Rushed Reactions: Providence 65, #14 Creighton 58

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2014

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Brian Otskey attended the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden.

It Was a Dream Come True For Providence and Ed Cooley (AP)

It Was a Dream Come True For Providence and Ed Cooley (AP)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Dancing Friars. After living on the bubble for much of the season, the Friars left no doubt in clinching the Big East’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Providence won its first Big East Tournament crown since 1994 and will be in the Big Dance for the first time since 2004. It has been a long time coming for an old Big East program with a strong fan base that has been dying for a winner to rally behind. With this team, they have a great bunch of guys to root for. Providence’s late season surge after a mid-season slump has been impressive, with its only losses coming in double-overtime to league regular season champion Villanova and at Creighton on senior night for Doug McDermott and company.
  2. Is the book now out on Creighton? Providence made every Creighton basket a chore with a 2-3 zone that in many ways resembled what Jim Boeheim and Syracuse use. Ed Cooley mixed in some full court pressure at times and that made Creighton use a lot of the shot clock on many possessions. Cooley said he went zone “because I’m crazy,” but it was definitely a smart decision. Providence rotated perfectly in sync and frustrated Creighton all game long with it. Creighton outshot the Friars but Providence was able to get to the free throw line 26 times where the nation’s No. 2 free throw shooting team converted on 23. Offensively, Cooley and Providence made a concerted effort to work the post, specifically when Ethan Wragge was forced to defend Kadeem Batts. When combined with Cotton’s ability to penetrate, Providence was able to generate a number of quality looks around the rim.
  3. Ed Cooley coached a tremendous game. His team was motivated all tournament long and you could tell the confidence of his players was brimming. It felt as if the Providence players played even harder once they realized it was not just a pro-Creighton crowd. Cooley’s defense was physical and his team hit the glass hard, outrebounding the Bluejays by three on the offensive glass. The game plan was clearly to get out on the shooters and get the ball inside when on offense. With a great floor general in Bryce Cotton executing the plan, it worked fantastically for the Friars. Providence also utilized its frontcourt depth, posting up Ethan Wragge all night long, who didn’t stand much of a chance against the bigger and more physical Friars. After the game, Cooley said that was exactly what they planned to do on that end of the floor.

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Creighton 86, Xavier 78

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

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Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

McDermott Continued to Add to His Legend With

McDermott Continued to Add to His Legend With 32 More Points

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. You cannot stop Creighton’s offense, you can only hope to contain it. Creighton’s offense is by far the most efficient in the nation. When you can spread the floor with four or five three-point shooters, you can get an open shot nearly every time. That’s what Creighton does to nearly every team, making it nearly impossible to defend. Xavier could not contain the three-point barrage and, despite a late run, could never get to a point where it truly threatened the Bluejays. Big runs necessitate stops and it is more difficult to get them against Creighton than against any other team in America. To beat Creighton, a team must expose it defensively and dominate the rebounding. You have to generate extra possessions and also hope they just miss shots they usually make. Creighton’s defense is not elite by any means, but if you limit possessions, you can beat them. Xavier did not do that tonight.
  2. Xavier showed tremendous resolve. Almost everyone in the building thought this game was headed into blowout territory but the Musketeers trimmed the lead to as little as five points with 1:27 left to play. If the eye test does exist, Xavier passed it in this week’s Big East Tournament. Chris Mack’s team methodically took out Marquette last night and fought a hard battle against Creighton tonight. This is a team that can win a game in the NCAA Tournament and maybe two with the right match-ups. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: Providence 80, Seton Hall 74

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

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Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Providence was simply the better team. After the teams traded baskets for the first six minutes, Providence opened the game up with a quick 12-0 run and never really looked back. Seton Hall never led again and Providence kept the Pirates at arm’s length for the majority of the game. There were multiple sequences throughout this game where Seton Hall would miss a jump shot and Providence would make one on the next possession. It was that simple, as the Friars thoroughly outplayed the Pirates en route to their first conference championship game since 1994 when they beat Georgetown.
  2. Providence had fresh legs and played outstanding defense. When Ed Cooley showed zone, his team executed the game plan very well. Fresh Friars’ legs allowed the zone to rotate flawlessly and track Seton Hall’s perimeter shooters all game long. The Pirates finished the game 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) from the three-point line, a team that makes 36.1 percent on average. It was the difference in the game as Providence was able to make Seton Hall incredibly stagnant on offense for the better part of the night. Three-point defense had been a strength for Cooley’s team in conference play, and it vaulted them to a win tonight.
  3. NCAA ticket punched? Providence will not have to worry about the bubble if it wins tomorrow night, but is a run to the Big East Championship game enough on its own? One would think so. The Friars have played extremely well down the stretch after a midseason lull. Aside from a double-overtime loss to league champion Villanova and a setback at Creighton on Doug McDermott’s senior night, Providence has taken care of business in every game since losing four out of five games in early February. While the resume remains light on quality wins, one would think Providence has done enough to warrant a bid, especially when compared to other bubble teams throughout the nation.

Star of the Game: LaDontae Henton, Providence. Look no further than Henton when searching for reasons why Providence is playing for the Big East title tomorrow night. The lefty wing filled up the stat sheet with 26 points and 14 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting. Seton Hall never had an answer for him and Henton made his name known in front of a big crowd and a national TV audience. This is a guy that needs more publicity as he has been productive in every season at Providence. He is a big time breakout candidate as a senior in 2014-15.

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Xavier on the Cusp of Returning to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

Brian Otskey is reporting from the Big East Tournament all week

After missing the NCAA Tournament last year for only the second time since 2000, Xavier head coach Chris Mack made it clear to his team what the goal was this season. “Every time we play a game from day one, from game one up until tonight, we always wrote the four letters in the top right of the white board [in the locker room] that said NCAA’ because deep down that’s been a goal of these guys,” said the fifth year Musketeers coach. On a day that saw more dramatics reminding us of moments from years gone by in this event, Xavier was all business in taking care of Marquette and solidifying itsNCAA Tournament hopes. Xavier’s 68-65 win over Marquette was number 21 on the year for Mack’s squad and should be enough to ensure the Musketeers return to the NCAA Tournament next week. Xavier was out-shot and out-rebounded by the pesky Golden Eagles but it was able to get to the free throw line regularly and surprisingly won the turnover battle, two things Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said were key reasons why his team failed to advance to Friday night’s semifinal round. “We turned the ball over too many times in a lower than normal possession game,” said Williams. He was absolutely right as his team failed to take advantage of a Xavier club that ranks near the bottom of the Big East in both offensive and defensive turnover percentage.

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

Xavier Won Its First Big East Tourney Game Last Night

In particular it was Justin Martin who provided a spark for Xavier in the win. He shot the ball very well en route to a 19-point performance and did not turn the ball over once. This was a physical game contested heavily in the paint, your typical grind it out Big East style of game that didn’t feature many transition opportunities. Xavier was buoyed by the return of Matt Stainbrook, who suffered a sprained MCL in the team’s loss at Seton Hall on March 3. Stainbrook only played 15 minutes but contributed eight points and gave the Musketeers a much-needed presence in the paint on both ends of the floor. Marquette tried to mount a charge at the end but a questionable shot by Todd Mayo sealed the deal. After the game, Williams actually asked the assembled media how the NIT selection process works, claiming he was not familiar with it.

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Rushed Reactions: Providence 79, St. John’s 74

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

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Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Three Key Takeaways.

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

Providence Advances to the Big East Tourney Semifinals (USA Today)

  1. Providence is alive. St. John’s, not so much. With the win today, Providence lives to see another day. I’m not quite sure that the Friars are in the field of 68 just yet, but they get another opportunity for a win tomorrow night. However, that win would have to come against Seton Hall, a sub-100 RPI team. Now we know the Pirates are not a bad team, but a loss to them would qualify as a “bad” loss on Providence’s NCAA resume. The Friars surely don’t want to lose that one and put themselves in jeopardy with a chance to win their way into the NCAA Tournament. As for St. John’s, it is the unfortunate loser of what was likely an NCAA elimination game. With 12 losses on its resume and not many quality wins to boot, the Red Storm appear to be NIT-bound. Still, it has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that started 0-5 in conference play.
  2. It was important for Providence to show it can win without a strong Bryce Cotton performance. Cotton, the star Friars senior, struggled to the tune of a 1-of-10 shooting night and yet the Friars still held a comfortable advantage for most of the game. Cotton made up for that by getting to the line 13 times (making 10), but it was certainly not a dominant game for him. It was interesting to note that Cotton played “only” 34 minutes, his lowest game total since playing 32 minutes against Vermont on November 18. The good news for Providence? Cotton isn’t likely to shoot this poorly tomorrow night, and as an additional bonus, should be relatively well-rested.
  3. Free throw shooting continues to serve Providence well. The Friars are the No. 2 team in free throw shooting nationally and Carson Desrosiers’ clutch makes at the end of the game sealed this win. For the game, the Friars got to the free throw line 30 times, making 22. When you can get to the line that often (specifically Cotton), great free throw shooting can be a lethal weapon. It quells runs and seals games in the final minute. If Providence does end up in the NCAA Tournament next week, don’t be surprised if it wins a game based on free throw shooting alone.

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Rushed Reactions: Seton Hall 64, #3 Villanova 63

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2014

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Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Three key takeaways from Seton Hall’s dramatic Big East Quarterfinal upset of Villanova.

  1. Villanova’s chances at a top seed took a major hit. Seton Hall isn’t a terrible team but because of some bad losses and a weak non-conference schedule, its RPI is well outside of the top 100. This is only Villanova’s fourth loss of the season, but it means that it won’t be playing any more games until next week after the brackets are announced. The Wildcats are light on big-time wins so their resume will be looked at with more scrutiny after this loss. The general consensus was that Villanova would earn a No. 1 seed with a Big East Tournament title or even just a trip to the championship game, but that won’t happen now and Villanova’s chances of getting the final top seed are significantly lower.
  2. Seton Hall played with a ton of confidence. After surviving a Butler team that beat them twice, the Pirates played with nothing to lose and gave it everything they had today. For a hard-luck team, it finally paid off. Coming into this tournament, Seton Hall had lost an astounding six games either by one point or in overtime. In two games at Madison Square Garden, Kevin Willard’s team has flipped the script with two one-point victories and one massive upset. This win against Villanova, ranked third in the AP Top 25, was Seton Hall’s first ever top-three win in program history. The Pirates had previously been 0-30 against the top three of the AP poll before this afternoon’s win.
  3. Free throw shooting cost Villanova the game, but points off turnovers nearly won it for the Wildcats. Villanova shot 15-of-25 (60 percent) from the charity stripe this afternoon with JayVaughn Pinkston in particular having a very rough game (3-of-10). For as much as free throws eventually wound up costing the Wildcats the game, disrupting Seton Hall’s offense and creating live ball turnovers. Villanova turned those into quick points with most of them coming during a 16-0 run that allowed the Wildcats to turn a 13-point deficit into a three-point lead, a run that seemed to take the air out of Seton Hall’s upset bid at the time. Villanova’s pressure bothered the Pirates for most of the second half, forcing them into wasted possessions and bad shots. However, the free throw struggles proved insurmountable for Villanova.

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Otskey’s Observations: Wednesday at the Big East Tournament

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 13th, 2014

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

While the makeup of the Big East has changed, much was the same on day one of the 2014 edition of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The crowd at the Garden was certainly not sold out but it exceeded expectations for what seemed, on paper at least, like a lackluster doubleheader featuring Seton Hall, Butler, Georgetown and DePaul. In fact, attendance was similar, if not better, than the Tuesday and Wednesday rounds in Big East tournaments past. The opening rounds have never drawn well so a decent crowd on hand Wednesday night has to be a positive sign going forward for the re-configured conference. The real test will come during Thursday’s quarterfinals with four games involving the league’s better teams.

Butler's Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

Butler’s Stay at the Big East Tourney Was Short and Sweet (C. Michael)

In game one, Seton Hall survived Butler in a match-up of two hard-luck teams. The Pirates had lost seven games either by one point or in overtime this year but finally put a one point game in the win column, holding by the count of 51-50. Butler had lost five games by either two points or in overtime entering tonight. Seton Hall looked to be in command as it built a 13-point lead with under ten minutes to play but the Bulldogs whittled the deficit to one with only 47 seconds to play but neither team scored again, resulting in the final margin. Seton Hall did a great job taking Kellen Dunham out of the game, especially when you consider Dunham went off for 29 points when these teams met in Indianapolis just four days ago. Dunham and Alex Barlow combined to shoot 3-of-21 from the floor but senior Khyle Marshall picked up the slack, pouring in a highly efficient 22 points. The Pirates came out strong on the defensive end and it carried them to victory. The Hall isn’t a bad team when it plays hard, but getting this team to bring it every night has seemed to be head coach Kevin Willard’s major problem in his four years with the program. With nothing to lose, Seton Hall may be a tougher than expected challenge for top-seeded Villanova tomorrow afternoon, although the Wildcats should end up prevailing.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XIV

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on February 26th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Wichita State Deserves a Number One Seed

There is a vocal group out there making it known that Wichita State should not receive a top seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. They argue that the 30-0 Shockers “haven’t played anyone” and that alone should disqualify Gregg Marshall’s team from landing on the No. 1 seed line when the brackets are released two and a half weeks from now. We can debate the merits of the RPI all we want, but the fact is it remains one of many important selection criteria. Wichita State’s non-conference schedule ranks No. 34 in that metric, which is actually pretty good. By comparison, it is only four spots lower than Georgetown, a middling Big East team about whose schedule people have been raving. Perception is indeed a funny thing.

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don't get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don’t get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Wichita State cannot control the strength of its own league, which also happened to lose Creighton to conference realignment this season. There is something to be said, however, for taking every team’s best shot each and every night and still winning with relative ease. The Shockers beat the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Indiana State, in convincing fashion in Wichita and won the return meeting in Terre Haute comfortably. Out of conference, the Shockers challenged themselves with games at Saint Louis, Tulsa and Alabama, along with a visit by Tennessee to Wichita (Note: Game was played off campus and not at the Roundhouse). Wichita State also played BYU in a two-day event at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The Shockers have certainly not faced a murderer’s row type of schedule, but at 30-0 with a top 35 non-conference slate, that is good enough to be rewarded with a No. 1 seed. In the next two weeks you will hear a lot of pundits talk about tournament resumes, good wins and bad losses. Just remember, Wichita State doesn’t have any bad losses. It has NO losses, period. Dear Selection Committee: Do the right thing and give this team a No. 1 seed!

Jim Boeheim’s Meltdown Masks Syracuse’s Real Issue

Say the word “Syracuse” this week and most people will immediately think of Jim Boeheim’s classic meltdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the iconic Orange coach was ejected from a regular season or postseason game for the first time in 38 years as a head coach. While that was certainly a memorable moment, it masks the nosedive that Syracuse’s offense has taken over its last four games. Over the Orange’s first 24 contests, they recorded an offensive efficiency below 102.1 points per 100 possessions just twice (in wins over Miami and North Carolina). Over the last four games, Syracuse’s offensive efficiency has been 92.5, 94.3, 99.6 and 88.6. Ironically the 99.6 number was in the loss to Duke, but the Blue Devils are the best offensive team Syracuse has faced all season.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XIII

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 20th, 2014

North Carolina Flying Under the Radar

 Heading into tonight’s showdown with rival Duke, the North Carolina Tar Heels have won seven straight games since a 1-4 start to ACC play that had some folks wondering if this team would even make the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina has assuaged those concerns while ascending the ACC standings where it sits fourth entering tonight. Roy Williams’ team has done it with defense. Since allowing 1.23 points per possession in a January 20 loss at Virginia, North Carolina has held all but two opponents under 42 percent shooting with lower defensive efficiency numbers to match that effort. While the competition hasn’t been brutal, the Tar Heels are playing like the team that beat Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky in non-conference play. James Michael McAdoo seems to be finally asserting himself as a go-to guy but his free throw shooting remains a liability on one of the nation’s worst teams from the charity stripe. However, that can be misleading. When the game is on the line, Williams can put the ball in Marcus Paige’s hands and not worry too much. Paige is an 89.4 percent free throw shooter. The Tar Heels have two games with Duke left plus a tricky trip down the road to Raleigh to face NC State. Other than that, there isn’t a game North Carolina shouldn’t win left on the schedule. An 11-7 or 12-6 conference record is definitely possible for this group and I am not sure many people would have predicted that after the Tar Heels lost four of their first five ACC games.

Marcus Paige is a great guy to have on the foul line late in games. (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige is a great guy to have on the foul line late in games.
(Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XII, Contenders and Pretenders Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 12th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

It is now mid-February which means Selection Sunday is only about a month away. The dog days of the college basketball season are upon us and it is time to separate the contenders from the pretenders. This week, I will take a look at a handful of teams in the national championship conversation as the NCAA Tournament creeps closer and closer.

You will notice some big names absent from this list but that simply means I have not formed a defensible position either way on that particular team. Arizona is one such example as I would like to see the Wildcats play some more games without Brandon Ashley before I declare them a contender or a pretender.

Syracuse – CONTENDER. Jim Boeheim’s Orange remains undefeated heading into tonight’s difficult road test at Pittsburgh. While Syracuse will very likely lose at some point before the NCAA Tournament, whether it is tonight or in another game, this team has all the pieces to make a run at a national title. While the play of freshman point guard Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney’s emergence as a reliable scorer grab most of the headlines, Syracuse a freak athlete in Jerami Grant and the rim protector in Rakeem Christmas that most championship teams have featured over the years. What makes Syracuse so dangerous is its ability to beat you in a variety of ways. The Orange rank No. 345 in average possessions per game, near the very bottom of Division I. They can wear you out in the half court but also pick their spots to run and score in transition. Syracuse has a terrific turnover margin, making live ball turnovers particularly lethal against this team. However, what makes the Orange so dangerous is Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Other teams see occasional zones throughout the season but Syracuse’s zone is unique in its ability to extend beyond the three point line and apply incredible ball pressure. As we saw in last year’s NCAA Tournament, opponents were not prepared for what that zone brings to the table and it carried SU all the way to the Final Four. The tournament is all about match-ups and Syracuse has an inherent advantage because of how unfamiliar teams are with the way it plays defense.

Tyler Ennis is a major reason why Syracuse is a title contender. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard) - See more at: http://rushthecourt.net/?p=103220&preview=true#sthash.JQ8mJqDF.dpufBlume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

Tyler Ennis is a major reason why Syracuse is a title contender. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

Florida – PRETENDER. Florida’s gaudy record immediately jumps out when you talk about this team but a deeper inspection of its résumé reveals a lack of quality wins and an inability to overwhelm opponents with offense, two historical attributes of champions. Florida has a terrific home win over Kansas and a nice neutral court victory over Memphis but both of those came within one week of each other way back in December.  Since then, the Gators’ best wins were either a home triumph over Missouri or a sweep of Tennessee, you be the judge. Neither of those teams is top 25 quality but to be fair to the Gators, they have yet to play Kentucky. That changes this Saturday night when Florida heads to Lexington for their toughest test to date. I like Florida’s defense a lot and Billy Donovan’s best teams have always been elite on that end of the floor. What concerns me is their ability to score and win close games against quality competition. The Gators lost close games at Wisconsin and Connecticut while also looking shaky in the closing minutes against Kansas. Who is the player they can count on to come up with a big bucket? Outside shooting is a major concern for this team. Michael Frazier is its only reliable deep threat and the Gators are only connecting on 32.7% of their three point attempts in SEC play. Another area of concern is free throw shooting (66.4%). In a close, pressure-packed tournament game, free throws may become a liability. Of Florida’s regular rotation players, only Frazier (84.8%) and Scottie Wilbekin (72.6%) shoot over 70 percent from the charity stripe.

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St. John’s Showing Real Signs of Improvement

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2014

It was not even a month ago, 24 days to be exact, that St. John’s was sitting at the very bottom of the Big East at 0-5 in league play along with Butler. At 9-8 overall and winless in the conference, panic was starting to set in amongst the fan base and some media folks who thought this year’s St. John’s team could contend for a high conference finish and make the NCAA Tournament. Fast forward to approximately 9:15 pm EST on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden and St. John’s had flipped the script after upsetting Creighton and moving to 15-9 overall and 5-6 in conference play after its sixth win in seven games.

Steve Lavin's Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

Steve Lavin’s Group May be Turning the Corner (AP)

The Red Storm locked down defensively in the second half, holding National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott (25 points, 10-18 FG) without one single shot attempt over the final eight minutes and 41 seconds of the game. “They did a good job of fronting him to make his catches tough,” said McDermott’s father and Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. St. John’s sophomore JaKarr Sampson did most of the heavy lifting for the Red Storm when it came to guarding McDermott, using his length, quickness and athleticism to frustrate the nation’s best player for most of the evening. “My mindset was to focus on defense,” Sampson told reporters after the game. Focus he did and it resulted in McDermott becoming frustrated and a non-factor down the stretch despite a hot start to the game for the Creighton senior. “Their length and their athleticism…it distracts you,” said Doug McDermott. “They did a great job of taking me away.”

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