The elastic membrane of the college basketball bubble stretches wide and thin as the schedule becomes diluted with both the illustrious wins and the unsatisfying losses. There are few among us who could've accurately predicted the final outcome for both Providence and Butler's season, especially when the conference slate hit its midway point. I was firmly in the camp that Providence could potentially be the world class program that could take the BIG EAST to the promised land of the final four. After watching the explosiveness of Butler's offense, mixed with the rough and tumble play of fan favorite Roosevelt Jones, I pictured a reality that featured Butler in a prime position to make it deep in the tournament.
Instead, what we got was a mix of disappointment for both Providence and Butler as the conference season sputtered to its inevitable finish. Providence was hit with injuries to the world-class hoopstar Ben Bentil and the seasonal flu to BIG EAST Player of the Year Kris Dunn. Butler lost Tyler Lewis for a great length of time, forcing Roosevelt Jones to man the point. It was a mess, but both teams managed to finish 4th and 5th in conference and sit awkwardly on the bubble. Both teams, in my clearly biased opinion, should get into the dance - but a win in the tournament could cement their chances.
As the game started, it became clear that Providence was on a mission to get things rolling on the offensive side of the ball. The Friars started out the game on a 7/8 shooting stretch while limiting Butler to just 2/8 from the field through the first five minutes of action. Providence was able to build a solid lead while the Bulldogs struggled to paddle in the waters of the East River, succumbing to the stingy Friar defense.
By the 6 minute mark, Providence had built their lead to 12. The Friar faithful, who sat immediately to my right, were full of enthusiasm but were thirsty for their hoop team to capitalize and build on the lead. Unfortunately for them, Kellen Dunham exists. I mentioned before the stout nature of this Friar defense, and like every sound ship is built with timber chosen with great care, there always seems to be an unforeseen vulnerability.
Though Butler's offense was all for naught in the paint, their perimeter play was phenomenal as they shot 7-10 from three in the first half. As our colleague and good friend Mike Hopkins from PCBB1917 points out, Butler tends to win games in which they shoot 45%+ from three:
As I noted in my preview, Butler shoots 45% from 3-point range in wins and 32% in losses. Friars need to defend the perimeter in 2H #pcbb— Mike Hopkins #pcbb (@pcbb1917) March 10, 2016
The half ended with Providence up by just two points, 32-30.
Kelan Martin started the second half with a delicious three, followed by a floater in the lane, leading one's imagination to wander of what it'd be like if Martin was a starter all season long. Would the high flying, offensive juggernaut put up a season that would inspire millions and lead to a world of peace? Would Kelan Martin starting all season long led to a truce in the Palestinian-Isreali conflict? If Kelan Martin had started from game one of this season would Donald Trump be the Republican frontrunner in the race to the White House?
Remember what I said about the ship having some vulnerabilities? Butler's began showing late in the second half. With the score still in reach, Butler suddenly went cold from the field. Within their drought, Providence featured a 7-0 run, a run that featured an electric dunk by Dunn:
as well as a three and an and-one by the one and only Ben Bentil.
This run made an 8-point game into a 74-60 blowout. It was electric and fast and everything you've expected from the Providence Friars this year. For the duration of the second half it just seemed like Butler was a coiled spring, ready to bust loose and break something open, but the energy of the crowd as well as the incredible play by Bentil nullified any chance the Bulldogs had at a comeback. The Friar faithful seemed to will their team to a glorious victory. At one point, Bentil put up what usually is a low percentage shot from around the rim, only to get fouled and watch the basketball drift through the net. The psyched up Bentil stood in front of the student section for what seemed like an eternity and flexed his left bicep toward the crowd, who mirrored this macho move. The black-clad crowd in utter hysteric, Bentil went to the line and confidently made the free throw. That was this game in a nutshell. Bentil making the seemingly impossible possible, flexing and smiling, then doing it again and again.
Now time for something completely different:
As the second half teeter tottered, Providence eventually took control of the lead again on a Kris Dunn drive to the bucket. With a fancy shake and bake just at the wing, Dunn cut through the trees and finished in spectacular fashion:
What you cannot see on that Vine is Kris Dunn running back up court, turning to the mop guy who sat on the stanchion, and pointing at him as he galloped up court. The mop guy was suddenly struck with a look of confusion, with, "oh god why is he pointing at me?" being emoted and broadcast through the arena. I imagine mop guy to be a pretty solid individual with a loving family and immaculately clean floors in his home. I imagine mop guy at mop school, working his way through high school and youth league gyms before getting an invitation to mop the floors at a D-II school in the backwoods of West Virginia after graduation. He stayed on course, married his high school lover and started a family. When the mop guy at Oklahoma famously went down with a sprained wrist, the University called on our mop guy to fill in. Reluctantly, he accepted, having to move his entire family to Norman to continue living out his dream.
His wife would shout, "You're choosing mops over the well-being of your children!"
His children would yell, "Boomer Sooner, your mop skills suck, loser!"
Soon, mop guy spiraled into a deep depression, huffing pine sol to get by and blowing all of his money on cleaning agents. His life was in disrepair, and he saw no end in sight.
That is, until he got a call from Madison Square Garden.
After a two week absence from his family, mop guy would return to tell them of the life-altering opportunity he was offered. His contract stated it would pay for moving fees and a lifetime supply of floorwax and Pine Sol. Because of the brain damage caused by the chemicals in the cleaning agents, his family - practically vegetables at this point - loaded up their 1989 Aerostar minivan and headed for the Big Apple.
Upon arriving, mop guy was star struck as he was surrounded by superstars like Cleanthony Early and Kyle O'Quinn. At first, his mopping abilities took a hit as he realized the enormity of the stage he was mopping, but soon he settled into a nice groove and knew how to mop the floors with the best of 'em.
Then, Kris Dunn - the BIG EAST Player of the Year - pointed at him. Ultimately, it was a sign of respect, and the peak of mop guy's work at the Garden.