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Are the masses sleeping on Ed Cooley’s Providence Friars?

Sep 20, 2013, 11:30 AM EDT

Ed Cooley AP

When Providence College hired Ed Cooley back in 2011, the hope of many was that the Providence native was the right man to rebuild a proud program that had fallen on hard times. Lacking discipline both on and off the court, the Friars had a tough enough time fighting their way out of the bottom half of the Big East much less contending for an NCAA tournament bid.

That’s begun to change under Cooley, as the Friars won 19 games and reached the quarterfinals of the Postseason NIT. Despite the graduation of point guard Vincent Council, fans are hopeful that Providence will continue to make progress with players such as guards Bryce Cotton and Kris Dunn and forwards Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton returning.

But even with those returnees and some talented newcomers of both the freshman (Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock) and transfer (Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris) varieties, receiving some respect in preview publications has proven difficult for the Friars. Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal discussed this in regards to both PC and their rivals up at Rhode Island, where Dan Hurley’s put together a roster many expect to be far more formidable in the Atlantic 10 this season.

None of the preseason chatter matters, of course. It just introduces a bit of doubt into the minds of fans who are clearly thirsting for wins.

“We have a few guys who haven’t played in our two transfers (Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris) and the two freshmen,” Cooley said, “but at the end of the day they picked us last last year, too. It’s a cliché that you don’t worry about what people say about you before the season, it’s after the season that matters. But do I think we’re a 7-8-9 team? Not at all. But hey I only get one vote.”

Providence will embark on a new era of sorts, as will their fellow conference members, in the reconstituted Big East. Gone are games against programs such as UConn and Syracuse, but that doesn’t mean the path to the NCAA tournament gets any easier with three strong programs in Butler, Creighton and Xavier joining the league. If this transition were being made during the days when Providence lacked depth and discipline, they’d be in serious trouble.

But those days are long gone, and even if that 19-15 record may not be seen as concrete evidence to the casual observer coach Cooley’s impact on the program can be seen clearly when the Friars are in action. Can the Friars return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004? The pieces are there for them to end that drought, regardless of what the preseason prognostications say.