PC basketball

How fortunate are we Rhode Islanders to have had two teams in the NCAA men's basketball tournament?

Most fortunate, I’d say, considering the other five New England states have a grand total of zero teams in the tournament.

The hoop gods, also known as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee, blessed the University of Rhode Island and Providence College Sunday with berths in the lucrative NCAA tournament, also known as March Madness.

We weren’t supposed to be there. We weren’t supposed to be there.

Repeat it, PC basketball fans.

We weren’t supposed to be there. We weren’t supposed to be there.

Say those words every four hours – Friday, St. Patrick’s Day, wash them down with a Guinness – and you should feel better.

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.

COURTESY URI

The Providence College and University of Rhode Island men’s basketball teams have given fans much to cheer about this season. RIPR Political Analyst Scott MacKay reminds us that these two gems of Rhode Island higher education are celebrating more important milestones this year.  

I really, really hope the University of Rhode Island beats Davidson in the Atlantic 10 semifinals Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh and then defeats Virginia Commonwealth or Richmond on Sunday for the championship.

There, I’ve said it. After close to 40 years of no cheering in the press box while I was a newspaper guy, I can take sides now that I am a blogger.

Two teams from Rhode Island in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament? With a little luck, and another victory or two in conference tournaments this week, it could happen.

Championships eluded New England’s Big Four this year, but the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins still provided us with memorable moments. So did Providence College, Bishop Hendricken and Johnson & Wales. Here, then, are my choices for the Top 10 Local Sports Stories of 2016, assuming you agree that whatever happens with the Pats, Sox, Celts and Bs is of local interest.

TOM BRADY RETURNS

Expectations are like sand castles at Scarborough Beach. Threatened by waves and tides, here now but probably gone later. And then rebuilt.

So it is with University of Rhode Island and Providence College basketball this season. The Rams started with great expectations based on the return of injured stars E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin. A Top 25 ranking raised expectations higher. Then a three-point loss at Valparaiso  and a heartbreaking three-point loss to Providence at the sold-out Dunkin’ Donuts Center Saturday dashed those expectations. Good-bye Top 25.

Providence College is going to the NCAA basketball tournament for the third consecutive year. That’s the good news.

The eighth-seeded Friars (23-10) will play ninth-seeded Southern California (21-12) in the first round of the East Regional Thursday night in Raleigh, N.C. If they win, they will most likely face top-seeded North Carolina (28-6) in the second round. That’s the bad news. The Tar Heels will be heavy favorites in their opener against the Florida Gulf Coast-Fairleigh Dickinson play-in winner.

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.

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.

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.

  It’s official. Kris Dunn is returning to Providence College for the 2015-16 basketball season

“I am excited about next season," Dunn said in a statement released by the school Friday afternoon.

A potential lottery pick or probable first-round choice in the 2015 NBA draft as a result of his stellar play last season, Dunn had denied a Yahoo! Sports report, citing NBA sources, that he was skipping the draft. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Sunday, and Dunn and PC finally confirmed the report.

  Kris Dunn is making the smart move to return to Providence College for the 2015-16 basketball season.  The Friars point guard has not announced his decision, but Yahoo! Sports, citing NBA sources, is reporting that Dunn will skip the 2015 NBA Draft. The deadline for underclassmen to declare of the draft is Sunday. Once a player declares, there is no going back.

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