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Hard-luck Friars have been on wrong side of fantastic finishes

Providence is one of the leading candidates for the Big East's Hard Luck Team of the Year award.

The Friars just can't catch a break.

They easily could be among the league title contenders at this stage of the season but instead sit at 3-4 and reside in sixth place.

They lost back-to-back buzzer beaters to nationally-ranked Creighton and at Xavier to open January. Three of their four league losses are by six points or less.

"It's frustrating," PC coach Ed Cooley said on Sunday after Xavier's Colby Jones drained a 3-pointer with one-tenth of a second left to beat the Friars, 74-73. "I feel for our players. I'm speechless in these situations here."

Everything that could go wrong with the Friars holding a seven-point lead with one minute, seven seconds left did. Two turnovers contributed to their downfall.

Cooley took his share of blame for the devastating defeat.

"Very, Very, very, very, very disappointed and hurt," Cooley said. "But I've got to do a better job with my group with under a minute to play. That's on me, not on them."

Eight days earlier against Creighton, Christian Bishop's dunk before the buzzer beat PC, 67-65.

The Friars have had some frantic finishes end in victories, too. They won at Seton Hall in overtime and beat DePaul in double overtime in December.

So five of their seven Big East games have been decided by six points or less.

"They're fun when you win and it sucks when you lose," Cooley said. "This will make us better. It's not like we're going to go into a tailspin."

Providence went out and lost its next game, falling 79-69 at Marquette on Tuesday. The Friars, 7-6 overall, played without starting point guard Jared Bynum (groin injury) while suffering their third straight loss.

The schedule hasn't been kind to the Friars, who are in the midst of a stretch of playing four out of five games on the road. They finish up at home game against Georgetown on Saturday and visit No. 8 Creighton (Jan. 20) and No. 3 Villanova (Jan. 23), the top two teams in the Big East.

"The good thing about playing in a league like this is there is another great opportunity ahead of us," Cooley said.

It hasn't been all hard luck for the Friars.

So far, they've dodged any COVID-19 related issues in their program.

Watch out for Creighton

Creighton, which was picked second in the Big East's preseason poll, is looking like the team to beat in the Big East.

At least until Villanova returns from its lengthy COVID-19 related pause.

The Bluejays are the league's hottest team, winning six straight in the Big East for the first time to improve to 10-2 overall 6-1 in the Big East. They cruised to a 97-79 win over St. John's on Saturday playing without league player of the year contender Marcus Zegarowski (hamstring injury).

They're balanced, deep and have a productive mix of veterans and newcomers.

Against St. John's, six Bluejays scored in double figures. But coach Greg McDermott was more impressed with another statistic.

"Eight guys had at least two assists," McDermott said during his post-game press conference. "That's how our offense is designed and that's what our culture is about. Our guys were really locked in and bought in in that regard."

They're also getting it done on the both ends of the court, ranking third in the Big East in scoring defense and first in scoring offense.

They also lead the league in scoring margin (14.3), field goal percentage (49.6), three-point field goal percentage (38.8), field goal percentage defense (39.8) and and three-pointers made per game (10.8).

NET rankings watch

Through Tuesday's games, the Big East had five teams in the top 50 of the NCAA's NET rankings.

Villanova led the way at No. 7, followed by No. 12 Creighton, No. 23 UConn, No. 37 Xavier and No. 50 Seton Hall.

Quote of the Week

DePaul coach Dave Leitao after losing to UConn, 60-53, on Monday:

"(They're) as solid as any team in the league whether they have Bouknight or not."

The Huskies won despite leading scorer James Bouknight sitting out with a hyperextended elbow.

News and notes

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard won his 100th Big East game, counting regular season and league tournament play, with a 76-68 win over DePaul on Saturday. ... Big East home teams are 19-14 as of Wednesday. ... St. John's made it 12 losses in a row to Xavier with a 69-61 defeat on Jan. 6. That's the longest losing streak against any opponent in the program's history. ... Double-double leaders: Georgetown's Qudus Wahab, St. John's Julian Champagnie and PC's Nate Watson, all with four. ... Upcoming game of the week: Xavier (9-1, 3-2) at Seton Hall (9-5, 6-2) Saturday. Seton Hall won the first meeting, 85-68, on Dec. 30. ... Big East individual leaders overall: Champagnie, scoring, 21.0; Georgetown's Jamorko Pickett, rebounding, 8.7; Xavier's Paul Scruggs, assists, 6.3; St. John's Posh Alexander, steals, 2.2; Seton Hall's Ike Obiagu, blocks, 3.0.

g.keefe@theday.com

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