NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Evening

Posted by RTC Staff on March 19th, 2015


And here we are. For those of us who grew up from around 1985 to 2001, the mathebracketal beauty of a 64-team field is what the NCAA Tournament is all about. Today and tomorrow are a mixture of so many highs and lows that it’s impossible to keep track of it all. We won’t be able to do that, but we can at least get you ready. Here’s a preview on each of today’s evening games. Enjoy the Madness.

#1 Villanova vs. #16 Lafayette — East Region Second Round (at Pittsburgh, PA) — 6:50 PM ET on TBS.

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan / City of Basketball Love)

Villanova should take care of Lafayette, its Philadelphia area counterpart. (Mark Jordan/City of Basketball Love)

After leading Lafayette back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2000, Fran O’Hanlon now gets the pleasure of facing his alma mater in the Round of 64. Problem is, there won’t be anything pleasurable about it. Villanova enters the Dance hotter than arguably any team outside of Kentucky, ripping off 15-straight wins to end season and drubbing opponents by nearly 17-points per game in that span. The Big East champs boast the fourth-most offense efficient in college basketball, while their defense has allowed over one point per possession just five times since January 19. The Leopards might actually wind up exceeding that mark – their offense is really good, and no other team in the tournament shoots as well from long distance (41.4% 3PT) – but their Patriot League-worst defense simply won’t be able to stop the Wildcats on the other end. Darrun Hilliard (37.8% 3PT), Josh Hart (46.8% 3PT) and the rest of Villanova’s motion attack should have a field-day from behind the arc against O’Hanlon’s zone, and Lafayette doesn’t really have the athletes to stop their dribble-penetration. Leopards’ forward Seth Hinrichs (13.1, 5.8) is a legitimate stretch-four and could have his moments on the offensive end, but barring some strange Pennsylvania voodoo, expect Jay Wright’s bunch to light up the scoreboard and win going away.

The RTC Certified Pick: Villanova

#8 Cincinnati vs. #9 Purdue – Midwest Region Second Round (at Louisville, KY) – 7:10 PM ET on CBS.

Just like in the Butler/Texas match-up, the lower seed is the favorite in this one. Purdue, making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, is a two-point favorite in this match-up of contrasting styles. The Boilermakers are led into action by junior center A.J. Hammons and Big Ten defensive player of the year, junior Raphael Davis. Purdue’s biggest advantage on any given night is its size. Matt Painter has two seven-footers at his disposal in Hammons and freshman big man Isaac Haas. While Purdue averages a respectable 70 points per game, Cincinnati struggles in that category as it puts up just 62.4 a game. The Bearcats do get strong production from junior forward Octavius Ellis, who leads the team in both scoring at 10 points per game and rebounding at 7.3 boards per game. Expect this game to be a low-scoring grinder that will likely be close until the final buzzer. That being said, Cincinnati’s offensive issues will be too much to overcome and Purdue will move onto the Round of 32.

The RTC Certified Pick: Purdue

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 69, Xavier 52

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2015


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


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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A Column of Enchantment: Madness is Here and it’s Enchanting

Posted by Joseph Nardone on March 12th, 2015

Did you guys notice that the insides of our skulls, otherwise known as our craniums, are acting weird? Don’t panic. This isn’t a new disease or anything. It has been going on for a bit over a week, seems to only come along during this part of the calendar year, and it inevitably results in people who had a lighter diagnosis of this same illness when the college basketball season was young now having a full-blown case of the Madness. Nevertheless, you are sick. You have the sickies. It is like a combination of SARS and a urinary tract infection. Luckily for you, though, there are cures. Multiple fixes of this gosh slam abomination of mild-altering yucks. All you need to do is watch the basketball on the picture-box or, for you hip kids, stream games on your laptop or mobile cellular and non-cellular devices. Man, it’s the future! Doc Brown would be so proud.

Are you ready?

Are You Ready?

However, some of you people are so far from help that there is no cure. You have spent your entire October until now just watching men hit other men because of a football or something and using any time that is not related to violence watching your relationship with your lover significantly crumble under the watchful eyes of Robert Kirkman. I mean, the new Walking Dead spin-off will certainly not help your marriage. Well, unless you and your loved one use it as a preparatory tool for the impending zombie invasion — and trust me, it is near.

Wait. Time out. Something about basketball and disease. Oh, yeah, that’s right. You’re going to die. Not like right now or anything, but pretty soon in the grand scheme of things. I don’t know how old you are because I lack the ability to see you through my laptop (or do I?). Let’s just say for the sake of round numbers you are 20. That means, unless tragedy strikes you early, you have a good 50 to 70 years left on this planet. That’s unless the FDA approves my patent pending drink called “drink,” which will allow you to live until you are 450 years old (we just started the testing on unicorns phase and I must say that they haven’t died yet). Dying is not fun. I don’t know from experience, but not a single dead person has come to me, tweeted at me or emailed me to tell me otherwise. I guess there is a small chance that being dead is so much fun that they are too busy giving Jesus H. Christ the business to be readily available for some hot takes on Twitter. Really, who knows. Not me. Certainly not you because you are not me. Only the dead people and their god(s) know. And you know what? F-them for not sharing the details. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is This Finally the Year for Villanova?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 3rd, 2015

Save for one or two uncharacteristically poor seasons, Villanova has been on the college basketball map nearly every year in the last decade. And being on the map doesn’t mean an above average team that wiggles its way into the NCAA Tournament every year; rather, the Wildcats have finished with 20 or more wins in 10 of their last 11 seasons. Still, for reasons unknown to most everyone around the program, Jay Wright‘s team has fallen short of expectations in every season since its magical 2009 Final Four run. One year the issue was a lack of team chemistry in the backcourt; the next year it was supposedly a lack of size. For one reason or another, Villanova has simply been unable to progress past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright and Villanova? (Getty)

Is this finally the year for Jay Wright’s Villanova Squad? (Getty)

Many initially questioned whether Villanova would be adequately challenged in the new Big East. While the league has had a great season and is likely to place six teams in the NCAA Tournament, the concerns remain. Just how good is Villanova? As of Tuesday morning, Jay Wright’s team is 27-2 and just three wins away from tying the school record for single-season wins. The Wildcats are 10-1 against the RPI top 50, 6-1 against the RPI top 25, and have just two road losses to top 100 teams. According to KenPom, Villanova ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and is one of five teams to rank among the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (17th). With Wisconsin and Gonzaga’s losses over the weekend, the team ranks 4th in the AP poll and is firmly on the cusp of landing a No. 1 seed for the first time since the 2005-06 season. And yet, many have failed to take notice. Is public dismissal of the team based on its general lack of NBA-caliber players? Or the falsely-held notion that the Big East is not as good as it once was? Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Villanova 68, #18 Butler 65

Posted by Walker Carey on February 14th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Villanova and Butler in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hilliard Blew Up Butler on Saturday (USA Today Images)

  1. Darrun Hilliard picked a great night to turn in a career-best performance. Villanova’s leading scorer took his game to another level against Butler, finishing with a career-high 31 points on 9-of-16 shooting (8-of-13 from three) to go along with eight rebounds. Hilliard really got things going in the second half, as he hit 5-of-7 from three and 5-of-5 from the charity stripe in the game’s second stanza. He also showcased his knack for knocking down the big shot after Butler swingman Roosevelt Jones tied the game with 18 seconds to play. With teammate Ryan Arcidiacano double-teamed at the top of the key, Hilliard called for the ball from the right free throw line extended and drained a wide open three to give the Wildcats a 68-65 lead with just 1.2 seconds to play. At 23-2 on the season, Villanova is currently in the discussion for a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats can get similar performances from Hilliard for the remainder of their Big East slate, they could easily be on that top line when Selection Sunday arrives.
  2. Both teams were great defensively in the first half and great offensively in the second half. Throughout the first half, this game looked like it was going to be a slow-paced and physical slugfest. Villanova held a 27-22 lead at the break and neither team put up strong offensive numbers in the opening 20 minutes. It might have been their way of paying homage to the frigid conditions outside, but Villanova shot just 36.7 percent from the field while Butler made just 30.8 percent of its attempts. The offensive end of the court was much kinder to both teams in the second half with both teams topping 40 total points (Butler outscored Villanova 43-41 in the second half) and 50 percent shooting (Villanova shot 60 percent and Butler shot 56.5 percent). It was almost like the first half and second half were two completely different games. With that being said, it was clear as day that both Villanova and Butler have the ability to get it done on both ends of the court.
  3. Villanova pretty much locked up its second straight regular season Big East title with the victory. With Saturday evening’s victory, Villanova moved its Big East record to 10-2. That conference mark gives the Wildcats a two-game lead in the conference standings and the schedule the rest of the way is very favorable for Jay Wright’s squad. Villanova will go on the road three more times, but games at Marquette, Xavier and Creighton are certainly winnable. It is definitely reasonable to believe that the Wildcats will finish the regular season with a 29-2 overall record and a 16-2 mark in Big East play.

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Frontcourt Stability Keying Villanova’s Success

Posted by Eric Clark on February 2nd, 2015

Villanova hasn’t advanced past the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament since 2009, the year Jay Wright’s club lost to eventual champion North Carolina in the Final Four. Since that pinnacle season, the Wildcats have endured their worst campaign in the Wright era (13-19 in 2011-12) and have won only two more NCAA Tournament games. But since the start of last season, Villanova has returned to form thanks to the durability and improvement of its two frontcourt cornerstones, senior JayVaughn Pinkston and junior Daniel Ochefu.

JayVaughn Pinkston was 10-10 from the free throw line in Saturday's win over DePaul. (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

JayVaughn Pinkston was 10-of-10 from the free throw line in Saturday’s win over DePaul. (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Pinkston has played meaningful minutes since his freshman season and has steadily improved many facets of his game along the way — his free throw, defensive rebounding and block percentages have improved with each passing year. As a senior, he’s completely abandoned what was an inefficient three-point game in favor of working the paint, but that tradeoff hasn’t resulted in greater overall efficiency (his offensive rating has taken a hit, from 116.0 last season to 102.3 this year). Recognizing his importance to the team’s long-term goals, Wright recently said that he would like to get his senior going offensively, which he did in Saturday’s comeback victory over DePaul. Pinkston was aggressive throughout, powering frequently into the lane and finishing with 14 points and five rebounds (including a 10-of-10 mark at the free throw line).

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Unsung Hero: Villanova’s Rise Driven by Daniel Ochefu

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 2nd, 2015

Think back to the last time Villanova had a true post player. No, not face-up players like Dante Cunningham, Will Sheridan or Mouph Yarou. Rather, a true banger in the paint with a repertoire of post moves and a defensive presence felt by all five opposing players. Junior center Daniel Ochefu brings to Villanova what players of successful teams past have not: size and intimidation. And at 13-0 — the program’s best start since the 1937-38 season — the Wildcats have certainly looked the part, beating seven teams in Kenpom’s top 100 along the way.

Daniel Ochefu

Daniel Ochefu May be Villanova’s Most Key Contributor This Season (USA Today Images)

Coming into the season, many believed that it would be the Wildcats’ pair of seniors, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, who would assert themselves in order to compensate for the loss of last year’s leading scorer, James Bell. Their play, coupled with junior Ryan Arcidiacono and emerging guard Dylan Ennis, has come at an opportune time, providing Villanova with a remarkably balanced scoring attack. Yet while many fans have focused their attention and concern on the team’s dynamic offense, the play of sophomore wing Josh Hart and center Ochefu are a significant reason why Villanova remains undefeated into January.

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Despite Conference Realignment, Syracuse vs. Villanova Here to Stay

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 23rd, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

It’s Northeast basketball. It used to be what the Big East was, but it’s still Northeast basketball. It’s a great rivalry. The fans know each other… — Jay Wright, Villanova head coach, 12/20/2014.

Forget about conferences, it's always fun when these two coaches go to battle.

Forget about conferences, it’s always fun when these two coaches go to battle.

Syracuse has played basketball since 1899, but did not join a conference (the Big East) until 1979. Among the colleges and universities across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and the six New England states, stable conferences like the Ivy League (1902-present) were, before the late 1970s, the exception rather than the rule. Schools either remained stubbornly independent (Boston College, Duquesne, Holy Cross, Penn State, Providence, St. Bonaventure, and Villanova, for example) or, like Fordham — which belonged to the Metro NY Conference (1933-34, 1936-39, 1942-43, 1946-63), the NJNY7 (1977-79), the East Coast Athletic Metro Conference (1980-81), the MAAC (1982-90), and the Patriot (1991-95) before finally settling into the Atlantic 10 (1996-present) — flirted with conference affiliations like Taylor Swift dangles musicians and actors. Too many of these conferences — the Eastern Intercollegiate Conference (1933-39), the Middle Three Conference (1949-52), the Little Three Conference (1947-58) and the New Jersey-New York 7 Conference (1977-79) — modeled on Philadelphia’s Big 5 series and little more than commitments to schedule round-robin play — had little in the way of longevity. The NCAA, which began its postseason invitational tournament to crown a champion in 1939, paid little attention to the region’s conference comings and goings. The influence of Marquette’s Al McGuire and CBS Sports changed all of that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Has Villanova Outgrown the Big 5?

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 15th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

“…a loveless marriage… [that] began out of a desire that was neither pure nor innocent. They were just trying to make a buck”

— Rich Hofmann (The Big 5-0)

Has Villanova outgrown the Big 5? Like the question about the health of a terminally ill relative, it goes unasked after another big Villanova win over the weekend, but it was always the question behind the question. After Villanova beat his Hawks 74-46 (which followed the 93-63 beating the Wildcats delivered in 2013), Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli couched his answer as a “talent gap” problem. After his Explorers lost 73-52 to Villanova (they were beaten again this season, 84-70) La Salle head coach Dr. John Gianinni challenged his players with (to paraphrase), “Villanova won the game in June, not on the court but in the training room.” It was, he contended, a “dedication gap” problem.

Jay Wright and the Wildcats should be excited about their chances

So far this season, it’s business as usual for Jay Wright and crew. (Getty)

After losing 85-63 on Sunday, that universal question, “Why’d you lose?” was posed to Temple‘s senior guard, Will Cummings. He replied, “[Villanova’s] got a lot of weapons. So we really have to be conscious of every player on the court. You can’t leave somebody or they’re going to step up and make a play. That really tested our defense. We had some lapses and that was the tale.” When Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was handed the “talent/dedication/effort” question, he gave a nod to his players’ sense of responsibility but did not take the bait, “Well, [Villanova] has a very talented team. And I thought they played hard, We can play harder, we can do a better job. I appreciate those guys (Will Cummings and Obi Enechionyia) saying that [they lacked effort]. Maybe it was a loose ball here and there that we needed to get to. We didn’t. They did. They are a talented group, a really good basketball team.” That far and no further. Talent, effort or commitment gaps aside, the evidence suggests something is going on in the Big 5. In the 13 seasons Jay Wright has coached on the Main Line, Villanova has shared (two) or won outright (five) the Big 5 title seven times. Historically, Villanova has won or shared 22 Big 5 titles, second only to Temple (28) and gaining fast. Read the rest of this entry »

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For Villanova and VCU, Handling the Ghost of Seasons Past

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on November 25th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog. Joe filed this report after Villanova’s 77-53 victory over VCU Monday evening.

When Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth faced off in the first round of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night, a trail of questions about these two dynamic teams followed them onto the court. Both had great success last season, winning their respective conference regular season titles while compiling a combined record of 55-14 (Villanova was 29-5 while VCU was 26-9) but each saw their seasons expire with a sigh that betrayed what they had worked for. VCU had run up a 24-7 record even before the conference tournament, securing no worse than an at-large place in the NCAA field as the Atlantic 10 Conference garnered a record-breaking six bids. They burned through Richmond and NCAA-worthy George Washington by 20 points apiece before bowing to a senior-heavy Saint Joseph’s squad, 65-61. But it was the two-point loss to Stephen F. Austin (77-75) that stung. Had HAVOC run its course? If the defensive turnover machine of seasons past could not produce, the Rams’ open court offense was reduced to their half court set which yielded far fewer points (and possessions). Like Gonzaga, Butler and George Mason before them, the Rams were no longer the hunters, they had become the hunted.

Will Shaka Smart Be Interested In The Open Position In Westwood? (US Presswire)

Smart’s club started off well, but tailed off against an equally talented Villanova squad in Brooklyn. (US Presswire)

In “the old” Big East a 28-3 regular season record capped with a 16-2 conference record would have heralded the Wildcats as an elite team and Final Four contender even before the conference tournament. For Villanova and “the new” Big East however, double-figure losses to Syracuse and Creighton (twice) appeared to undermine the Wildcats’ — and the Big East’s — attempts to write a new chapter. Villanova dropped their first round conference tournament game to Seton Hall (64-63), secured a #2 seed in the NCAAs, then dropped their second round game to former conference mate Connecticut (77-63). The Big East garnered four bids and no conference team made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Read the rest of this entry »

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