Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

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  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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Where Are They Now? Five-Stars From 2012

Posted by Sean Moran on October 29th, 2015

RTC recruiting guru Sean Moran takes an in-depth look at the players ranked as five-star recruits from the high school Class of 2012. How many of these players are still in college? How many are already out of the NBA? We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Per Scout.com, there were 25 five-star players in the Class of 2012. Eleven of those players will suit up for a college team this season (after only seven returned last year). At the time of graduation, this particular prep class did not receive the same type of fanfare that its 2011 antecedent had (a class headlined by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) or the class that would follow it in 2013 (Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker). Until Nerlens Noel re-classified into the class, Shabazz Muhammad was the consensus top player in the country. Five freshmen were selected in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft, including #1 pick Anthony Bennett (now on his third NBA team), and there have been a total of nine players drafted in the first round over the last three years. Some prospects, such as Grant Jerrett and Semaj Christon, were drafted in the second round are still bouncing around the professional ranks. Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona, Baylor and N.C. State notched the top five recruiting classes that year, but only the two Wildcats programs (in Lexington and Tucson) were able to maximize that season’s talent influx.

Sean 2012

Going into this season, Arizona’s Kaleb Tarczewski and Kentucky’s Alex Poythress are the highest ranked recruits from the Class of 2012 still playing college basketball. Other players such as Willie Cauley-Stein and Nik Stauskas weren’t five-star prospects, but they put together tremendous college campaigns and came out early as NBA lottery picks. Big things are expected out of Providence guard Kris Dunn this year — just check anyone’s All-America list — but there are also a bunch of four-star players also gracing those same teams. North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, Kansas forward Perry Ellis, and Iowa State forward Georges Niang are all solid bets to also find their names on such lists this season. Somewhat surprisingly, it could be Maryland that benefits the most from the Class of 2012. The Terps lost one top-50 player to transfer (Shaquille Cleare), but they will be adding two former five-stars to the roster this season: former Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon, and Georgia Tech transfer Robert Carter. The 2012 class may not have generated much in terms of NBA stardom (yet), but the upcoming college season should benefit from the presence of those guys who are still around.

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2014-15 Rush the Court All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on April 3rd, 2015

Compiling preseason All-America teams is a difficult task because nobody knows what is going to occur during the season. There will always be players who will fail to live up to expectations and there will always be under the radar types who will unexpectedly emerge to stardom. When our group of seven RTC pollsters selected their preseason All-America teams back in November; nobody could have guessed that only five of the 15 names on that list would be able to live up to the hype: Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos, and Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns. The only two players who were projected to be a first team All-American and finished there were Kaminsky and Okafor. The 10 players who we selected as preseason All-Americans who did not make our team: North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, Wichita State’s Ron Baker, Michigan’s Caris LeVert (spent much of conference play injured), Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway. They all had very productive seasons, but they were surpassed in achievements by the names that rose to the top of our list. Here are the 2014-15 RTC All-America Teams.

First Team All-America

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  • Frank Kaminsky, Senior, Wisconsin (consensus) (18.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 54.9% FG, 41.5% 3FG). Kaminsky wrapped up his collegiate career in dynamite fashion. The RTC National Player of the Year and Big Ten Player of the Year has been the best player on a Wisconsin team that won the outright regular season Big Ten title, the Big Ten Tournament title, and the NCAA Tournament West Region. As the Badgers prepare for their final matchup with Kentucky on Saturday, it should be noted that Kaminsky has been excellent throughout March, recording 31 points in a March 1 win over fellow Final Four participant Michigan State, 27 points against Coastal Carolina in the round of 64, and 29 points against Arizona in the regional final.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Freshman, Duke (consensus) (17.5 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 66.8% FG). The ACC’s first-ever freshman to win league Player of the Year has been a sensation from the day he stepped foot on Duke’s campus. The top recruit from the Class of 2014 did not disappoint in what will almost absolutely be his only season in Durham. Okafor was a dominant offensive post presence during the Blue Devils’ 28-3 regular season, as he scored in double figures in 30 of the team’s 31 games. Duke enters the Final Four with national title aspirations — and with a player like Okafor at its disposal, it is easy to see how those dreams could come true.
  • D’Angelo Russell, Freshman, Ohio State (19.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 5.0 APG, 41.1% 3FG). Russell burst on to the scene in incredible fashion in what will likely be his only season in Columbus. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year topped 25 points five times during conference play, and along with his prolific scoring, he showcased some exceptional distribution skills. Ohio State was inconsistent as a team this season, but it always could rely on Russell to fill the stat sheet and act as a terrific playmaker.
  • Jerian Grant, Senior, Notre Dame (16.5 PPG, 6.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 47.8% FG). Grant’s return from an academic suspension that cost him the second semester of his junior season to lead the Irish to the Elite Eight was one of the stories of the year in college basketball. The senior guard lifted Notre Dame to a new level with his knack for hitting big shotsincredible passing, and overall leadership skills. Grant saved his best for the biggest games, which was evident by his 23-point, 12-assist performance in a January 28 victory over Duke and a 24-point, 10-assist effort in the ACC Tournament championship game victory over North Carolina.
  • Delon Wright, Senior, Utah (14.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.9 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 50.9% FG). Utah advanced to its first Sweet Sixteen since 2005 this season, and the biggest reason for that was Wright’s play. The Utes epitomized team basketball with their style, but it was Wright who was routinely called on to make the big play late in the big game. While Wright has exhausted his eligibility, his consistency and leadership will be etched into Larry Krystkowiak’s program for many years to come.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Dayton 66, #6 Providence 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

Dayton gave Providence fits on Friday night. (Paul Vernon, Associated Press)

  1. Dayton had home-court advantage, and it clearly mattered. After beating Boise State on Wednesday in Dayton, the Flyers barely had to trek one hour east for tonight’s game in Columbus. Same went for their fans, who showed up in full force to Nationwide Arena. When the shots starting falling and the lead began to build, so did the volume, helping Archie Miller’s undermanned and undersized club maintain its level of energy and confidence against the bigger, deeper Friars. And the story should be much the same against Oklahoma on Sunday, which begs the question: Has a #11-seeded, First Four participant ever been in a better situation?
  2. The Flyers are impervious to fatigue. This was Dayton’s fifth game in eight days, which might not be so bad were it not for the fact that it ranks 343rd nationally in bench minutes. Unlike last year, when Miller played 11 guys a night, only six or seven Flyers see significant time on the court this season. Moreover, none of those players stand taller than 6’6”, meaning their effort and activity on the defensive end – especially against a frontcourt as massive as Providence’s – must to be at a maximum on every possession in order to compete. And yet they never seem to tire, routinely overcoming mismatches and attacking opposing defenses like it’s the middle of November instead of the third week of March. Conventional logic and scouting reports don’t seem to apply to this group, which is why it could wind up in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
  3. Providence’s Ed Cooley should not have received a technical foul. Cooley is a smart, level-headed coach who was clearly trying to motivate his team when he tipped over a chair during the under-4 timeout in the second half. But he received a technical for it, which John Adams, the NCAA’s national coordinator of officials, said was supported by Officiating Manual Rule 10, Section 3, Article 2 – “Bench personnel committing an unsportsmanlike act.” – and further supported by another section pertaining to “a negative response to a call/no-call.” I understand that rules are rules, but considering the situation – 3:42 left in an eight-point game – it seemed completely unwarranted.

Star Player: Kyle Davis (six points, nine rebounds, five steals). Dyshawn Pierre led the team statistically with 20 points and nine rebounds, but Davis – the quick-handed sophomore guard – was a force on the defensive end, beating Providence’s Kris Dunn at his own game (swiping the basketball) and using his speed for a few timely buckets.

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Bracket Prep: East Region Analysis

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).

East Region

Favorite: #1 Villanova (32-2, 16-2 Big East). For as good as Virginia has been this season, Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament as hot and seemingly infallible as any team outside of Kentucky. The Big East champion Wildcats are currently riding a 15-game winning streak, including 11 victories by double-figures and two drubbings – an 89-61 win over Providence and 105-68 beat-down of St. John’s – against current Tournament participants. They boast the fourth-most efficient offense in the country thanks to a balanced lineup that sees six different players average between nine and 14 points per game, and have a true inside presence and rim protector in 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG). And even though Jay Wright’s team relies heavily on perimeter shooting, it happens to be one of the best three-point shooting teams in America at 38.9 percent. To boot, Villanova’s defense holds opponents to well under one point per possession.

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Darrun Hilliard and the Wildcats are the team to beat in the East. (AP)

Should They Falter: #2 Virginia (30-3, 16-2 ACC). Virginia could have been a #1 seed and very well might play like one if Justin Anderson (12.3 PPG) rounds into form over the coming days and weeks. Since the 6’6″ wing went down with a broken hand in February, the Cavaliers’ offense has sorely missed his outside shooting (46.9% 3FG) and ability to get to the rim. The junior returned (in a limited capacity) for the ACC Tournament, however, and could be in better basketball shape by this weekend. Either way, the regular season ACC champs should be fine in the early-going, since their defense is borderline impenetrable. No team in the country – not even Kentucky – touts better adjusted defensive efficiency numbers than Tony Bennett’s guys, a product of his pack-line system which thrives on eliminating access to the paint and forcing tough shots from perimeter. Outside of Villanova, it’s hard to envision many teams in the East mustering enough offensive production to topple the Wahoos – especially if Anderson again finds his footing. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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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Providence’s Kris Dunn is Criminally Underrated

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 10th, 2015

Providence hasn’t received much national media attention this season despite a 17-7 overall (7-4 Big East) record with a neutral floor win over Notre Dame on its resume. And until a recent 27-point outburst, sophomore point guard Kris Dunn worked in relative obscurity while LaDontae Henton — the Big East’s leading scorer at 20.4 PPG — received much of the credit for the team’s success. Henton accounts for a whopping 31.7 percent of Providence’s shots and 29.1 percent of its points this season, and while the senior has been a steady offensive contributor for the Friars, the primary driver behind the team’s season performance has been the play of Dunn.

Kris Dunn (USA Today Images)

Kris Dunn Drives the Providence Bus and Deserves More Credit For It (USA Today Images)

Dunn was the second-best point guard in the Class of 2012 and ultimately chose Providence over the likes of Georgetown, Louisville and UConn. There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding his delayed arrival — he played in 25 games starting in mid-December of his freshman year — followed by disappointment upon his season-ending shoulder injury just a few games into last season. At 6’3″, Dunn has proven he can get by and shoot over his defenders, but despite a solid average of 15.0 points per game this season, he isn’t drawing attention because of his scoring ability. The redshirt sophomore instead brings tremendous value with his unheralded court vision, enabling him to dish no-look passes to open teammates or throw lead passes 40 feet down the court for easy lay-ups. His stellar passing ability is highlighted by his 7.5 assists per game, which ranks third-best in the country, and his assist rate of 50.9 percent, where he is easily first.

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 13th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

The Big East marched along last week, continuing its ascent up the rankings of the power conferences. It reached the #1 ranking for overall conference RPI for a bit before bowing to the Big 12 (only slightly), and the conference now stands at second overall with a sizable gap between itself and the rest. Even more impressively, the Big East has the highest average RPI among its conference members thanks to DePaul’s 3-0 start. As of this writing, the league lists nine of its 10 members among the top 100. Below is a list of four key takeaways from the last weekend’s action.

LaDontae Henton

LaDontae Henton’s Team Has a Legitimate Case to Rank Among the League’s Top Three Teams

Providence makes its push for the top of the standings. As I wrote in an earlier article, Providence has a legitimate case as a top three team in the Big East even though the Friars had largely fallen off the radar in non-conference play. They made a strong push last week, picking up a road win at Butler and then defeating Georgetown in overtime. Neither result was necessarily pretty — the Friars won both by a combined seven points — but the pair of wins catapulted Providence to the top of the league standings with a 3-1 record. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton continue to carry the load on the offensive end, with Dunn doing a much better job of staying out of foul trouble and remaining on the floor. The duo lead the conference in assists and points per game, respectively.

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Providence: The Big East’s Darkhorse

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 23rd, 2014

With Villanova grabbing national headlines, St. John’s maintaining a Top 25 ranking, and both Butler and Georgetown wavering in and out of the polls, much of the focus on the Big East this season has naturally shifted towards them. Meanwhile, Ed Cooley has quietly pieced together a 10-3 season with five Top 100 wins, most notably against Notre Dame and Miami. While Providence found themselves in the Top 25 earlier this season, an unsurprising 20-point loss at Kentucky knocked them out, and a shocking home loss to Brown has kept them out. But college basketball, and the tournament selection process, are about a team’s body of work. Led by LaDontae Henton, the Big East’s leading scorer with 20 points per game, the Friars deserve more respect than they are getting.

With Henton Leading Them, Providence Is A Contender In The Big East

A quick review of Providence’s schedule shows the team has apparently gone through a number of phases. The first was the Henton-dominated early season schedule, where the Friars knocked off Florida State, Notre Dame, and Yale in just one week and Henton scored a combined 91 points in those games. Then came a down phase in which Henton scored just 28 points combined in the next three contests, all of which the team lost. Now, following a win over the previously-ranked Miami, the Friars appear to be back on the upswing. It’s a dangerous recipe, relying on one player to shoulder the scoring load, but the Bryce Cotton-led tournament team from last year would beg to differ. Henton is a dynamic player with an array of post moves and outside shooting as well as a lethal combination of strength and quickness makes him a mismatch on the perimeter and in the post. This versatility causes a tough match-up for any team, and his cold shooting nights this season appear to be more a function of his own doing and less one of getting flustered by defenses.

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Big East Weekend Wrap

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 24th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

Continuing its hot start, the Big East finished off another strong week and as a whole, stands at 30-2. For most teams, the competition picked up after a week of tune-up type games. Sensing a higher state of importance, a number of Big East teams stepped up, pulling off upsets and recording marquee, resume-building wins (Creighton, Providence). Others, however, floundered and either lost to underwhelming competition (Marquette) or narrowly avoided ugly losses (Villanova, St. John’s). Below are four key takeaways from the past week of Big East action.

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Josh Smith Has Had a Nice Start to the Season (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

  • Creighton might not be so bad after all. I’ll admit, I had Creighton ranked #9 in the Big East coming into this season. I thought the loss of McDermott, and three other starters, would have a monumental impact on the offense’s fluidity and efficiency. Instead, head coach Greg McDermott’s playcalling, ball movement, and overall offensive scheme appear to have remained the same. This is largely in part due to the emergence of senior point guard Austin Chatman, who has been near flawless at keeping all of the Bluejays’ newcomers on the same page (2.1 turnovers per 40 minutes). On Wednesday, Creighton squared off against the 18th ranked Oklahoma Sooners and rallied from 18 down to steal the show. Surprisingly, the Bluejays shot poorly all night, just 8-26 from three and 37.5% overall, but Isaiah Zierden and Toby Hegner are doing their best to fill the Manigat/Wragge roles on last year’s squad: finding open space on the floor and draining threes at crucial points in the game. Chatman, the lone returning starter, knows exactly how to run the offense after four years in the system, and has found success by driving and drawing defenders, and either getting to the line or dishing to open teammates. The 6’0 guard posted a 17 point, 11 rebound, six assist statline against the Sooners.
  • Kris Dunn is the real deal. Normally, Creighton would receive the top headline in the Big East for its win over #18 Oklahoma, but Dunn’s performance this week was just too impressive to ignore. Dunn’s role on the 5-0 Friars is not as a primary scorer, that’s LaDontae Henton‘s job. Instead, Dunn serves as a distributor and offensive coordinator, putting teammates in a better position to score. The 6’3 sophomore was a highly touted McDonald’s All American out of high school, but spent much of last season on the bench after a season-ending injury just two weeks into the season. Anyone can recognize how important senior LaDontae Henton is to Providence, who scored a career high 38 points in a huge win over Notre Dame today and is averaging a league-leading 19.8 points per game. But Dunn, who got off to a rough start in his first game has completely turned things around and is largely responsible for the Friars’ hot start. He is now averaging 8.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game with just 17 turnovers through five games, including a remarkable 14 assists against Navy. Dunn was a major question mark coming into this season, and with a depleted Friars backcourt following Bryce Cotton’s departure, his continued success will be vital to Providence’s. The Friars offense runs at a completely different rate when Dunn on the floor, and now the question will be whether he can avoid foul trouble and stay on the floor long enough in close games: he played just 21 minutes versus Notre Dame, and is averaging 3.3 fouls per game.

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