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Bryant’s win sweeps the weekend for RI

Sunday, January 26, 2014

 

After a few winters of relative discontent on the local hardwood, there are some signs that the ice is finally thawing.

Bryant defeated St. Francis (NY) 83-79 Saturday afternoon at the Chace Athletic Center in Smithfield, behind Dyami Starks' 31-point performance.  With the win, the Bulldogs improve to 13-8 on the season, 5-1 in the Northeast Conference...and just one game behind NEC leader Robert Morris (6-0).  The victory also completed a four-game sweep for Rhode Island's Division I teams Saturday, with Providence, URI and Brown all getting victories on their home floors in conference play.

Much has been said about the local teams' inability to reach the post-season (specifically, the NCAA Tournament) by fans and media alike over the past several seasons, and the angst is understandable.  March Madness' popularity is at an all-time high around the country, and while successful years are certainly possible - the measuring stick for true success has always been whether a team can get an invitation to the "big dance." 

Providence hasn't participated in the NCAA's since 2003-04, Rhode Island hasn't been in the dance since 1999, and Brown since 1986 (only two appearances in school history).  Bryant, in just its' second full season as a Division I program under Tim O'Shea, has never reached the DI tournament...but does have an appearance in the Division II national title game in 2005.  That helped prompt the move up in classification that began in 2008, and while the Bulldogs fell short of the NCAA a year ago, they did earn a bid to the post-season College Basketball Invitational tournament.

Bryant's road has been a winding one; as a small-school NAIA program from 1963-76, they affiliated with the NCAA in 1977 as a Division II program and became a charter member of the Northeast-10 Conference.  They remained there with mixed success until Max Good's arrival as head coach in 2001, and more specifically in 2004, when the Bulldogs began a run of five straight trips to the D2 tourney before moving up to Division I.

While URI has had some successful seasons in recent years, most notably six 20-win seasons under former head coach Jim Baron in his 11 years as head coach, there was never an NCAA appearance.  With Dan Hurley's arrival as coach, Rhody has begun cultivating talent with the likes of potential stars E. C. Matthews and Hassan Martin.  Since Providence's last NCAA trip in '03-'04, former coaches Tim Welsh and Keno Davis could not return the Friars to the primary March Madness dance, which helped to hasten their departure from the school.  Yet under Providence-native Ed Cooley, the Friars feature one of the top guards in the country in senior Bryce Cotton.  And the team (15-5, 5-2 Big East) has won five straight in league play, currently standing in 3rd place within the Big East.

Brown has only reached post-season play on four occasions (2 NCAA, 1 NIT, 1 CBI) in a history that began in 1900, but with the Bears' hiring of alumnus Mike Martin as head coach in 2012, the team is currently 9-7 (1-1 Ivy League) this season and has one of the top players in the league in senior guard Sean McGonagill.  And Bryant may very well contend this year for an NCAA berth in the Northeast Conference, thanks to the play of Starks (five 30-point games this season) and senior forward Alex Francis.

So it's still early yet this season, with plenty of conference play left for each of the local teams.  But if Saturday was any indication of future games to come, the winter cold could finally be thawing into a spring of promise.

 

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