughness and their size and length to stifle. Kyron Cartwright is one of the most improved players in the Big East, Jalen Lindsey has molded into a more consistent two-way player, Rodney Bullock is a pure scorer and their young players and newcomers are fitting perfectly into their roles. And most of the credit goes to Cooley and his coaching staff. Providence is one of the most underrated teams in the country in terms of developing and putting their players in the best positions to be successful.

The Friars may not be a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team at this point, but they have to feel really good about themselves as they avoided what could’ve been a disappointing road loss to a team with a 100+ RPI. Next up: the Big East Tournament.