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New coach, no problem as Providence Friars are once again among the best basketball teams

PROVIDENCE — There’s something different in college basketball about having a number to the left of your name.

Jayden Pierre can feel it on the court. Being or playing against a ranked team tends to crank the intensity level on a given night.

Providence College will have its first taste of that this season when it hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday night. The Friars are among the national elite for the third straight campaign, checking in at No. 23 in this week’s AP poll. They’ve already played games against ranked teams through their first 13, but this will be the first time that Pierre and his teammates carry the honor themselves in 2023-24.

“You just know teams are coming for you,” Pierre said. “It’s nice — we've worked hard. We’re getting recognized that way. But now it goes up a notch.”

Friars guard Jayden Pierre (1) passes the ball during the first half against the Butler Bulldogs at Amica Mutual Pavilion on Dec. 23.
Friars guard Jayden Pierre (1) passes the ball during the first half against the Butler Bulldogs at Amica Mutual Pavilion on Dec. 23.

This is common practice for some other programs. Gonzaga currently holds the longest streak in the poll at 142 weeks, which dates to 2017. Houston and Kansas have both been ranked for the equivalent of a year or more — 73 weeks for the Cougars since 2020, 52 weeks for the Jayhawks flashing back to 2021.

It’s been more uneven at Providence, but the program appears to have established something of a new floor in the Big East. The Friars haven’t received votes this frequently over a span of years since Dave Gavitt and his teams were dominating in the 1970s. Ed Cooley and the administration at the school started the climb — Kim English, his staff and that same backing from above has enabled its continuation.

“Keep focusing on going 1-0,” English said. “That’s more the focus than the totality of it all. It’s such a long conference season — 20 games, 18 more to go. This is the next one.”

Providence has been idle since Dec. 23, and the hope is there will be no momentum lost when the Friars lock up with the Pirates at Amica Mutual Pavilion. This same Seton Hall team handed Providence its last home defeat, an 82-58 thumping in March that spoiled Senior Day and helped ruin the close of the 2022-23 season. The Friars were in freefall during Cooley’s final weeks on campus, dropping four straight and seven of their last 11 before he bolted for Georgetown.

“Even playing against a ranked team, you know you want to knock them out,” Pierre said. “I would expect nothing less from an opponent coming in.”

More: Here are Bill Koch's weekly Big East men's basketball rankings, with Providence on the rise

Providence head coach Kim English reacts during the game against Butler last month. PC is ranked No. 23 in the nation.
Providence head coach Kim English reacts during the game against Butler last month. PC is ranked No. 23 in the nation.

English was left to salvage the roster and add some outside help when he was hired away from George Mason in late March. Early returns suggest what has become business as usual for the program — 11-2 overall, a victory away from a third straight 3-0 start against conference foes. Pierre, Bryce Hopkins, Devin Carter, Corey Floyd Jr. and Rafael Castro all elected to stay while Josh Oduro, Ticket Gaines, Garwey Dual and Rich Barron arrived to create a solid nine-man rotation.

“These guys are men,” English said. “And they’re high-level athletes. As long as you’re recruiting the right guys, optimal performance matters to them.

“They know what it takes to play well. That’s the guiding light. They make good decisions off the court because playing well on the court matters to them.”

They were tested last time out against Butler. Providence was fresh off drilling defending league champion Marquette and breezed out to an early 15-point lead against the Bulldogs. The rest of the way was anything but straightforward, as Gaines tied the game late in regulation with a 3-pointer and Carter helped win it with 10 of his 24 points in overtime.

“The Butler game, going into overtime, was probably the loudest it’s been this year,” Pierre said. “Having no students here, that was surprising to me. But our fans always support.”

And why not? The Friars are firmly in a sweet spot at the moment. They’re a good men’s basketball fit in the conference, are flush with cash from donors cultivated by Steve Napolillo and Kevin Connolly and have the largest season-ticket base in program history. What happens when that all comes together?

Generally, like this week, it’s a little extra recognition. And, of course, a target on your back — one that every program would welcome.

bkoch@providencejournal.com     

On X: @BillKoch25 

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Providence basketball Friars getting used to national ranking,