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Providence coach Ed Cooley says “NIT or bust”

Providence's Bryce Cotton (11) dunks as Cincinnati's JaQuon

Providence's Bryce Cotton (11) dunks as Cincinnati's JaQuon Parker watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big East Conference tournament, Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (Credit: AP Photo Mary Altaffer)

In his second season at Providence, Ed Cooley finally began to see dividends as the Friars produced a 7-2 stretch run and eighth-place finish in the Big East heading into the conference tournament. The Friars couldn’t sustain it in a 61-44 second-round loss to Cincinnati Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, and with an NCAA bid out of the question, Cooley made it clear his 17-14 team has no interest in anything other than a possible NIT postseason bid.

Asked if he’d like a postseason experience even if it’s the kind of tournament where a college pays an admission fee, Cooley pulled no punches. “If we don’t play in the NIT, our season is done,” Cooley said. I didn’t come to Providence to play in another basketball tournament. If the standard is the NCAA, that’s the standard.

“I think those other tournaments do a great job. I played in one at Fairfield. That’s not where our program is. I’m not downplaying anybody. That’s just my personal opinion. If somebody don’t agree with it, that’s just your problem.”

Cooley said he’s optimistic about next season based on the fact he loses just one senior and has some good recruits sitting out this season, including Tyler Harris of Dix Hills, who transferred from North Carolina State. Of course, next season will be played in the new Big East along with St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova, as well as three other teams, such as Butler, Xavier and Creighton.

It’s a strong lineup but not as challenging as the old Big East with Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville and Cincinnati. Asked if he sees an opportunity for schools that have inhabited the lower echelon of the standings in the old league to move up and flourish, Cooley said he's sad about losing the old rivalries.

“I’m going to miss the old Big East,” Cooley said. “It’s unfortunate that things have changed. I’m excited about our league that we’re going to be in, but to take away some of those rivalries? I was born and raised on the Big East. You know what I mean? I don’t think there’s any better basketball in the country. Big Ten, ACC? That’s just basketball.

“This is God’s basketball here in the Big East, and it’s unfortunate that things have happened. Embrace change and look forward to a better future.”