Rushed Reactions: Villanova 76, Providence 66 [OT]

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2018

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Adds Some More Big East Hardware to Its Trophy Case (USA Today Images)

  1. With Mikal Bridges playing his A game, Villanova is nearly impossible to beatJalen Brunson may have accumulated all the National Player of the Year accolades, but it was Bridges who made the key plays in overtime tonight. The 6’7″ swingman knocked down two critical three-pointers in the extra period to maintain Villanova’s tenuous lead over the Friars before making the game-winning play — with 25 seconds remaining and Providence then down six, he notched a block that the Wildcats were able to corral and correspondingly ice the game. Brunson is unquestionably the leader of this team, but Bridges’ play, when aggressive, is nearly impossible to contain. His release point is too high to contest from the perimeter; his long arms are too difficult to manage around the basket; and his oft-discussed defense is simply menacing.
  2. Providence is playing its best basketball of the season. When watching the Friars as recently as two weeks ago, a run like this was unforeseeable. Providence had dropped three of its last five games and had skirted by St. John’s and Georgetown on the coattails of its defense. Given the Friars’ length and interchangeable parts, though, their defense, particularly in crowding the lanes, has been solid for most of the season. But the starters’ offensive contributions were too inconsistent to give hope for a deep NCAA Tournament run, much less a bid. So this week, between Ed Cooley‘s masterful game-planning and the outbursts of point guard Kyron Cartwright, the scale has tipped in the opposite direction.  As a likely #8 or #9 seed, Providence will be a tough out if it can control the game’s tempo.
  3. The Big East Tournament never fails to disappoint. If there was ever a question about the institution of the Big East Tournament, it no longer exists. Providence amazingly played three consecutive overtime games, in addition to a number of other nail-biters here at Madison Square Garden. It seems like there’s a tweetstorm during the event’s semifinals and championship games demanding that everyone tune in because of the atmosphere combined with quality of play. Undoubtedly the whole country was watching tonight as a fury-laden, fire-breathing Providence squad took what might be the best team in the country down to the wire. It doesn’t seem to matter which teams are playing or who graduates from season to season, the Big East Tournament remains must-watch TV.

Star of the GameMikal Bridges (25 points) has always been the Villanova player with the highest ceiling and tonight it showed in spades. He was disruptive with his on-ball defense of Cartwright and his off-ball help defense when contesting shots. He also won the Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 87, Butler 68

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Maestro of the Villanova Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova’s offense is back to textbook form. The skids were widely observed this season and gave pundits some momentary pause, but if there was ever any doubt, the Wildcats are officially back on track. They followed up a 94-point, 1.43 points per possession domination of Marquette last night with a 19-point rout of Butler in the semifinals. The shocking part was that the Bulldogs didn’t even play badly, they were just never in the game — literally, falling behind 19-0 from the opening horn. With 12 steals leading to open transition baskets and a 14-of-34 perimeter display from the Wildcats, there was no shot at slowing their offense. This kind of domination of quality teams feels like 2016 all over again…
  2. Perhaps more importantly, Villanova is finally playing like a cohesive unit on the defensive end. The passing lane gambles have been better timed, offensive rebounding opportunities are shored up and close-outs on perimeter shooters were noticeably less frenetic. Jay Wright‘s group held Marquette’s high octane offense to 70 points, just the sixth time this season they have failed to eclipse that mark. Then they followed that up tonight by holding Butler to 68 points and just 0.99 points per possession, its seventh lowest of the season. Freshman center Omari Spellman has greatly improved in taking up space in the paint and is no longer routinely exposed in the pick-and-roll.
  3. Butler remains overly match-up dependent. The Bulldogs’ offensive output is highly correlated to the performances of Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin, who account for 46 percent of their scoring. When they’re able to exploit opposing guards (like against Seton Hall last night), ball movement is fluid and players are quick to attack the rim. But when matched up with longer defenders, it stagnates. Baldwin dealt with the 7’0″ wingspan of Mikal Bridges for most of the night and struggled to get into the lane and find open looks. Similarly, Martin faced ball denial defense all night and notched just 13 points as a result.

Star of the Game. Villanova’s entire starting lineup. When each starter totals between 12 and 17 points, it’s hard to identify just one who contributed most to the team’s success. Instead it was a collective team effort with each Wildcat starter knocking down at least two three-pointers.

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Poking Holes in Villanova’s Defense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 30th, 2018

It’s easy to extol all of the things at which Villanova has excelled this season: for example, the 20-1 record, a #1 AP poll ranking, and Jalen Brunson‘s Wooden Award candidacy. What’s harder is to find a way in which this team can be beaten. But if there’s one area of the game where the Wildcats have room for improvement, it’s with their 40-minute defensive effort. That’s not at all to say that Jay Wright‘s group has been playing poorly on the defensive end, but allowing 0.959 points per possession (32nd nationally) is actually his team’s worst performance since the 2011-12 season. At halftime on Sunday, with the Wildcats holding a narrow five-point lead, Wright’s frustration went from his standard non-verbal cues to a blunt admission on national TV: “We are playing no defense. None. It’s actually an embarrassment.” So what’s “wrong” with Villanova’s defense?

Jay Wright Knows His Defense Isn’t Up to Snuff This Year (USA Today Images)

For one, Villanova’s short rotation isn’t doing anybody any favors. Three different players have suffered hand injuries, the most recent being starting guard Phil Booth, who was averaging 28.2 minutes per game. The other two are freshmen Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, both a key source of rest minutes for the starters at the guard and forward positions. As a result, Wright cannot go deeper than a seven-man rotation, pushing almost every starter to more than 30 minutes per contest. It’s no wonder that Villanova ranks 288th nationally in bench minutes. On the other hand, the Wildcats ranked 320th in the same category last year and 217th the year prior, so this isn’t a new wrinkle. While a short rotation can contribute to greater fatigue, the bigger potential explanation is that Wright has his least experienced roster in five seasons — of the seven rotation players, three are freshmen, two of whom play inside.

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Big East Preview Part V: Key Questions for Seton Hall & Villanova

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 7th, 2017

With the season just days away, Rush the Court’s Big East preview will tip off its coverage by posing season-defining key questions for each team. Today we tackle Seton Hall and Villanova.

#2 Seton Hall – Can Khadeen Carrington step into the lead guard role?

Khadeen Carrington steps back into the lead role this year for the Pirates. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Senior guard Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall’s leading scorer last year at 17.1 PPG, handled the point guard position only when Madison Jones was on the bench. He instead primarily played alongside Jones, with his offensive production compensating for a pass-first guard who offered more utility on the defensive end. With Jones having graduated last spring, the responsibilities of distributing the ball will now fall to Carrington. It’s worth noting right away that Seton Hall’s offense does not typically rely on heavy ball movement and crisp passing — the Pirates ranked 307th nationally in team assist rate last season. Instead, Willard tends to utilize isolation sets in mismatches while asking his elite rebounding forwards to generate additional scoring chances inside. And from purely a scoring standpoint, Carrington’s shift to the point guard position should be beneficial in that it allows for sharpshooting sophomore Myles Powell to start while leaving the frontcourt nucleus featuring Desi Rodriguez (15.7 PPG) and Angel Delgado (15.2 PPG) intact. From a ball security standpoint, however, there are question marks. Carrington’s assist-to-turnover ratio, while somewhat improved last season, is just 1.2 through a three-year collegiate career. Moreover, the Pirates posted an abysmal 19.5 percent turnover rate last season (245th nationally) that quite frankly cost them an NCAA Tournament victory against Arkansas. Seton Hall is a very interesting team this year, and it’ll be worth tracking both the performance of Carrington at the point and the ongoing development of freshman Jordan Walker, who has been generating some buzz as a suitable backup. Read the rest of this entry »

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Where 2017-18 Happens: Reason #10 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2017

As RTC heads into its 11th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 10. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#10 – Where Crashing the Glass Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 preseasons.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 65, #1 Villanova 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

In this NCAA Tournament’s first major upset, #1 overall seed Villanova fell to #8 Wisconsin in a tough, back-and-forth game decided in the closing seconds.

Greg Gard’s veteran group is back in the Sweet Sixteen. (M.P. King, State Journal)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wisconsin showed serious grit. In control for the opening 20 minutes, Wisconsin surrendered its narrow lead midway through the second half before falling behind 57-50 with 5:31 remaining. Its defense, which had been so excellent for most of the game (“They’re good defensively… we’re trying to figure it out,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said at halftime), let off the pedal to some extent. Meanwhile, two of the Badgers’ best players — Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ — were saddled with foul trouble. Things began to look dire. So how did Greg Gard’s group respond? By preventing the reigning National Champion from making a single field goal from there on out. It was a tough, gritty performance by Wisconsin — perhaps one you’d expect from a team led by tested seniors.
  2. Remember Nigel Hayes? He’s still really good. Once considered a National Player of the Year candidate, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes took a back seat this season to frontcourt mate Ethan Happ, who earned Second Team All-America honors. But Happ, along with point guard Bronson Koenig, were both forced to sit the bench for far longer than expected on Saturday. The sophomore picked up his third foul early in the second half; Koenig picked us his fourth with 13:40 remaining. That’s when Hayes stepped up. The 6’8″ senior scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including the game-winning bucket with 14 seconds left. He also grabbed five offensive rebounds and was extremely active on defense. In a game that lacked much rhythm, Hayes provided a confidence and consistency that carried the Badgers to the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova never hit its stride this Tournament. The reigning National Champion was dominant for much of the regular season, slicing and dicing opponents with its tremendous ball movement and lockdown capabilities on the defensive end. But that team, the dominant one, never made it to Buffalo. After a lethargic effort against #16 Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday, Villanova put forth another sluggish, uneven effort on Saturday. This time, however — against a more evenly-matched opponent — the Wildcats weren’t able to skate by on talent alone. Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart played well (19 points), but it wasn’t enough against a tough, defensive-minded team like Wisconsin.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 76, #16 Mount St. Mary’s 56

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Despite being outplayed by Mount St. Mary’s for the majority of the first half, Villanova turned on the jets over the final 20 minutes and advanced to the Round of 32 for the 10th time under head coach Jay Wright.

Josh Hart and the Wildcats will continue their quest for a repeat National Title. (CSN Philly)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Mount St. Mary’s was not afraid. Despite taking on the #1 overall seed, Mount St. Mary’s — 25-point underdogs in Las Vegas — largely controlled the first half, carving up Villanova’s interior defense and preventing it from scoring in transition on the other end. Freshman guard Miles Wilson (22 points) played as if the reigning National Champion was just another NEC opponent, attacking the teeth of the Wildcats’ defense with confidence. Were it not for a Jalen Brunson layup just before the buzzer, the Mount would’ve been the first #16 seed to lead at halftime since 2004. Jamion Christian‘s undersized group already had an NCAA Tournament victory under its belt, and their composure shined through tonight. Nerves were not an issue.
  2. Josh Hart needs to remain on the floor. After picking up his second foul around the 12-minute mark, National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart took a seat for the better portion of the first half — and it showed. The Wildcats looked completely out of sorts, settling for mediocre perimeter jumpers (1-of-9 3FG) and playing with a lethargy uncharacteristic of Wright’s club. When Hart returned in the second half, the ball-movement picked up, the paced improve and Villanova quickly started dominating. If the Big East champs are going to cut down the nets once again, their best player — perhaps the sport’s best player — must remain on the floor.
  3. Donte DiVincenzo again shows flashes of brilliance. One week after scoring 25 points against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, DiVincenzo was far and away Villanova’s best player again on Thursday night. Not only did the redshirt freshman score 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-for-4 3FG), he secured a career-high 13 rebounds along the way. The loss of Ryan Arcidiacono (12.5 PPG) was among the largest voids Wright needed to fill entering this season, but DiVincenzo has helped fill that void and his continued success could prove central to the Wildcats’ repeat title hopes.

Star of the Game. Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova (21 points, 13 rebounds). Despite missing a pair of dunks in hilariously bad fashion, DiVincenzo was outstanding on Thursday night, playing with an energy and purpose that many of his teammates lacked for roughly 20 minutes. His eye-popping rebounding total was likely an aberration — Mount St. Mary’s is, after all, the sixth-shortest team in America — but the freshman’s outstanding shooting numbers are nothing to dismiss. This guy will be a factor moving forward.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Creighton 60

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2017

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Villanova Just Keeps Winning (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. It’s going to take a confluence of factors for Villanova to lose. As Butler proved this season, Villanova is beatable only under a perfect set of circumstances. Namely, an off shooting night from the Wildcats and opposing personnel that are capable of slowing the game to a crawl and turning it into a rock fight. Villanova struggles with defensive-minded teams that successfully clog the paint and force them to settle for jump shots. Across its three losses this season, Villanova attempted a significantly higher than average number of three-pointers. But few teams have the personnel to warp the driving lanes of Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, a critical source of scoring and ball movement.
  2. Josh Hart has cemented his place as National Player of the Year. With the ever-improving play of Brunson and the emergence of Donte DiVincenzo as a lights-out shooter, Hart’s NPOY campaign took a back seat for a while. But he always seems to show up at the right times, whether by forcing his way into the lane to generate offense or coming up with a loose ball on the defensive end. Given Villanova’s strong play lately and Hart’s “do-it-all” role, it’s difficult to argue against him winning the award. And if there was a good guy of the year award, Hart would probably win that too.
  3. For better or worse, Creighton remains highly match-up dependent. On one end, the Bluejays’ spread offense is well-equipped to deal with a variety of opposing defenses (although its effectiveness lately has been tied to streaky shooting). However, the team has struggled on the defensive end, particularly against perimeter-oriented teams that rely heavily on ball movement to exploit out of position defenders. Xavier, Marquette and Villanova all fit this mold, and perhaps unsurprisingly, all have posted highly efficient games in their battles with Creighton.

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Kris Jenkins Remains Vital to Villanova’s Repeat Hopes

Posted by Eugene Rapay on March 2nd, 2017

Last season, Villanova‘s Kris Jenkins nailed the shot of a lifetime — a dream state buzzer-beater that lifted the Wildcats to their second National Championship. If Jay Wright‘s club hopes to enjoy another deep run in the NCAA Tournament this March and April, he will need his clutch forward to become a more reliable and efficient scoring threat. During last year’s title run, Jenkins peaked at just the right time. A pedestrian 10.4 PPG scoring average on 38.7 percent shooting (30.1% 3FG) in non-conference play ceded to 15.2 PPG on an improved 48.7 percent shooting (42.6% 3FG) clip over the last 27 games of the season. Jenkins was held to fewer than 10 points in six of last year’s first 13 games, but he hit for double-figures in 24 of the remaining bunch. His stark improvement was predicated on picking his spots and working off of leading scorer Josh Hart. Although Villanova’s offense works best when spreading the floor and moving the ball around to get multiple players involved, it certainly helped the team by having two reliable go-to scoring options.

Boom. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Jenkins this season has shown flashes of last year’s versatile and effective wing, but there have also been instances where has has not been as much of a factor. His scoring and shooting percentages (13.2 PPG, 39.5 FG%) have fallen, and even though his three-point shooting percentage is slightly higher (38.9%), he hasn’t shown the same consistency from beyond the arc. As a matter of fact, the senior is currently logging the lowest offensive efficiency rating (114.7) of his four-year career, suffering through several cold shooting spells. A particularly tough shooting slump began on January 24 against Marquette, the start of a five-game dry spell that included four single-figure performances and 21.2 percent shooting from long range. Just when it seemed that he may have shaken off the slump in an excellent 22-point game against Seton Hall, he relapsed in recent contests against Butler and Creighton, shooting 30.4 percent from the floor and making just 2-of-12 three-pointers.

This inconsistency represents a different storyline from a player who was so instrumental to Villanova’s postseason success a year ago. As Wright manages a narrow seven-man rotation beset by various injuries, he needs to be able to rely on Jenkins as a consistent second scoring option behind Hart. The decorated senior has certainly demonstrated that he is capable of fulfilling that role, but he’s running out of time to locate his comfort level with the ball in his hands. With the end of the regular season staring the defending champions in the face this weekend, the Wildcats are hoping that he finds his stroke just as the stakes increase.

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How Tournament-Proof Are the Nation’s Top Five Offenses?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 18th, 2017

This year multiple coaches across the country have conceded publicly that a team’s offense is the biggest factor in its ability to maintain a defense. “Defense wins championships” may still be a treasured maxim, but the truth is that offense is the fuel in college basketball. The question then becomes one of how vulnerable the best offenses in college basketball are to a one-game slump? Since only a single bad night is all it takes to be sent home from the NCAA Tournament, it’s worth investigating the nation’s top five offenses to set some criteria for evaluating the rest of the field. Per KenPom, here are the top five offenses nationally based on adjusted offensive efficiency, along with their corresponding adjusted tempo.

Team Adj. ORtg Adj. Tempo
1. UCLA 124.5 14.1 (6)
2. Oklahoma State 123.9 16.5 (91)
3. North Carolina 122.2 15 (16)
4. Gonzaga 122.2 15.7 (33)
5. Villanova 121.7 18.8 (314)


As the tempo column shows, teams can play at both warp speed (UCLA, North Carolina, Gonzaga) or at a relative crawl (Villanova) and still be extremely effective. That said, to the extent that the game slows somewhat in the NCAA Tournament, it is reasonable to suggest that some of these teams may face more trouble than others. 
The Bruins, Tar Heels and Bulldogs all use a healthy dose of tempo when they play. This is not to say that any of those three teams cannot also win a low-possession game, but their opponents would certainly be better-suited to impose a slowdown game on them to the extent possible. Villanova has already proven its favored pace can win championships. The next question then becomes which of the faster teams are most poised to handle a grind-it-out half-court game?

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