Rushed Reactions: #10 Virginia 70, #14 West Virginia 54

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 8th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

  1. “Press Virginia”. Bob Huggins’ athletic group of Mountaineers imposed their style of play from the opening tip, forcing Virginia into 11 first half turnovers. The Cavaliers came into the game averaging only 7.3 turnovers per game, best in the country. It was amazing to watch West Virginia make Virginia look like an awful ball handling team. Even when the Cavs were able to get the ball over half court, the hectic pace still forced them into a number of mistakes. West Virginia certainly came prepared on both ends of the floor, but Virginia’s discipline and experience took control after halftime, as the Cavaliers finally looked like themselves. It’s the mark of a great team when it can look completely overmatched in the first half of the game but make the proper changes and go on to dominate the second frame. The halftime adjustments made by Virginia’s experienced backcourt is the main reason the Cavaliers prevailed.
  2. Virginia has a handful of great players but London Perrantes may be the most important. The junior guard was shut out in the first half tonight in his first game back after recovering from an appendectomy, but Perrantes was the Cavalier catalyst in the second half. College basketball is a guard’s game and Perrantes is one of the finest point men in all the land. He does an incredible job running the team on the floor and makes it look effortless — almost as if he never breaks a sweat while working hard. His strengths go beyond his poise, however. Perrantes is a sniper from beyond the arc, and it was his trey from the left wing with 4:38 to play that pretty much salted this game away. Perrantes totaled 13 second half points while assisting on three UVA buckets. Tony Bennett is happy to have him back.
  3. The pack-line stood tall in the end. After surrendering 24 points in the paint to West Virginia in the first half, Virginia constructed a fortress around the basket after halftime. The Mountaineers managed only 10 points in the paint after halftime (and just 18 total for the half) in a game that was quite clearly a tale of two halves. UVA did a good job containing Devin Williams offensively (18.7 PPG on the season, just 10 tonight) while also limiting him to just three rebounds. Virginia as a team controlled the glass (+5 in rebound margin) — an incredibly important task against any Bob Huggins team.
Anthony Gill's 15 Point, 8 Rebound First Half Kept Virginia Close (Photo: USAT Sports)

Anthony Gill’s 15 Point, 8 Rebound First Half Kept Virginia Close Early (Photo: USAT Sports)

Star of the Game: Anthony Gill, Virginia. Gill kept his team afloat during a difficult first half, scoring 15 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting. For the game, he totaled 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, his first double-double of the season. While Perrantes highlighted the second half, Gill was the one constant on the floor for the Cavaliers. His leadership and energy were crucial in Virginia’s efforts to keep the game close early on, giving the Cavs the chance to eventually turn it around and take control in the second half.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2015

One season removed from sending six of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has again started the season with a bang. To date, the conference has amassed an 18-13 record against teams currently ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, with only Creighton, DePaul and St. John’s not yet in the win column. Against Power Five conference opponents, the league as a whole sports a 16-12 record. With a strong start under its belt, the question will inevitably turn to how many teams the Big East can place in the NCAA Tournament this year? It is probably safe to say that a minimum of four will go with a good chance for a fifth given the way Providence has been playing. However, it is still early and a lot of things can happen between now and March. As far as a sixth team, the odds are not as great but there is something of a chance. Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton could very well fight for the sixth and final Big East NCAA berth when all is said and done in this league.

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova, who sit at the top of the Big East standings at 7-0, is leading what is a tremendous conference pack so far this season. (Getty)

Right now, the edge would have to go to the Golden Eagles and Pirates. While Marquette’s (5-2) weak non-conference schedule will be an anchor, the Golden Eagles are a team that should get better as the season moves along and could win 10 games in the league. Its two wins before Thanksgiving at the Barclays Center against LSU and Arizona State were critical after starting the season with two early losses. As for Seton Hall (5-2), it has quietly picked up top-100 victories over Georgia and Mississippi and has another chance to grab a quality win at home against a banged-up Wichita State team that should get back to playing good hoops once Fred VanVleet returns. If Kevin Willard’s squad can finish the non-conference slate at 10-2 and get to 9-9 in conference, it will be right on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Creighton is in a tough position because of a non-conference schedule that provides limited opportunities for quality wins. It has already lost at Indiana, and while a game at Oklahoma later this month is certainly a top-notch opponent, it is unrealistic to think the Bluejays can win that one. After blowing a great chance for a top-100 win this week at home against Arizona State, Greg McDermott’s team will have a lot of work to do in conference play. Ultimately, five NCAA teams seems like the proper over/under for the Big East this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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2014-15 RTC Awards: NPOY, FrOY & COY

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 2nd, 2015

Perhaps it is no coincidence that all three of our individual award recipients this year will play in the upcoming Final Four. It is a remarkable achievement to be the best of your peers at what you do, but we are sure that the following three men would give all the credit to their incredible teams before offering a word about themselves. Here are the 2014-15 RTC individual award winners, chosen by a panel of Rush the Court‘s national columnists and contributors.

Player of the Year: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

frank

There is something to be said for how Frank Kaminsky arrived to the position he is in today. Now a senior and the leading scorer on a Wisconsin team that has lost just three games this season, Kaminsky shunned the fame and fortune of the NBA last spring in order to return to Madison to help lead the Badgers to a National Championship in his final year of eligibility. “Frank the Tank” is unique in the college game today. Standing at a cool seven feet tall, Kaminsky is the definition of a matchup nightmare. The Lisle, Illinois, native is not afraid to get physical in the post but could easily drop a three-pointer on you the next time down the floor. His versatility is off the charts and it shows up in his numbers: 18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 54.9 percent field goal percentage, and a 41.5 percent mark from three-point range. In his final season under Bo Ryan, the senior increased his production across the board and does not get the credit he deserves for his outstanding defense — averaging 1.5 blocked shots per game and altering many more. Fitting a NPOY winner, he has saved his best production for March, recording a season-high 31 points against Michigan State on March 1, 27 points against Coastal Carolina in the round of 64, and 29 points against Arizona in the West regional final. There were many terrific players in college basketball this year but Kaminsky was a cut above the rest and a very deserving winner of this season’s RTC Player of the Year honor.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 69, Xavier 52

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2015

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Villanova won its first Big East Tournament title since 1995 and all but locked up a No. 1 seed at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova made a statement tonight. The Wildcats were in control of this game from the start, encouraged by a highly partisan Madison Square Garden crowd. It was a microcosm of Villanova’s season in which it dominated a very good Big East conference with a 16-2 regular season record. Xavier was able to get in a few licks, but tonight was all about the Wildcats. While Jay Wright’s team may be a bit too over-reliant on the three-pointer, it has clearly shown that it can beat anyone in the country. This was also a good tournament for Villanova from an experience perspective. The Wildcats destroyed an inferior Marquette club on Thursday only to be pushed to the brink by Providence the next night. Tonight, Villanova made very quick work of a strong and surging Xavier team.
  2. Jay Wright challenged his team and it responded. After Thursday’s opening win over Marquette, Wright said this was not one of his better defensive teams even after holding the Golden Eagles to just 49 points. Last night the Wildcats limited Providence to 35 percent shooting. Against Xavier, the Musketeers were held to 52 points on 37.9 percent shooting. Whether it was coachspeak or something else, Villanova answered the bell. In watching this team all year, it makes up for a lack of size with an aggressive three-quarter court zone press that falls back into a stifling man-to-man with intense ball pressure. On some night when the threes don’t fall in the NCAA Tournament, it is going to be up to Villanova’s defense to carry it through. And it is capable.
  3. Xavier’s inconsistency was on display again. While Villanova is an incredibly tough opponent to deal with, the gritty play the Musketeers displayed against Butler and Georgetown earlier this week wasn’t there tonight. This loss in particular is not a concern going into the NCAA Tournament, but for a team that has lost 13 times (some against weak competition), it’s worth tracking. Chris Mack’s team is more than capable of reaching the Sweet Sixteen but it is going to have to play more consistently in order to get there. It was a good experience this week in New York for Xavier, but it must get down to business with outstanding focus after the selection show tomorrow night.

Player of the Game:  Josh Hart, Villanova. The Wildcats’ sixth man, of whom Wright said he would not take that role next season, continued to impress. Only a sophomore, Hart totaled an efficient 15 points, making seven of his nine shots in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. His play speaks to the balance and great chemistry of this team. He fits seamlessly in the lineup and his growth is a testament to the incredible player development under Wright’s leadership.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 63, Providence 61

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

  1. That was an old school Big East battle. Some people like to talk about how the “new” Big East just isn’t the same, but they fail to remember the Big East was a small nine-team league when it developed its reputation as one of the top conferences in the nation. Two of those nine teams battled it out in this game and the result was a throwback to classic Big East games of the past. This was as good as it gets. A tough, physical underdog going up against the conference goliath that is playing as well as any team in the nation. The Garden crowd was electric on this Friday night for a game that more than lived up to its billing.
  2. Providence dominated the boards and nearly overcame poor shooting. The Friars shot only 35 percent for the game but outrebounded Villanova 42-30, including a 19-9 advantage on the offensive boards. Freshman Ben Bentil in particular was great, pulling down six offensive boards and scoring 12 points mostly from second chances. Providence held a 19-6 edge in second chance points but just could not overcome a rough shooting night by most of its better players. LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn and Tyler Harris were a combined 11-of-33 (33 percent) from the floor.
  3. This game was a great test for both teams as they head into the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt that both Villanova and Providence will be participating in the Big Dance next week. Both coaches commented after that game about how much a tough, close, grinding game like this one gives them valuable experience heading into the NCAAs. NCAA Tournament games always seem to be played at a slower pace; although both of these teams are comfortable in transition, getting a hard-fought experience against a quality opponent like here can only help as they transition into next week’s action.

Player of the Game:  Daniel Ochefu, Villanova. Could reasonably have gone with Kris Dunn or Josh Hart in this spot, but Ochefu was dominant inside tonight, especially defensively. Providence was smothered most of the time when it tried to go in the paint and a lot of that credit goes to Ochefu. His five blocks tied a season high. On the offensive end, the Villanova big man totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season. Ochefu plays an important role as a true big man on an otherwise undersized team. He will be a valuable piece as Villanova begins its quest for a national championship.

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Firing on All Cylinders, Villanova Looks Scary Good

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2015

After his team picked up its 30th win of the season in convincing fashion in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, Villanova head coach Jay Wright said something that should scare any future opponent this March. “This team is not one of our better defensive teams. It’s good, but we can be a lot better,” he said. What’s ironic is that he said this after his team had held an overmatched Marquette club to just 49 points on 0.77 points per possession (Villanova scored 84). “Not as good as I’d like it to be, really,” Wright said again. Well then… ho hum.

 

JayVaughn Pinkston and Friends Just Keep Chugging Along (USA Today Images)

JayVaughn Pinkston and Friends Just Keep Chugging Along (USA Today Images)

After routing Marquette by 35 points, it is safe to say that Wright’s club is playing as good of basketball as any team in the country, and that includes Kentucky. Defense is only half the story. Ranked third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, the Wildcats were able to put that on full display this afternoon. More numbers: Villanova assisted on 22 of 30 field goals and tied a Big East Tournament record with 17 three-pointers. The balance on this team is incredible and Wright has every player buying what he is selling: teamwork, toughness, and high basketball IQ. Chemistry is underappreciated by some people in this sport but Villanova has it in spades. When Ryan Arcidiacono, who averages what appears to be a pedestrian 10.7 PPG and 3.6 APG this season, is chosen as the Co-Big East Player of the Year, you’re doing something right. Individual statistics don’t nearly tell the whole story with this team and nobody embodies that more than the Wildcats’ junior point guard.

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Rushed Reactions: Providence 74, St. John’s 57

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Ed Cooley's Game Plan Against St. John's Worked to Perfection (USA Today Images)

Ed Cooley’s Game Plan Against St. John’s Worked to Perfection (USA Today Images)

  1. Providence flipped the script on St. John’s. After getting swept in the regular season by the Red Storm and allowing an average of 79 points per game in those two matchups, the Friars locked down defensively and held St. John’s to 57 points on 31 percent shooting. Providence did not play an outstanding offensive game, but that is not where this game was won. Ed Cooley’s team kept D’Angelo Harrison and Sir’Dominic Pointer in check, as the two combined for only 14 inefficient points. It was an outstanding defensive effort and it took St. John’s out of everything it wanted to do.
  2. Do not be surprised if Providence pushes Villanova. While it would take a lot to beat a team that pounded Providence by 28 points just over two weeks ago, Providence is a team that can do it. The Friars have something that Villanova, aside from Daniel Ochefu, does not have — length. Providence uses as many as four players who stand 6’8” or taller, including two seven-footers. If that length is enough to keep the Wildcats from attacking the rim, it allows Providence to get out on Villanova’s lethal three-point shooters. Either way, it should be a fun game and more competitive than any game we’ve seen so far in this Big East Tournament.
  3. St. John’s could not get its transition game going. Steve Lavin’s team is at its best when it can utilize its quickness and athleticism in transition. Providence deserves credit too, but the Red Storm just could not get anything going on the fast break. For the game, St. John’s tallied just four fast break points and only six points off of turnovers. When this team is forced to play so much in the half-court, it struggles. After the game, Cooley talked about forcing them to play against a set defense — his team executed its game plan almost perfectly.

Player of the Game. LaDontae Henton, Providence. The Friars’ senior swingman totaled 20 points and 12 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season. Only the second Providence player ever to score 2,000 points and pull down 1,000 rebounds in his career (Ryan Gomes is the other), Henton showed why that is today. The first team all-Big East selection is one of the nation’s most unheralded players, but the rest of the country will find out just how good he is soon enough when Providence plays in the NCAA Tournament.

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Big East Season Superlatives

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2015

The Big East had an outstanding season, finishing the regular season ranked as the second-best conference in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings as well as the RPI. Let’s take a look at some of the best players and teams from a league that will likely send six teams to the Big Dance on Sunday.

Player of the Year

Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – This award could have easily gone to Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard or Dunn’s Providence teammate LaDontae Henton, but the Friars’ sophomore point guard has dazzled us all year long on one of the Big East’s top teams. Originally a part of Providence’s 2012 recruiting class, Dunn had been beset by injuries up until this season. Finally healthy, he played in all but one regular season game and led the country in assist rate at 49 percent. Also an outstanding defender, Dunn ranks fifth nationally in steal percentage. His best performance of the year came in a home win over DePaul on January 29 when he posted a triple-double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) — it was the first triple-double ever posted by a Providence player in a Big East conference game.

It wasn't an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC's Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC’s Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – Our RTC Big East Player of the Year.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Sr, Villanova (14.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 SPG) – As is the case with all of his Villanova teammates, the statistics don’t tell the entire story. The best player on the best team in this league.
  • LaDontae Henton, Sr, Providence (20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG) – Joined Ryan Gomes as the only other Providence player to score at least 2,000 points and grab at least 1,000 rebounds over his career.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, Sr, St. John’s (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) – The Red Storm’s leading scorer led an experienced team to what is likely to be an NCAA Tournament bid.
  • Sir’Dominic Pointer, Sr, St. John’s (13.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 2.5 BPG) – Perhaps the best defender in the conference, Pointer was all over the floor in an impressive senior season.

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In Beating Georgetown, St. John’s Well-Positioned For an NCAA Bid

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2015

Sitting at 14-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big East after a blowout loss at Butler on February 3, the NCAA Tournament was the last thing on the mind of the players at St. John’s. The pressure was mounting on Steve Lavin and his senior-laden team, a group that had not earned a ticket to the Big Dance in their collegiate careers. Fast forward to the end of February and this same Red Storm team is sitting pretty at 20-9 and 9-7 in the Big East after a convincing victory over Georgetown in front of more than 13,000 lively supporters at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. This victory was Lavin’s 25th win in the month of February as the head coach of the Johnnies, and the February rise has almost become an annual tradition for St. John’s under his leadership. In 2011, the Red Storm won seven of eight games in February to lock up an NCAA bid. Just last season, St. John’s put together a six-game winning streak to get itself onto the bubble, only to eventually fall a game or two short of dancing. Lavin’s team has again appeared to turn the corner, going 6-2 in the second calendar month of the year to put itself in prime position for a trip to the NCAAs.

Steve Lavin's Group (USA Today Images)

Steve Lavin’s Group Has Used the February Rise to Get Back Into the NCAA’s Good Graces (USA Today Images)

“Our upside is the most intriguing part of our team,” Lavin said afterward. “I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet.” If he is right, the rest of the Big East should be put on notice. Playing on its home floor in just over a week, St. John’s should enter the Big East Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the league and a dark horse threat to take home the title. The seniors on this team are playing at a high level, starting with Sir’Dominic Pointer. Including his 24-point performance against the Hoyas, Pointer has averaged a robust 20.0 PPG over his last six games, fueling the team’s late season surge. Pointer was all over the floor on both ends, utilizing his energy, quickness and athleticism to flummox Georgetown all game long. Hoyas center Joshua Smith fouled out in only eight minutes of action, unable to keep himself in front of Pointer. With Smith constantly out of position, St. John’s repeatedly got to the rim, especially in transition. As a result, that opened up the perimeter where fellow senior Phil Greene IV could take advantage. The Chicago product poured in 26 points and made six of his seven three-point attempts on the night. “You have to limit them. You have to make them score in the half-court,” said Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. “We had too many breakdowns defensively when we needed to get stops.”

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Seton Hall’s Problems Start at the Very Top

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 19th, 2015

Ask most people and they will tell you that strong leadership is a prerequisite to success in nearly every organization. There are countless examples of human beings responding positively to great leadership, especially in the sports world. It is simply human nature. People want to believe they are part of something greater than themselves. It is a big reason why coaches like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari have such a fantastic ability to get the most from their players. They command respect and require that personal agendas and egos are set aside for the good of the organization. If you do not want to commit to the process and live up to their necessary standards, you are shown the door. Duke junior Rasheed Sulaimon found that out the hard way last month. It is understandable, however, that not every team will have such strong leadership. Exceptional leaders like Krzyzewski and Calipari are rare. But when a complete void in leadership exists, problems can quickly spiral out of control.

Kevin Willard (USA Today Images)

Kevin Willard is Feeling the Heat as This Season Gets Away From Him (USA Today Images)

A little over five weeks ago, the Seton Hall men’s basketball team was riding high after Sterling Gibbs swished a three in the final seconds that allowed his team to come out on top of a pesky Creighton squad that had outplayed the Pirates for most of the game. The win moved the team to 13-3 overall and 3-1 in Big East play, enabling it to stay in the Top 25 after entering at No. 19 the previous Monday. Barring a complete collapse, an NCAA Tournament berth appeared inevitable; after all, Seton Hall’s hot start had also included a résumé-building win over previously unbeaten Villanova, the undisputed king of the new Big East.

Fast forward to the present and Seton Hall is in the midst of a monumental collapse where it appears the only way to gain entry into the NCAA Tournament would be to win the Big East Tournament next month. Once projected as high as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed by reputable bracketologists at CBS and ESPN, the Hall has lost eight of its last 10 games (including five straight) to fall to 5-9 in Big East play with no end to the death spiral in sight. The ugliest moment came on Monday night in a loss to that same Villanova team. The Wildcats blew out the Pirates by a score of 80-54 and Gibbs was ejected after punching a defenseless Ryan Arcidiacono — who was on the floor going after a loose ball at the time — square in the forehead. Swift consequences came quickly for Gibbs, who was suspended for two games by Seton Hall on Tuesday afternoon. Once a candidate for Big East Player of the Year, the junior guard will sit out games at St. John’s this Saturday and home versus Creighton the next weekend. Monday night’s antics were just another symptom of the deeper problem at Seton Hall, which brings us back to leadership.

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