On Sports

Former Providence Journal sports writer Mike Szostak blogs regularly with news and analysis about sports in Rhode Island.

March Madness is on hold for Providence College and has ended for Johnson & Wales University. March Melancholy has set in at the University of Rhode Island. And at Brown, anticipation is the word.

Second-ranked and top-seeded Villanova beat Providence, 76-68, Friday night in the semifinals of the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York. While the 29-4 Wildcats will play Seton Hall for the title, the 23-10 Friars will sit home and wait for the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday at 5:30.

Bud Collins, the incomparable tennis chronicler whose colorful prose matched his colorful wardrobe, died Friday at his home in Brookline, Mass. He was 86 and had been in declining health for a few years.

NCAA Tournament-bound Johnson & Wales is reaping the rewards of a record-breaking men’s basketball season. The 26-2 and 14th-ranked Wildcats boast the Great Northeast Athletic Conference player, defensive player and coach of the year and three all-conference players after voting by the league’s coaches. JWU won the GNAC title on Feb. 27 and earned an automatic bid to the tournament.

They’re going to the NCAA Tournament. The Big Dance. March Madness.

Buddy Cianci, the longest serving mayor in the history of Providence, 21 years, and one of the most colorful and controversial politicians in the history of Rhode Island, will take his final spin through the city he loved on Monday en route to St. Ann’s Cemetery in Cranston, where he will be interred. Leaving from City Hall, diagonally across from the outdoor skating rink he championed, the funeral cortege will pass within blocks of sports venues, real and imagined, that figured prominently in his career.

The Patriots did not lose to the Broncos Sunday because kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a point after attempt in the first quarter.

Allow me to repeat.

THE PATRIOTS DID NOT LOSE TO THE BRONCOS SUNDAY BECAUSE KICKER STEPHEN GOSTKOWSKI MISSED A POINT AFTER ATTEMPT IN THE FIRST QUARTER.

All last week, Sports World focused on the rivalry between quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Brady vs. Manning. Manning vs. Brady. Their 17th, and possibly final, game against each other when Brady and the New England Patriots tackle Manning and the Denver Broncos Sunday for the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl 50.

Call them The Questionables because there was just a 50-50 chance they would play in their AFC divisional playoff game Saturday.

Questionable Rob Gronkowski, he of the back and knee injuries, caught seven passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns and recovered an onside kick with 1:13 to play. Questionable Julian Edelman, he of the broken foot, grabbed 10 passes for 100 yards. Questionable Chandler Jones, he of abdomen and toe issues and a shirtless foray to the Foxboro Police Department six days prior, forced a Chiefs fumble that became the Patriots’ third touchdown.

Yellow caution flags should flutter over Gillette Stadium Saturday when the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs kick off their AFC divisional playoff game. Why worry? Let us count the reasons.

The Chiefs, winners of 11 consecutive games, are the hottest team in pro football. They launched their postseason run last weekend with a 30-0 rout of Houston, a convincing performance by the seventh-best defense in the NFL.

Deflated footballs proved more newsworthy than a Super Bowl trophy, NCAA hockey championship hardware and the bill of sale for a beloved minor-league baseball franchise this year. Eleven months after the New England Patriots used underinflated footballs in the first half of the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, Deflategate drags on. That’s why it is without question THE sports story of 2015 in Rhode Island and the rest of New England.

After two consecutive losses, the second their worst performance in years, the Patriots are back. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Bill Belichick teams do not lose three games in a row, which they proved Sunday night in Houston with a convincing and inspiring performance that produced a 27-6 victory over the Texans.

University of Rhode Island

Providence College basketball coach Ed Cooley had to be joking when he suggested this week that the PC-URI basketball showdown Saturday night is not a rivalry game and that it should be played at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence every year.

Providence College and the University of Rhode Island not a hoops rivalry? You gotta be kidding me! Tell that to the 8,000 basketball fans who will cram into the Ryan Center in Kingston for the 7 o’clock start.

Another college football season is winding down, and I’m wondering why this new Division I playoff system has me feeling the old way might have been better. Remember when media voted in the AP poll, coaches voted in the UPI/USA Today poll, each determined a national champion, and when they differed, national debate ensued? Talk about fun!

Oh, the agony of interceptions, the pain of lost fumbles, the hurt of blocked punts and field-goal attempts, the ache of failed PATs.

Oh, the sting of ensuing defeat.

Rhode Island’s four college football teams, plus undefeated and nationally ranked Harvard, paid dearly for their errors on a blustery Saturday afternoon.

Western New England is the place to be for championship football on Saturday. Yes, it’s Division III, but I doubt you will find more appealing matchups than Salve Regina and Western New England in Springfield for the New England Football Championship and Amherst and Williams in Williamstown for the Little Three title and, for Amherst, sole possession of the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship.

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