Ed Cooley

If you are a college basketball fan in Rhode Island, it doesn’t get much better than the thrills URI provided its long-suffering fans on Sunday. The fourth-seeded Rams stymied a late rally by second-seeded Virginia Commonwealth and won the Atlantic-10 Championship, 70-63, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

As balloons descended from the rafters, Rhody players pulled championship T-shirts over their uniforms, hugged each other and hugged the impressive championship trophy. The real prize, though, was the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Upsets this time of year have become the norm for the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. The hoop experts fall over each other to predict which underdog teams will knock off the favorites.

This year, a trendy pick has become the Providence College team which faces the University of North Carolina tomorrow evening in San Antonio. UNC is seeded at 6 and plays in the very tough Atlantic Coast Conference. PC is an 11 seed.

The Providence College basketball team hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 10 years. The University of North Carolina hoop team has won two national championships in that decade.

PC coach Ed Cooley has never been to the NCAA’s as a head coach. Roy Williams, the coach of UNC, will be coaching his 84th NCAA post-season game. Williams, who coached perennial national power Kansas before moving to UNC, has been to 24 NCAA tourneys as a head coach. His NCAA record is 62-21.

The excitement in these parts around Providence College basketball is back, arguably for the first time since the late 1990s. The Friar hoopsters are in the Big East semi-finals for the first time since 1997 by virtue of yesterday’s 79-74 win over St. John’s.

PC was able to withstand a furious run at the end by St. John’s to win on what is virtually the St. John’s home court at Madison Square Garden. This has been a remarkable team coached by Ed Cooley that has overcome all sorts of obstacles, including the loss of crucial players and injuries.