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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Rushed Reactions: Providence 75, Xavier 72 [OT]

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.

Ed Cooley Is Hard to Not Root For (USA Today Images)

  1. Ed Cooley is a tremendously underrated coach. It’s not that anybody is calling for his job in Providence after yet another 20-win season, but few seem to have appreciate what Cooley extracts from his team seemingly every March. The first half of tonight’s game featured a dominant first half performance from Xavier, one in which the Musketeers exploited slow switching and poor closeouts to the tune of 1.23 points per possession. And with a 14-point halftime lead, an otherwise unremarkable Friars’ loss seemed inevitable. But Cooley made some critical adjustments down the stretch, the first and most impactful of which was awarding 28 minutes to freshman center Nate Watson, who routinely took advantage of Xavier’s poor post defense for nine second half points. The second was inserting freshman Makai Ashton-Langford into the lineup, which immediately provided star point guard Kyron Cartwright with more room to operate. Lastly, the Friars eventually clamped down on the defensive end, clogging the paint and contesting every cut the Musketeers made to the basket. Xavier followed up a 43-point first half performance with just 25 second-half points and four in overtime.
  2. Tonight was an anomaly: Xavier is one of the few teams in the country that can match Villanova’s offensive firepower. The entire college basketball world knows what Trevon Bluiett (19.7 PPG) and JP Macura (12.3 PPG) are capable of, but virtually every other player Xavier puts on the floor can also notch double figures on any given night. Against Providence, freshman guard Paul Scruggs totaled 13 first-half points despite averaging just 4.5 PPG on the season. Not only do the Musketeers have a plethora of outside shooters and slashers akin to Villanova, but they also boast true low post scoring threats that can exploit mismatches, an area that they utilized against Providence. Slowing down this offense requires a lineup of players of all positions and sizes.
  3. Providence may have improved their NCAA Tournament outlook more than any team in the country this week. The Friars were a bubble team heading into Thursday’s games, probably secured an NCAA Tournament bid with an overtime win over Creighton last night, and now is playing its way towards a #9 or #10 seed by with an upset win over Xavier. Playing with this level of confidence will make for a scary First/Second round opponent next weekend.

Star of the GameKyron Cartwright logged 15 points and six assists in the semifinal victory, including numerous isolation baskets when Providence needed it most. The defining play of the game was a pull-up jumper to put his team ahead by three points with 50 seconds remaining.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Kentucky 69, #13 Michigan State 48

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 15th, 2016

RTC’s Brian Otskey (@botskey) and Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) are providing on-site coverage of the Champions Classic this evening.

Three Key Takeaways.

Malik Monk (USA Today Images)

Malik Monk (USA Today Images)

  1. Kentucky’s defensive ceiling is very high this season. John Calipari has had plenty of elite teams over the years but it was typically the offensive prowess of his players that grabbed the headlines. This group of Wildcats is long and athletic across the board, and Calipari seems truly energized about coaching this team and watching it grow. After the game he complimented his players for all their hard work and unselfishness, saying how excited he is to come to the gym every day and work with them.
  2. Michigan State needs to find its offense. Sparty’s 0-2 start to the season is not cause for concern for Tom Izzo, who noted after the game that he has lost a bunch of games in the non-conference and still made seven Final Fours over the years. Still, an average of 55.5 points per game against top competition in Arizona and Kentucky is not going to get the job done. Izzo is happy with his defense, which held both sets of Wildcats to only 38 percent shooting, but he added that the Spartans need to find an offensive spark somewhere. Miles Bridges can’t do it all by himself, so he needs to look to Matt McQuaid and Eron Harris for complementary scoring. Michigan State’s November schedule will provide ample opportunities for growth, as trips to the Battle 4 Atlantis and Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke still loom before the calendar flips to December.
  3. This game was a snoozer. Let’s be honest here. Given the fair amount of hype that this annual event generates, everyone in the building expected better. One could argue that the travel hangover for Michigan State — after playing a hard-fought game against Arizona in Honolulu on Friday night — played a major role, but the Spartans just had nothing in the tank offensively. Kentucky’s defense certainly played a part in that, but it was also clear that the Wildcats were a step quicker than the Spartans all night.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 88, #6 Notre Dame 74

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 27th, 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.

North Carolina Heads to Houston as the Favorite (USA Today Images)

North Carolina Heads to Houston as the Favorite (USA Today Images)

  1. It will take a monumental defensive effort to beat North Carolina. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, that simply wasn’t its style. The Irish were one of the worst defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament this season, winning games with an ultra-efficient, spread offense that exploited mismatches with shooters. Against conservative, defensive-minded teams, the strategy worked. But against a team with an even better offense that the Irish were forced to defend, the outcome was far different. Notre Dame shot 27-of-49 from the floor, including a lights-out 50 percent from beyond the arc, but it simply couldn’t generate enough stops on the other end of the floor. The result was a shootout where the team with the better firepower won.
  2. North Carolina’s hot shooting remains an anomoly, but its impact cannot be ignored. The Tar Heels ranked 284th nationally in perimeter shooting (32.1%) coming into Sunday’s game, but the sneaky-hot shooting of Marcus Paige and Joel Berry has taken a lot of teams by surprise: Paige went 6-of-9 from three-point range against Indiana on Friday night and started 2-of-2 against Notre Dame before cooling off this evening. Making jump shots forces defenses to respect the Tar Heels’ perimeter game — something Tom Crean and Mike Brey didn’t expect — and it completely changes the dynamic of its offense. When the jumper is falling, Paige can more easily navigate into the lane and create high-percentage shots for himself and his teammates.
  3. Notre Dame was a deceptively good team this season. Tucked within a loaded conference, Notre Dame didn’t exactly stand out with an 11-7 record and sixth place finish. But along the way the Irish snagged some quality wins against Duke, Iowa, North Carolina and Louisville. Over the course of the season, with Zach Auguste –– one of the best rebounders in the country — manning the paint, Brey figured out how to best spread his players along the perimeter and run dangerously effective pick-and-rolls. The graduation of Auguste will undoubtedly hurt this team going forward, but assuming there are no other NBA Draft declarations, the remaining core will return next season in search of another nice NCAA Tournament run.

Star of the GameBrice Johnson’s 25-point, 12-rebound effort says it all. He was often paired with another UNC big man, allowing Johnson to slide to the four where he capitalized on a significant height advantage. At other times, with the Irish’s Auguste in foul trouble, the 6’10 forward shot over defenders and finished around them on his way to a 10-of-15 shooting performance. Most importantly, he proved difficult to keep off the glass, acting as a major factor in UNC’s 23 second chance points and 42 points in the paint.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 76, #14 Stephen F. Austin 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 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.

Rex Pflueger’s only basket of the game sent Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

  1. One Shining Moment. Welcome to the montage, Rex Pflueger. The California kid tipped in Zach Auguste‘s missed shot with one second remaining to send Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. It was a classic example of this tournament creating an iconic moment for a player not many people have heard of. It was Pflueger’s only two points of the game and his first made field goal since Notre Dame’s regular season finale against North Carolina State on March 5. For the time being, Pflueger saved Notre Dame’s season. We will see his one shining moment on video for years to come.
  2. Notre Dame won this game in the paint. The Fighting Irish scored 52 of their 76 points either in the paint or from the foul line as they took advantage of a substantial size edge. Auguste led the way, but the Notre Dame guards did a fantastic job getting into the paint and creating for both themselves and teammates. It is incredibly difficult to win games in this tournament when a team is passive offensively, and the Irish were the antithesis of passive this afternoon. Notre Dame was aggressive and efficient en route to shooting 56.9 percent from the floor for the game. A lot of that had to do with Auguste and his team’s dominance around the rim.
  3. What more can you say about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks put on quite a display this week in Brooklyn. On Friday night they took out a West Virginia team that many experts said could contend for a spot in the Final Four. They beat the Mountaineers at their own game and today they were one missed defensive rebound away from making the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history. Thomas Walkup is a special player who got better in each of his four years in Nacogdoches. He had 21 points today after scoring 33 two nights ago against West Virginia, performances that nearly carried his team to the second weekend. With the Lumberjacks losing Walkup, Demetrious Floyd, Clide Geffrard, Trey Pinkney and Jared Johnson to graduation, the focus now will turn to head coach Brad Underwood and whether or not he stays with the program. He will likely be mentioned as a candidate for the open Big 12 jobs at Oklahoma State and TCU. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Rushed Reactions: #8 Notre Dame 77, #4 Duke 73

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Duke and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Jerian Grant proved that he is one of the best players in the country. The senior guard turned in an amazing performance on Wednesday night, finishing the game with game-highs in both points (23) and assists (12). His dozen assists also set a new career-high. None of those assists were more important than the one he threw to sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an open three to put the Irish up by four with 22 seconds to play. Points and assists were not the only categories where Grant excelled, though, as he showcased his durability by playing all 40 minutes and picking up six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Notre Dame is now 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in ACC play, and the biggest reason for the team’s incredible start to the 2014-15 campaign has been the All-America play of the team’s senior leader. The Irish now expect to be an ACC contender for the rest of the season, and if Grant can continue his play at such a high level, that expectation will become a reality.
  2. This was an incredible college basketball game. There has been talk this season about how college basketball has been a bit unwatchable, but that was absolutely not the case on Wednesday night as Notre Dame and Duke completed one of the most entertaining games of the regular season. Swings in momentum came fast and furious. For example: Notre Dame led by seven at the 9:01 mark of the first half before Duke went on a big run to take a three-point lead into the half; Duke then led by 10 at the 10:58 mark of the second half before being outscored 22-8 the rest of the way. Another reason why Wednesday’s battle in South Bend was so entertaining was that two of the best players in college basketball turned in star performances. Jerian Grant’s stat-stuffing game was mentioned above and Duke freshman big man Jahlil Okafor also turned in a performance that has practically become the norm for him during his first year in Durham. The freshman finished the game with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with a game-high 17 rebounds. Sure, there are some nights where college basketball doesn’t put its best foot forward, but Wednesday night at Notre Dame, those nights seemed very distant. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Virginia 62, #13 Notre Dame 56

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday evening’s game between Virginia and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia’s defense is as good as advertised. The Cavaliers entered play Saturday second in the country in both points per game defense and field goal percentage defense. They lived up to those high marks Saturday, as Notre Dame was held to a season-low 56 points and shot just 33.9% from the field. Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon was instrumental to the suffocating defensive effort, as he played lockdown defense on Notre Dame star guard Jerian Grant all night. Grant finished the game with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Virginia also did an exceptional job in taking the Notre Dame bigs out of the game, as Notre Dame’s post players  finished with just a combined five points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with just seven rebounds. The win moved Virginia to 15-0 on the season and if it can maintain this level of defensive intensity, that unbeaten mark may stay clean well into league play.
  2. The Cavaliers saved their best basketball for winning time. After Notre Dame swingman Pat Connaughton hit a three-pointer to give the Irish a 51-50 lead at the 4:53 mark of the second half, Virginia went on a 12-5 run to finish the game. Brogdon and fellow backcourt mate Justin Anderson each hit important three-pointers down the stretch that helped lead to the Virginia victory. In close games, the victor is usually determined by which teams executes better and plays with more poise down the stretch, and that was no different Saturday as Virginia made the right plays at the right times to help secure the win.
  3. Notre Dame needs more out of its frontline if it wants to be a factor in the ACC race. When Notre Dame won at North Carolina this past Monday night, Irish forward Zach Auguste led the way with 18 points. Saturday was a different story for Auguste, as the junior battled foul trouble for much of the game and finished with just four points and five rebounds to go along with a team-high four turnovers in 22 minutes. Virginia forward Darion Atkins was able to take advantage of Auguste’s off-night, as the senior finished with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting to accompany his team-high eight rebounds. There are plenty of solid big men in the ACC, and if Notre Dame wants to finish near the top of the league, it is going to need Auguste to become a much more consistent post presence on each side of the court.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Florida 79, #4 UCLA 68

Posted by David Changas (@dchangas) on March 27th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

David Changas (@dchangas) is the NCAA Tournament’s South Region correspondent. He filed this report after #1 Florida’s 79-68 win over #4 UCLA. RTC will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Scottie Wilbekin came up big when it counted most against UCLA. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wilbekin Comes Through. Though he struggled for much of the night, when it mattered senior all-American Scottie Wilbekin came through for Florida. Wilbekin shot only 5-of-13 on the night, but finished with several huge buckets down the stretch and showed why he was the SEC Player of the Year. Wilbekin’s ability to lead his team to wins in close games is the difference between this year’s Florida team and last year’s Elite Eight squad. And if coach Billy Donovan has his way, he’ll be a main reason this team takes the next step.
  2. Michael Frazier can Shoot. For whatever reason, UCLA let the Gators’ best shooter have open looks all evening. Frazier made five of the eight threes he attempted, but the ones that didn’t go in were wide open looks. He finished with a game-high 19 points. Earlier this season, Frazier set a Florida record with 11 threes made against South Carolina, and if the sharpshooting sophomore can continue to make shots from the perimeter, it will be tough for anyone to beat the Gators the rest of the way.
  3. Gators Dominate the Glass. Despite a relatively poor first half performance that saw Florida get only three points from Wilbekin and nothing from senior center Patric Young, the Gators led by six at the break. This was largely due to keeping UCLA off the boards, particularly on the offensive end. In fact, UCLA had only one offensive rebound in the half, and it was followed immediately by a Florida block. On the night, the Gators out-rebounded UCLA, 40-30, and gave up only eight offensive boards to the Bruins for the game. It allowed Florida to move on despite getting very little offense from Young and his frontcourt mates. Read the rest of this entry »
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