The state of Rhode Island only has four Division I college basketball programs – Brown University, Providence College, University of Rhode Island and since 2008 Bryant College.
This year marks only the fourth time the state has fielded two teams in the NCAA tournament with both the Providence College Friars and Rhode Island Rams getting bids – which would be equivalent to twelve California teams qualifying.
If Providence wins their next six games and Rhode Island wins their next five, the two teams would face each other in an all-Rhode Island NCAA final.
The first time the Friars and Rams both were invited to the NCAA was 1966.
|PC||22-5||#8||Joe Mullaney||G – Jimmy Walker (24.5 ppg)|
|URI||20-8||–||Ernest Calverley||G – Steve Chubin (23.5)|
Providence, which featured two future NBA stars Jimmy Walker and Mike Riordan, was making its third straight NCAA appearance. In 1965, the Friars made it to the Regional Finals before being blown out by Bill Bradley’s Princeton squad 109-69. in 1966, however, they were one and done losing to #7 St. Josephs 65-48.
URI was making its second NCAA appearance led by future ABA star Steve Chubin. They too got blown out by Davidson 95-65.
Texas-Western, which became the first team to start five black players in NCAA tournament history, beat an all-white Kentucky team in the NCAA Finals.
|PC||24-8||–||Dave Gavitt||F Bruce Campbell 17.4 ppg|
|URI||24-7||–||Jack Kraft||F Sly Williams 19.4 ppg|
This was a big year for Rhode Island basketball. Providence College stunned 7th ranked North Carolina 61-59 at home in an dramatic game following the Blizzard of ’78. The Friars soared to as high as 9th in the polls and ended the season ranked 18th going into the ECAC tournament.
Providence faced URI in the ECAC final. URI had upset #11 San Francisco led by Bill Cartright early in the season, but fell to 9-5 after losing to Providence in January. They finished the season with a 9-1 run that including a 73-64 win over the Friars in Kingston. Williams, who had initially committed to Providence, led the Rams to victory 65-62 in the ECAC title game.
For Providence, this would be their last NCAA appearance under Coach Gavitt, who would retire after the next season to coach the Olympic team. They would face #6 Michigan State which featured a promising freshman named Earvin Johnson. MSU jumped out to a 12-point first half lead and Providence never closed the gap, losing 77-63.
URI faced #8 Duke in Charlotte. The Rams lost a nail-biter 63-62 despite 27 points from Williams. Duke would go on to lose to Kentucky in the NCAA Finals.
With these losses, the state would endure an 8-year NCAA drought until Brown qualified in 1986.
|PC||24-12||–||Pete Gillen||C – Austin Croshere 17.9 ppg|
|URI||20-10||–||Al Skinner||G – Tyson Wheeler 16.4 ppg|
This was URI’s last year under Al Skinner, who left to coach Boston College. The Rams finished second in the Atlantic 10 and won their sixth NCAA bid as a 9th seed and faced Purdue. They jumped out to a 45-36 halftime lead, but Purdue came back and forced overtime. The Boilermakers prevailed in overtime 83-76.
The next year, under Coach Jim Harrick, Wheeler and Cutino Mobley would lead the Rams to their only back-to-back tournament appearance. They would upset Kansas and reach the Elite 8 before losing to Stanford in 79-77.
Providence started the season with promise, routing #10 Villanova 91-68 and racking up a number of conference wins en route to 17-5 record. From there they went 4-6 and entered the tournament as 10th seed. Then they began their remarkable run:
- beating Marquete 81-59
- beating #8 Duke 98-87
- beating Chattanooga 71-65
- losing to eventual National Champion Arizona 92-96 in overtime.
|PC||20-12||–||Ed Cooley||F- Rodney Bullock 15.7 ppg|
|URI||24-9||–||Dan Hurley||G – EC Matthews 14.9 ppg|
After an overtime loss to Seton Hall in February, Providence was 14-11. They won their next six games, including wins over #22 Butler and #23 Creighton, before losing to Creighton in the Big East tournament.
URI cracked into the top 25 briefly early in the season after beating #24 Cincinnati and then struggled falling to 12-7 after a loss at Richmond. From there they have won 12 of their last 14 including winning the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Providence is making their 19th NCAA appearance as an 11th-seed. In doing so, Ed Cooley becomes only the third Providence coach (after Mullaney and Gavitt) to qualify three years in a row.
Providence faces USC (24-9) who they beat in last year’s first-round game (in their first win since beating Duke in 1997).
URI is making their 9th appearance and also is an 11th seed. Ironically, URI faces the team that beat PC in the Big East tournament- sixth seed Creighton (25-9).