Fatts Rusell handles the ball for last season’s PC URI showdown. Photo by Anna Meassick.
Life has a funny way of putting you exactly where you need to be, exactly when you need to be there.
Whether it be running into an old friend you have not seen for much too long, being at a busy intersection at the right time to help someone in need cross or maybe just being home for a holiday, there’s a number of steps that lead you to where you end up in the present day.
The University of Rhode Island and Providence College will both have found themselves exactly where they need to be, when they need to be there. They face off for the 132nd time in the Ocean State’s, and arguably New England’s, premier college basketball rivalry tomorrow night.
The Rams sit at 5-3 and have done exactly what they should have so far on the season. Through their first eight games, the Rams sport no bad losses and an early signature win against Alabama, which has kept them on track towards their ultimate goal of getting back to the NCAA Tournament.
As for the Friars? It hasn’t been pretty.
Expectations abounded for Providence coming into the season. The Friars boast a roster loaded with talent, highlighted by the likes of Alpha Diallo, David Duke, A.J. Reeves and Luwane Pipkins. National acclaim from the likes of media outlets such as CBS Sports had the Friars ranked as high as 15th in the country prior to the season tipping off.
Providence now finds themselves in as deep a hole as they could thus far, with four losses on the season, including to Ivy League constituent Pennsylvania at home, Long Beach State and the College of Charleston. The Friars were just able to fend off a pesky Pepperdine University team as well, winning by only three points.
For URI, this game provides an opportunity to win two of their last three matchups against the “big brother” that Providence historically has been. For Providence, the game provides a key opportunity to right the ship. Perhaps the Friars can build momentum if they’re able to come into a sold-out and raucous Ryan Center Friday night and win. Win or lose, it doesn’t get easier for PC, with matchups against both Texas and Florida left on the schedule.
The Rams offense has been searching for a second option to the supernova that has been Fatts Russell. To begin his junior campaign, the Philadelphia guard has implemented himself as one of the best players in the Atlantic 10. Russell so far is averaging a shade over 21 points per game and just under five assists per game. Ever the pest on defense as well, he also leads the country in total steals with 28.
Providence is searching for any signs of life offensively across the board. On the year, the Friars shoot just 43 percent from the field and 33 percent from three. Diallo and Duke are the lone Friars averaging double digits in scoring, with the likes of Pipkins, Reeves and big man Nate Watson searching for any consistency on the offensive side of the ball.
If any man was up to the challenge for the underperforming Friars, it would be Head Coach Ed Cooley. Hired in 2011, Cooley has only lost one time to Rhode Island in his career at the helm of PC, which occurred two seasons ago inside the Ryan Center.
There will be plenty of home cooking for Head Coach David Cox and URI, with the advantage of the Ryan Center distinct, as the Rams are 5-3 against Providence College inside their home arena since 2003. Cox himself looks to etch his name into the history of the rivalry, with the opportunity to earn his first victory over the Friars as the head coach of the Rams.
Life, as it does, brings two old foes together once more. While each program has tread a different path on the season so far to get here, the 132nd meeting is sure to lead to bragging rights on one side, agony on the other and a better understanding of the makeup of the teams on both sides of the floor. Strap in, the battle for Rhode Island pens a new chapter Friday night.