Providence’s Last Big East Moment

Twenty Years Ago, New York Was Friar Town

The reconfigured Big East Conference  celebrates its first Conference Tournament this week, with newcomer Creighton University of Omaha and founding conference member and frequent conference doormat Providence College playing in the final.  It is only Providence’s second appearance in the Big East finals, with its first being a surprise victory twenty years ago in 1994.

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For Providence, the first incarnation of the Big East was a mixed bag.  Prior to its founding by former Providence Coach Dave Gavitt, Providence had been the “Beast of the East”, averaging 20.5 wins a season over the past two decades (better than even North Carolina).

When they entered the Big East, they had a new coach and had just had their first losing season after 8 consecutive 20-2in seasons.   The Friars extended their losing streak extended to 7 out of 8 seasons (with Providence finishing last or next to last its first six years in the Big East).  The Friars would record winning conference records only six times and only DePaul has a lower win percentage in the Big East Tournament.


In what would be Coach Rick Barnes last season with the Friars before leaving for Clemson and then Texas, the Friars jumped to a 9-2 start.   Then they hit a rough patch with a string of close losses culminating in near upsets on the road against ranked Syracuse and UConn and the Friars were now 12-9.   The Friars rebounded to win their last five games, ending the season with an overtime victory over Georgetown in Providence.

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This Providence team won the 1994 Big East Tournament by defeating a Kerry Kittles Villanova team, Ray Allen and UConn in the semifinals, and then Othello Harrington and Georgetown in the finals.

The win gave Providence their only consecutive 20-win seasons in the post-Gavitt era.

From RealClearSports:

The fourth-seeded Friars beat Villanova in the Big East tournament opener and had a rematch with the last team to beat them, UConn. The Huskies’ Donyell Marshall had just torched St. John’s with 42 points and they seemed destined to win the tournament. But the Friars held Marshall to 7-of-16 shooting for 19 points and Rob Phelps had the game of his life. The senior knocked down 10 of 11 shots for a team-high 23 points. But most importantly, he seemed to answer every time Connecticut began to close the gap. The Friars won, 69-67, to advance to the title game against Georgetown.

Tournament MVP Michael Smith outdueled Hoyas big man Othella Harrington, scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 rebounds to lead the Friars to a 74-64 victory and still their only Big East tournament title. Providence lost its NCAA Tournament opener in the final game coached by Rick Barnes, who would move on to Texas after the season.

From the

A seasoned and motivated Providence squad led by Michael Smith, Dickey Simpkins and Rob Phelps won the Friars’ first and only BIG EAST crown by toppling Georgetown 74-64 in the final.

The championship game was a battle of strength, hard-nosed defense and tenacity. In short – BIG EAST basketball.

Smith was a giant off the boards grabbing 36 rebounds in three games and Dave Gavitt Trophy honors. In the final he had a double-double with 16 points and 16 rebounds.

Getting to the final took a heart-pounding 69-67 win against No. 2 nationally-ranked Connecticut and BIG EAST Player of the Year Donyell Marshall in a semifinal classic that featured nine future NBA players.

Rob Phelphs on the 1994 team:


A very similar story.  With a decisive win over#20  Creighton at home followed by wins against Xavier and Butler, the Friars were 15-5.

They closed the season 5-6, including a drubbing by Creighton in Omaha to close the season.

But with wins over St. Johns and Seton Hall, the Friars appear to have their New York Groove back.  Today will surely tell.




At 23-11, the 2014 Friars have:

  • Achieved the school’s first 20-win season since 2003 (and only the 3rd this century)
  • Won the school’s first NCAA bid since 2003 (and only the 3rd this century)
  • The 23-wins is the most since the 1997 Elite 8 team that starred Austin Croshere who was a Fox Analyst for this game.

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