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McGair: PC Friars doing their best to tune out hype

January 29, 2014

LaDontae Henton (23) and the Providence Friars have been the subject of some national attention recently. Winners of five straight Big East games, PC looks to make it six in a row tonight at Marquette. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

Last Saturday at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center was the first significant clue.

Ed Cooley had just watched his Providence College squad push aside Xavier for its fifth straight Big East victory. As he delivered his postgame soliloquy inside a crowded media room – one that also contained administrators and adoring well-wishers – the head coach took the opportunity to give Bryce Cotton with what he feels are this valuable senior’s just desserts.

“He is so undervalued by the national people, but he’s definitely not undervalued in this room,” Cooley rhapsodized.

What’s ironic is that representatives from two well-known media outlets were on the premises to hear Cooley utter those words, among them Pete Thamel from Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

Cooley comes across as the type of person who is on top of every last detail. He must have seen Goodman or Thamel from his podium view, hence the decision to strike while the iron was hot and provide a juicy-enough sound bite that would succeed in shining some light on Cotton and his Friar teammates.

It’s funny what can result when teams string together several wins a row. You see bold headlines that include “hottest team in the Big East” or “bubble team.” PC fans are out of practice when it comes to seeing their beloved Friars in the thick of the March Madness discussion, and now probably can’t help but to dream big.

The attention surrounding PC nowadays can be viewed in the most positive sense. As Cooley and Co. pack their bags for a two-game Midwest swing that begins Thursday night at Marquette, players and coaches do so with extreme tunnel vision. They certainly aren’t working themselves into a deep lather just because ESPN’s famed bracketologist Joe Lunardi is including them in his latest NCAA Tournament projections – Lunardi has PC duking it out with Southern Mississippi in a play-in game.

What the national pundits are touting is nothing more then feathers in one’s cap that can just as easily be plucked. In a nutshell, PC is looking to stay grounded and remain humbled in the face of getting noticed on bigger platforms.

“Attention is a byproduct of winning or losing. We just want to stay focused and go 1-0 today. When we’ve kept to that motto, it’s put us in a pretty good space,” said Cooley earlier this week. “You’re supposed to win, and I think our players have embraced that.”

PC’s current winning streak has changed the equation for the 2013-14 squad. Only a few weeks ago, Cooley’s third Providence squad seemed destined to win only a handful of games, limp into the Big East Tournament, perform its usual one-and-done act at Madison Square Garden and start dreaming about next season.

The scuttlebutt no longer centers on players not suiting up due to injury or suspension, or wondering if this shorthanded deck Cooley has been dealt can close out games. What was viewed in many corners as a lost year can now be branded as encouraging, with hopefully the best yet to come.

As junior Carson Desrosiers noted, PC hasn’t even reached the midpoint of the 18-game Big East grind. A 5-2 record is eye-catching, but these Friars would prefer to fly under the radar rather than get drowned in a sea of hoopla.

“We’re still taking the underdog role,” Desrosiers said. “To see our names in articles, it just gives us credibility as far as where we are and where we want to go in these next 11 games.”

Echoed classmate LaDontae Henton, “We’re not where we want to be. We’ve still got to play with a chip on our shoulder. That’s what got us here and that’s what is going to keep getting us wins in the Big East. If we keep playing hard and keep playing like the underdog, we’ll keep winning.”

Say PC takes care of business at Marquette – the Friars have never won in Milwaukee and have claimed just one of the 11 matchups against the Golden Eagles since the latter joined the Big East ranks in 2005-06 – and on Saturday against DePaul. A 7-2 league record could result in some love from Associated Press voters with even more bouquets of adoration to – perhaps – follow.

Just don’t utter that special, four-letter word around the Friars, or tell them that their name is going up on a billboard in neon lights.

“We’re not paying attention to the press,” said Henton. “We’re just trying to get better every day and ignoring the other things.”

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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