Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 85, #9 Providence 66

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 19th, 2016

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.

Roy Williams and North Carolina advance to Philadelphia, where they will meet Kentucky in the marquee matchup of the Sweet Sixteen. (USA TODAY Sports)

Roy Williams and North Carolina advance to Philadelphia, where they will meet Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen. (USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Shooting is kind of important in the game of basketball. North Carolina is pretty good at putting the ball through the hoop, but Providence is terrible at it (the Friars are 251st in the country in effective field goal percentage). Tonight was more of the same, as North Carolina made 53 percent of its field goals, while the Friars only converted 40 percent. Providence was particularly chilly from deep, making just six of their 23 attempts from three-point range. Ed Cooley’s squad is athletic, good defensively, and always competes hard. They just aren’t a great shooting team, and it caught up with them tonight against a high-level opponent.
  2. North Carolina’s toughness was put to the test. It was not a pretty contest for most of the way, but it may have been the type of game that this North Carolina team needed. Many have questioned whether these Tar Heels are physically and mentally tough enough to win a national title. Yes, they showed some heart in winning at Duke and besting Virginia for the ACC Championship recently, but the pressure is different when it’s a win or go home situation. Tonight the Tar Heels were playing an athletic squad that challenged them physically (and verbally), but North Carolina picked up its intensity when it needed to and kept the Friars at arm’s length for most of the second half before delivering the knockout punch in the game’s final eight minutes.
  3. Oops – he Dunn it again. For the second straight game, Providence star Kris Dunn missed a significant amount of first half action after picking up two early fouls. Thursday, Ed Cooley was able to get away with sitting Dunn for 10 minutes when he was whistled for that second foul. But North Carolina is a different animal. Even though Providence actually outscored the Tar Heels by one after Dunn went to the bench with 11 minutes to go before halftime, the Friars ended the half by missing their last seven shots to give North Carolina momentum going into the break. Who knows if anything would have turned out differently had Dunn not sat out so much of the first half, but you have to like the Friars chances a little better with their best player on the floor for even a few more minutes.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Providence 70, #8 USC 69

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2016

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.

Providence celebrates its last second win over USC. (Fox Sports)

Providence celebrates its last second win over USC. (Photo: Fox Sports)

  1. Providence appeared to be in good shape, then it didn’t, but then won anyway. At the half, Ed Cooley had to feel pretty good about things. His star guard Kris Dunn only had three points and one assist before the break, having played only 10 minutes because of foul trouble. USC was hot from outside (four of eight on threes) and the Friars were out-rebounded by five before intermission. Still, Providence only trailed by one point after 20 minutes of action. USC came out strong after the break, however, using a zone to harass the Friars into a bunch of missed jumpers. But Providence was able to hang around until some shots fell and they could finally apply a bit of game pressure to the Trojans. In the last couple of minutes, it appeared that USC’s lack of experience finally came into play. Down the stretch, the Trojans committed bad turnovers and twice missed the front end of a one-and-one. Their final mistake was allowing Providence to execute an out of bounds play for an easy layup in the final seconds — an error that ended their season.
  2. Sometimes quality is more important than quantity. We knew going into this one that it would be a battle between Providence’s stars and USC’s balanced attack. The Trojans had six players averaging between 9.8 and 13.4 points per contest. Meanwhile, Providence gets most of its scoring from just three players. Things played out as expected tonight, as the Trojans had six players score at least eight points, while Providence had the game’s three top scorers. Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 35 points, although it took them 34 shots to reach that total. Dunn did come up big in the clutch, scoring 10 of his 16 points in the game’s final 10 minutes.
  3. These teams are polar opposites in regards to three-point shooting. On the season, Providence ranks in the upper half of the nation in three-point attempt percentage, but the Friars only make 32. 1 percent of their shots from deep. Conversely, USC is the 28th most accurate three-point shooting team in the country at 38.5 percent, but the Trojans rank 246th in frequency of long range attempts. In tonight’s contest, both teams played to form – Providence finished with a 9-24 from beyond the arc, while USC made seven of its 13 attempts from behind the arc. With everyone expected back for the Trojans next year, perhaps Andy Enfield should consider hoisting a few more shots from deep, since they obviously are good at making them.

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Big East’s Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2016

With five NCAA Tournament teams seeded anywhere from #2 to a #9, the expectations for the Big East this season are all over the map. Let’s take a look at the single biggest question surrounding the postseason success of each program heading into the first weekend.

Is this the year Jay Wright and company finally make their long awaited run to the Final Four? (Getty)

Is this the year Jay Wright’s group finally makes another run? (Getty)

VillanovaCan the Wildcats finally break through to the Sweet Sixteen? This narrative has seemingly lasted forever. After a number of exits in the Second Round, many pundits are writing off Jay Wright‘s squad. The reasons are all over the place: a lack of true NBA-level talent; a lack of interior depth; limited athleticism; over-reliance on the three-pointer. But what the narrative fails to capture is that the team’s dynamic continues to evolve with each passing year — players gain experience, develop new skill sets and build cohesion. People desperately wanted to craft the three-point shooting storyline around this year’s team but it simply hasn’t held up. Yes, Villanova shoots threes, but they are rarely contested. They are simply a manifestation of an offense where the primary options are to use Josh Hart in the lane or Daniel Ochefu on the low block. Iowa isn’t the type of team to give Villanova problems, nor is an undersized and poor-shooting Temple team. Expect the narrative to finally unwind this March.

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Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) 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: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.

UNC

The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)

Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2016

In terms of the bubble, there was little surprise about the five Big East teams that were going to make the Big Dance. Rather, the biggest outstanding question was how their draws would play out. For a number of the middle-seeded teams, first weekend matchups mean nearly everything for postseason success. Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big East team and what they should expect for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, #2 seed, South Region. A surprising and frustrating choice for many Villanova fans. Few expected to receive a #1 seed after losing to Seton Hall last night, but many expected the opportunity to play in the Philadelphia regional rather than being shipped to the South region. Nevertheless, Villanova’s opening pod is a favorable one. The Wildcats handily beat Temple on its own floor a few weeks ago and Iowa has struggled mightily over its last 10 games. The Hawkeyes should beat the Owls, but their guard play is weak and the team has no dominant interior presence. A matchup against Villanova would be a battle of wings against a team that isn’t particularly strong at defending the paint. On paper, Villanova should handle it well.

Villanova's Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Villanova’s Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Xavier, #2 seed, East Region. Xavier should be happy with this placement. Weber State won lot of games but succeeded only once over a team in KenPom‘s top 150. Looking forward, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin are the Musketeers’ possible second round opponents — both are big, physical teams that play a slower-paced game. Neither is particularly adept at forcing turnovers, a point of weakness for the Musketeers, but Wisconsin is probably the more dangerous team. Given the Badgers’ impressive recent stretch (winners of 10 of its last 13 games) and ability to control tempo, Xavier will need to bring its best game. It says here, however, that Wisconsin will struggle to shoot well enough to challenge Chris Mack’s team.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 76, Providence 68

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Continues to Drive to Another Championship (USA Today Images)

Villanova Continues to Drive to Another Championship (USA Today Images)

  1. Kris Jenkins’ role on this team continues to be downplayed. The junior marksman struggled with his shot earlier this season, but he has caught fire just when his team needed it most (21 points tonight, including two three-pointers). His shooting has forced defenders to actually play him on the perimeter; last year he might have deferred and swung the ball back around. This new and improved Jenkins uses his pump fake to get past his man and attack the rim. Additionally, the forward has developed a crafty post-up game against smaller players. Jenkins’ obvious growth this season has given Villanova yet another option in its diverse offensive attack.
  2. Villanova’s resiliency proved again why this team is primed for a deep run. Despite a 29-4 record, the doubts around this team’s ability to do significant damage in the NCAA Tournament linger. Given recent results, that’s certainly understandable, but each year’s painful loss is also another notch in the belt for the players. The Wildcats have played plenty of close games this season and have shown an incredible ability to prevail by taking care of the basketball and hitting big shots. Just one day after a shaky 30-minute stretch against Georgetown, Villanova battled until the very finish in putting away Providence. These are exactly the kind of games that Jay Wright’s team needs, serving to erase any of the remaining jitters that surround the big-stage environment.
  3. The key to solving Providence is solving Ben Bentil. Few teams have successfully limited Bentil’s production this season, but doing so completely takes the Friars out of their rhythm. After exploding for 38 points against Butler yesterday, the 6’9 sophomore was held to just three points on 1-of-5 shooting, all the while amassing several careless fouls. Needless to say, Providence is a well-below average offensive team without him, lacking both shooters and an inside presence. With Bentil sidelined, Villanova controlled the glass and continuously worked the ball inside for a number of easy scoring chances. It was a concerning and undoubtedly frustrating sight for Friars fans.

Star of the Game: Kris Jenkins. When Providence closed the gap to just two points in the closing minutes, the junior forward made all the big plays to answer. He drew an and-one on a post-up and also threw a perfectly on-point entry pass to Daniel Ochefu into the post for an easy layup. Jenkins finished with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, going 7-of-8 from inside the arc. With Ochefu bothered by an injury and both Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson battling foul trouble, Jenkins was the steadying force for the Wildcats down the stretch.

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2016

Day two of the Big East Tournament tipped off Thursday afternoon with quarterfinal action. Villanova received more than it asked for from Georgetown before pulling away from the Hoyas in the final 10 minutes to win, 81-67. In the second game, a surging Providence team dominated a Butler squad that had been playing very well coming into the postseason. The Friars and Wildcats will meet in Friday night’s semifinals for the second straight season; it will be Providence’s third consecutive trip since the Big East was reconfigured prior to the 2013-14 season.

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence's victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn combined for 53 points in Providence’s victory over Butler. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Georgetown (15-18): It was a strong effort from the Hoyas for the better part of 30 minutes but in the end Georgetown just didn’t have enough to deal with Villanova’s toughness and cohesiveness. Bradley Hayes made an immediate impact in the paint, a performance that kept Georgetown in the game and especially important with Villanova center Daniel Ochefu limited to 13 minutes by a nagging injury. L.J. Peak continued his quality play with 18 points but a lack of scoring production from senior D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was an important factor in Georgetown fading down the stretch.

Villanova (28-4): The Wildcats broke open a close game with a 14-1 run midway through the second half that was keyed by a number of hustle plays leading to transition opportunities. Josh Hart had an outstanding game with 25 points, scoring from all over the floor and especially lethal in transition. After the game, head coach Jay Wright called Hart one of the nation’s best players running the floor and it’s easy to see why after today’s performance. Ryan Arcidiacono was his usual self, diving into the MSG crowd for two lost balls and igniting his team in transition. Two pull-up threes when he didn’t have numbers were gutsy shots that allowed Villanova to create some separation.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: Scouting Big East Tournament Teams

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 9th, 2016

With the NCAA Tournament only one week away, let’s take a look at the five Big East teams likely to earn a bid from a scouting perspective. Matchups play a major part in whether a strong team makes an early exit or an average team makes a deep March run. This is magnified more than ever in the pressure cooker that is the NCAA Tournament as teams encounter opponents and styles of play they are largely unfamiliar with. Conversely, some of these teams may flourish once they’re free of the grinder that is the regular season in the Big East.

Villanova

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East again this season. (USA Today Sports)

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East once again this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Why the Wildcats can go deep: Jay Wright’s team is incredibly balanced and cohesive on both sides of the ball. An elite defensive squad, Villanova leads the Big East in allowing only 63.3 PPG. That alone will keep this group in games against any team in the nation. They are known for their defense, but the Wildcats don’t seem to get enough credit nationally for their offensive prowess. They feature an experienced floor general in Ryan Arcidiacono, a versatile wing in Josh Hart and a savvy big man in the middle in Daniel Ochefu. Another thing Villanova does incredibly well that should come in handy in the NCAA Tournament is free throw shooting. It leads the nation with a 77.9 percent mark from the charity stripe. Mounting a comeback against the Wildcats in the final minute is often a futile endeavor.

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Handing Out the Big East Player Awards

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 8th, 2016

Perhaps the best thing about the Big East is its player continuity. With the lone exception of St. John’s, every conference team returned a significant portion of its key contributors from last season, tremendously benefiting the quality of the league as a whole. Moreover, retention allows fans an opportunity to track player growth and development through the years. As an example, four of last season’s six All-Big East first teamers returned to campus this season. Giving an award to one player over several other qualified players is always difficult, but after having watched or attended nearly every Big East game this season, this is one pundit’s take on the Big East’s superlatives.

Player of the Year: Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

Isaiah Whitehead Led Seton Hall to Its Best Season in a Long While (USA Today Images)

Isaiah Whitehead Led Seton Hall to Its Best Season in a Long While (USA Today Images)

Choosing a Big East Player of the Year is always a tough decision, and this year was no different. The award usually goes to the best player on the best team, but as a player of the year award, that means it should go to whomever has the biggest impact on his team. You might say that it is synonymous with most irreplaceable player. Josh Hart is undoubtedly the most important player on the best team in the conference, but Villanova has numerous quality offensive pieces and could find a way to survive in his absence. Kris Dunn completely changes the game on both ends of the floor, but his performance has tapered off in the last few weeks (to an extent because of illness). The toughest decision was to eliminate Ben Bentil, who quite simply played out of his mind while his teammate Dunn was struggling. The final distinction came down to this: Seton Hall drastically outperformed expectations this season and Isaiah Whitehead has been the primary reason why. Without the contributions of Whitehead, the Pirates would be an average team only capable of average things. In concert with Seton Hall’s rise, the sophomore guard has been virtually unstoppable in the last month of play, scoring more than 20 points eight times in his last 10 games. He has also recorded more blocked shots than any other guard in the conference, ranks third in fouls drawn and fourth in assist rate. His biggest development this season has been to exhibit an ability to make his teammates better. The improvement of Whitehead and the simultaneous emergence of Seton Hall as a Big East contender and certain NCAA Tournament team is no coincidence.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 4th, 2016

With the Big East Tournament just around the corner, things are looking pretty good. Every conference bubble team that needed to win did so, giving us a much higher degree of certainty that the conference will earn five NCAA Tournament bids this season. Part of the reason for that is welcome to lock territory, Seton Hall. The Pirates picked up a signature win at home on Sunday against Xavier and would finish the regular season with a worst-case RPI of #44 should the Pirates lose this weekend at DePaul. At a macro level, the conference appears primed for postseason success: two highly-seeded teams and two or three mid-seeded teams makes for a good combination of quality and quantity in representation. Now it comes down to a final regular season game and the conference tournament to determine seeding for those five teams. Here’s the latest installment of the Big East Bubble Watch. RPI and SOS figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

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

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

  • Villanova: 26-4 (15-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 12
  • Xavier: 25-4 (13-4); RPI: 7; SOS: 30
  • Seton Hall: 21-8 (11-6); RPI: 33; SOS: 52

Analysis: Once again, no justification is needed for Villanova and Xavier here, as both are reasonable contenders for the #1 seed line. Xavier dropped a road game at Seton Hall that may have diminished the Musketeers’ chances for a top seed, but the corresponding effect is that it moved the Pirates into the lock category. For a team that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason, Seton Hall and its wiser, calmer sophomore leader Isaiah Whitehead have come a long way. The Pirates have one remaining game at DePaul, but even a loss there would not push their RPI nearly low enough (#44) to fall out of consideration. While possibly out of reach, the goal is to push for a #6 seed, thereby avoiding the potential pitfall of facing a #1 or #2 seed in the Second Round. Time to celebrate, Seton Hall fans, it appears that your 10-year NCAA Tournament drought is finally over. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2016

As the regular season comes to a close, a pair of Big East teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. For Butler and Providence, nothing will come easy over the next two weeks. The Bulldogs in particular sit squarely on the bubble as the Big East conference tournament looms. A huge chance awaits Butler tomorrow night when they host a surging Seton Hall team. Chris Holtmann’s group has matched up quite well with the Pirates over the last few seasons, and is the only team to beat them since January 23. A middling RPI, poor non-conference strength of schedule and a 5-8 record versus the RPI top 100 are all resume items conspiring against Butler at this moment. Given those deficiencies, you have to think a wins on Wednesday and Saturday (Marquette) to close the regular season are necessary for Butler to stay in the Tournament mix. Butler passes the so-called “eye test,” but its resume needs an immediate boost to prevent a trip to the NIT.

Andrew Chrabascz and Butler need a strong finish. (USA Today Sports)

It is crunch time for Andrew Chrabascz and Butler. (USA TODAY Sports)

After picking up a massive road victory at Villanova on January 24, Providence stood at 17-3 overall and looked like a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team. Who could have thought that Georgetown would be the only team the Friars would defeat in the month that followed? Providence swept the Hoyas but went 0-6 against every other team it played between January 26 and February 25. While the resume is good enough to merit a bid at this point, a loss to either Creighton or St. John’s would severely damage the Friars’ chances of holding on to an at-large bid. Star point guard Kris Dunn has been fighting an illness over the last week but head coach Ed Cooley said on Monday that the team is now healthy. As they did Saturday in dispatching DePaul, the Friars need to take care of business this week. No excuses if they fail to get the job done. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume III

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 26th, 2016

Another week, another Big East team falls by the wayside. Last week, we watched Georgetown fail to seize wins in two must-needed opportunities. This week, the team exiting the bubble fray is Creighton. Given such low preseason expectations, a 17-11 (8-7 Big East) record is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s a tally inflated by a relatively sub-par schedule. On Wednesday, Greg McDermott’s squad dropped a home game against Marquette, one it simply couldn’t afford to lose. Even the best case end of the regular season scenario (3-0 with wins over St. John’s, Providence and Xavier) would be likely to leave the Jays’ RPI in the 60s or 70s heading into the Big East Tournament. So for now, we bid you adieu, Creighton. For the Big East teams still on this list, NCAA Tournament dreams are very much alive. Here’s the latest installment of the Big East Bubble Watch. RPI and SOS figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 24-4 (13-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 9
  • Xavier: 25-3 (13-3); RPI: 3; SOS: 32

Analysis: Once again, no justification needed here. And after Xavier’s mettle-testing mid-week victory over the Wildcats, a sometimes-maligned Big East may now be in line for two #1 seeds. Even if that scenario fails to manifest itself, one thing has been clear for quite awhile: these two teams have put together remarkable seasons.

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

J.P. Macura And Xavier Are Rolling (Photo: AP)

Should Be In

Seton Hall: 20-7 (10-5); RPI: 37; SOS: 70

Analysis: Fueled by the ever-improving play of sophomore Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall has continued to build momentum. There was a major scare in a near loss at St. John’s on Sunday, but the Pirates prevailed and then backed it up with a convincing home win over Providence on Thursday, adding a 3rd top 50 win to its resume. This win should all but punch the Hall’s ticket, but with three games on the schedule, it feels a tad too soon to declare them a lock. There’s an upcoming home game against Xavier that should present more as opportunity than test — it’s essentially a no-lose situation. For a team that was picked to finish 7th in the conference, the Pirates and their wiser, calmer sophomore leader have come a long ways. Outside of Kris Dunn, Whitehead might be the most exciting player to watch in this conference. Keep an eye on him this March.

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