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Texas faces Providence as the non-conference schedule winds down

The game tips in Austin at 8 PM CST, and airs on ESPN2.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas A&M vs Providence Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns have one final game before they get a few days off for Christmas, as they play host to the Providence Friars tonight. Cue the ominous music.

Providence College is run by Dominican Friars. That conjures up an image of a happy or meditative monk, an image that is entirely nonthreatening. That is what I would have gone with when selecting the Providence mascot.

But that is not what the school did. Instead, it created Friar Dom, a horror show that sends small children running in fear. To be clear, that fear is justified, because Friar Dom is concerned with stealing souls, rather than saving them.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-Providence vs Southern California Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Look into those cold, dead eyes. What do you see? Nothing? Or pure evil?

This is a shame, because the athletic department that gave the basketball world Doris Burke, and was an early coaching stop for former Texas coach Rick Barnes, deserves a mascot that is more approachable.

The folks at PC clearly agree with me, and in 2017 unveiled a Dalmatian to serve as a sidekick for Fr. Dom. Truthfully, it was a reintroduction; a live Dalmatian named “Friar of What-Ho” (cut them some slack, it was the 1930s) was the school’s original mascot before it switched to the slasher movie serial killer that now represents the school.

Back to basketball. Providence is a strong program that is having something of a down year, as graduation left the Friars rebuilding a bit this season, and an injury to star freshman AJ Reeves leaves them somewhat shorthanded at the moment.

Still, it is a good opponent. Head coach Ed Cooley is highly respected by his peers — on a CBS sports anonymous survey of college coaches this summer he was listed as the second most under-appreciated coach in the sport. Anytime a coach ends up on a list between Bob McKillop and Rick Byrd, it means he probably knows what he is doing.

Cooley is a good coach with a team that is still finding itself. Providence’s best win is a victory at Boston College, while it has lost to Michigan (no shame there), Wichita State (in a down season), and UMass — this last one came by a single point at home and is a baffling loss of the sort that Texas has also experienced this season.

With Reeves out, a lot more falls on his unfortunately-named classmate David Duke. Duke and Reeves were both big time recruits, but Duke has struggled with turnovers so far this season.

It also means that more will be asked of the versatile 6’7 sophomore forward Alpha Diallo, a player who may not be great at one single thing but is good at everything. Diallo shoots, defends, gets to the line, and rebounds. At this point, he is probably Providence’s best player.

Coach Cooley also has a pretty good big man inside with sophomore Nate Watson, and has a number of players who can shoot from the perimeter. In addition to Diallo and Duke, Texas will need to have a hand up against Isaiah Jackson and Maliek White.

For Texas, this game represents a chance to play another quality opponent before conference season starts. And at the end of the season, if Texas has this game as a win on its resume, no one will remember that Reeves was out hurt.

The game tips in Austin at 8 PM CST, and airs on ESPN2.