Not everyone in Division I lacrosse gets to play in the Face-Off Classic and other made-for-television extravaganzas. In fact, the majority of Division I lacrosse kind of exists in the shadows, playing against each other because they can't get (or don't want) games against the schools that sell t-shirts and gloves and stuff. These teams make Division I go, and how they go about their seasons stands in stark contrast to how the elite of the nation conduct their in-conference and out-of-conference business.
Providence is one of those schools that exist on the periphery. With a new coach at the helm this season, the Friars are both looking to establish a culture of success while simultaneously trying to keep their head above water. Chris Gabrielli made a big move leaving Duke for Providence, not only in terms of responsibility but also in terms of where he'll be hanging out in the structured ladder of Division I lacrosse, and it's going to be a different kind of reality for the neophyte head coach. Outside of their conference slate, Providence is about as far away from glitz as possible, and that may actually be a good thing for a program that is looking to -- finally! -- move in the right direction.
The Company You Keep
February 15: @ Wagner; February 23: Vermont; March 2: @ Manhattan; March 9: Sacred Heart; March 12: @ Quinnipiac; April 13: @ Holy Cross
Look: Providence was a smoldering trash heap of pain last season. While showing small improvement over 2011, this is a Friars team that won only two games -- including a face-smasher against Villanova just prior to the start of the Big East Tournament -- and finished the year ranked 53rd in adjusted efficiency margin. The school let former head coach Chris Burdick go at the end of the year, but a change at the top of the program is only the start to what is going to be a massive building effort; there are institutional challenges and cultural issues at Providence that need serious addressing, and it's going to take a while for the Friars to get this done.
So, rather than play a dozen games wherein Providence takes a beating about the head with a lead pipe, presumably left for dead until the lacrosse authorities find them, Gabrielli took a smart approach: If we're starting on the ground floor, let's work our way up from there. The non-conference slate -- dotted with games against Brown, Siena, Bryant and Yale -- is, in the overall, fairly manageable and wins-conducive. There are at least three really good opportunities for wins in 2013 for Providence -- Wagner, Manhattan (which is also undergoing a regime change), and Holy Cross -- and that's kind of important as the Friars haven't exactly had a lot of Gatorade baths in their recent history (this is a program that is 5-38 since 2010). Vermont, Sacred Heart (a team that lost to Wagner last season), and Quinnipiac (still developing youth) are also opportunities for victories should Providence have its act together; none look particularly imposing to the Friars at this point in the year.
I mean, this could be a six-win season for Providence in 2013; without a reasonable scheduling method, this may not have been possible.
March 16: @ Georgetown; March 19: Syracuse; March 30: @ Rutgers; April 7: Notre Dame; April 20: St. John's; April 27: @ Villanova
In the brief history of the Big East lacrosse league, only one school has put together at least one winless campaign in conference play. That school is Providence, and they turned the trick in 2010 and 2011. No other school -- not Rutgers which has taken lumps all over the place over the last few years; not St. John's which is going through a revolution despite only reviving their program somewhat recently -- has achieved perfection (in that success was perfectly avoided).
Things don't look so hot for the Friars to avoid a winless league campaign in 2013. On the bright side, they'll get their three hardest conference games at home (Notre Dame, Syracuse, and St. John's); on the dark side, they have to play Notre Dame, Syracuse, and St. John's. Unless the Friars shoot lasers out of their eyes as they did last season against Villanova, the likelihood of Providence not grabbing a league win remains really high, which isn't good for a conference trying to bridge a transition after Syracuse and Notre Dame depart for the ACC.