Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 92, #3 Miami 69

Posted by Will Tucker on March 24th, 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.

Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova had it going tonight. The Wildcats are headed to the Elite Eight. (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Ryan Arcidiacono and Villanova had it going tonight — the Wildcats are headed to the Elite Eight. (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Three key takeaways:

  1. Villanova’s blistering three-point shooting continued to carry them. Ryan Arcidiacono drilled a three less than two minutes into the game, Jalen Brunson sank another a minute later, and it was off to the races. Nova shot a mind-boggling 10 of 15 from beyond the arc for the game (75%), and Miami coach Jim Larrañaga was absolutely right when he said afterwards that it felt like they shot 30 of them. What came as a surprise was the fact that Miami kept pace, hitting 10 of 17, themselves. But the outcome remained the same for the hot-shooting Wildcats.
  2. Once deprived of free throws, Miami’s offense suffocated. The Canes entered the Sweet Sixteen having made 42 free throws through two games — more than their opponents had attempted. But against a stifling and densely packed zone defense that Villanova coach Jay Wright switched to early on, Miami struggled to get to the rim and consequently struggled to get to the free throw line. Villanova flipped the script tonight, hitting 18 of 19 free-throw attempts while the Canes only made nine of their 13 chances at the stripe.
  3. Daniel Ochefu proved he can shoulder the load down low while his guards fire away from deep. Miami began doubling Ochefu after he scored inside with ease on back-to-back possessions in the first half, but seemed to later abandon that strategy to avoid a blowout courtesy of three-point land. It was an encouraging sign against Miami’s physical interior, and perhaps a warm-up for an even bigger test against the Kansas frontcourt.

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Why Villanova’s Offense Is So Lethal

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 22nd, 2016

Let’s clear the air about something: Villanova is not a three-point reliant team in the traditional sense. A few rare instances aside, this is not a unit that will simply fire shots from the perimeter because three points is worth more than two. There is a logic behind its strategy, one that insists that Jay Wright‘s group is much more balanced than people think. The threes taken are seldom contested, a product of Villanova’s mechanical drive-and-dish offense that forces opponents to make a decision between preventing a layup or a three. And his personnel fits the system perfectly: Josh Hart is an incredibly effective finisher off the dribble; Daniel Ochefu is a deceivingly smart passer out of the low post; and Kris JenkinsRyan Arcidiacono and others are all strong shooters who force defenders to stay honest. There’s a reason Villanova is one of the most effective teams in the country at the rim (68.7%; 12th nationally) despite having only one player standing 6’8″ or taller. The four-out, one-in offense perfected by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors has allowed Villanova to become a lethal offensive group. Let’s take a look at how they run it.

First and foremost are a series of high-screens that puts pressure on opposing big men. Playing off the ball to defend the screener leaves the ball-handler with an open look, certain to be the wrong decision when defending a team full of shooters.

 

Hedging hard, however, forces a third defender to pick up the screener and leaves a different player open. Given how well Villanova spreads the floor, the decision by a defense to hedge is a gamble that the tertiary defender will be quick enough to recover to the perimeter.

 

Post play is also an important part of Villanova’s offense. For all of the talk about the guards, Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds convert field goals at rates in the 60 percent range, and both use a variety of post moves to score. This low-post effectiveness calls for another forced defensive decision: double-down on the post or sacrifice a high percentage shot.

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NCAA Regional Reset: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 21st, 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.

New Favorite: #1 Kansas (32-4). Meet the new favorite, same as the old favorite. Kansas did nothing over the weekend to diminish its stature as the #1 overall seed and clear Final Four favorite out of the South Region, dropping 105 points on Austin Peay on Thursday before handing Kevin Ollie his first NCAA Tournament loss two days later. In that contest, a 73-61 victory over #9 seed Connecticut, the final margin didn’t even do the Jayhawks justice; Bill Self’s bunch led by 20 points at the half and limited the Huskies to just 27.5 percent two-point shooting for the game. The defense has been sharp, focus doesn’t seem to be an issue and Perry Ellis is playing Most Outstanding Player-level basketball (21.0 PPG, 15-of-21 FG). Even with Maryland and (possibly) Villanova looming next weekend, it would be silly to consider anyone else as the favorite to reach Houston out of this region.

Wayne Selden and the Jayhawks look better than ever. (Associated Press)

Wayne Selden and the Jayhawks look better than ever. (Associated Press)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Miami (27-7). Can we really designate a #3 seed as a dark horse? In this case, yes – the Hurricanes were actually underdogs against #11 seed Wichita State on Saturday, and their hopes seemed grim after coughing away a big first half lead. But Miami (FL), led by point guard Angel Rodriguez, came up with enough big shots to hold off the MVC champs, and now stands just two wins away from its first Final Four appearance in program history. Despite finishing tied for second in the ACC this season, Jim Larranaga’s experienced group was not the subject of much pre-NCAA Tournament chatter. That will change if the Hurricanes take down Villanova on Thursday.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 87, #7 Iowa 68

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.

Villlanova's Offense Carved Up Iowa Today (USA Today Images)

Villlanova’s Offense Carved Up Iowa Today (USA Today Images)

  1. This isn’t the same Villanova team. The Wildcats look ready and determined to continue their NCAA Tournament run. Having now relieved the pressure of getting to the NCAA’s second weekend for the first time since 2009, Villanova removes that distraction and can focus completely on getting ready for Miami next week in Louisville. Jay Wright’s group has all the intangibles: chemistry, leadership and momentum. While its style of play is similar to last year’s group, this Villanova team is more talented and versatile. The three-point shot remains a key part of its attack, but added experience and an ability to get to the rim make this team better and more capable of advancing.
  2. Villanova doesn’t get enough credit for its defense. The Wildcats have ranked among the nation’s best defensive teams over the last four years but the story has repeatedly been about coming up short in the postseason. With that monkey now off their back, maybe they will have some attention paid to their consistently elite defense. It was on full display in the first half today as Iowa was completely shut off from the basket. The Hawkeyes shot just 40 percent from the floor overall and 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) from two-point range in a game that was decided by halftime. Villanova has shut down opponents all year (seventh in defensive efficiency) and that’s what will determine how far it advances.
  3. Shout out to Nicholas Baer. The Iowa walk-on had 15 points off the bench for Fran McCaffery’s team, the lone bright spot for the Hawkeyes on an otherwise rotten day. Baer saw 25 minutes of action, his second-highest total of the entire season. Even in a blowout loss, this had to be nice for Iowa fans. Baer is a skilled forward who will no doubt be offered a scholarship, and McCaffery has indicated as much already this season.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 86, #15 UNC Asheville 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 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.

Villanova Easily Handed Its Business Today (USA Today Images)

Villanova Easily Handed Its Business Today (USA Today Images)

  1. This was a complete and total rout. After a fairly slow start, Villanova broke this game open in the latter stages of the first half. After leading at the break by 14 points, the Wildcats kicked it into overdrive in using a 24-10 run spanning halftime to cement it away. Villanova looked in complete form on both ends of the floor as it shot 58 percent to UNC Asheville’s 37 percent. Five Wildcats scored in double figures and the 86 points represented one of Villanova’s most efficient offensive outings of the season.
  2. Daniel Ochefu looks healthy. After fighting his way through an ankle injury at last week’s Big East Tournament, Villanova’s senior center looked great today. Ochefu posted 17 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting, his eighth double-double of this season. If his team is to advance to the second weekend for the first time since 2009, Ochefu must play an important role. On a team that’s fairly undersized, he needs to be a force in the middle in order to protect the rim and open up the wings and driving lanes. When Ochefu is playing well and commanding a double team, Villanova’s offense is dynamic and difficult to defend.
  3. Villanova effectively tested two styles of play today. In the first half the Wildcats bombed away from three-point range and that allowed UNC Asheville to hang around. Villanova attempted 17 threes before the break but cut that down to only 11 attempts after halftime. In the second half there was more of an emphasis to get the ball inside either through Ochefu or dribble penetration. Villanova has long been criticized for the high volume of three-point shots it takes (24th nationally this year) but it is one of the best teams in two-point percentage as well. If the Wildcats can work the ball inside with Hart’s penetration and Ochefu’s skill set on the low block, they can advance deep in this NCAA Tournament.

Star of the Game: Daniel Ochefu, Villanova. Ochefu has struggled in fighting through an ankle injury since a great performance in a win over Marquette on February 27. He had totaled only 24 points over Villanova’s last five games before today’s 17-point effort, and the senior appeared to have gained back a lot of the mobility lost with the injury, although he still had a large ice pack taped to his ankle after the game. Villanova can’t win a national championship without a healthy Ochefu so his play today is a great sign.

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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: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 15th, 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, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

Region: South

Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4, 15-3 Big 12). Who else? With perhaps his least talented squad in recent memory (from an NBA perspective), Bill Self led Kansas to yet another Big 12 regular season title – its 12th in a row – and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks enter the Dance on a 14-game winning streak and its 30 wins include victories over Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia (twice), and Baylor (twice). One of only two teams with four losses, Kansas possesses such a complete resume, such a cohesive roster, and such strong advanced metrics that it’s hard not to consider the Jayhawks odds-on National Championship favorites, much less favorites in the South. Self’s group ranks #1 in KenPom – with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers near the top – and boasts one of the country’s best players in 6’8” forward Perry Ellis (16.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG). Scoring is seldom an issue with Ellis, Devonte’ Graham (44% 3FG) and Wayne Selden Jr. (13.3 PPG) in tow, and nearly every player on the roster plays consistently stingy, team-oriented man-to-man defense. Even if it faces a high-talent opponent like #4 seed California or an experienced, spread-you-out club like #2 seed Villanova, Kansas easily remains the best bet from the region to reach Houston.

Expect more smiles from Kansas in the coming weeks. (Nick Krug)

Expect more smiles from Kansas over the next few weeks. (Nick Krug)

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (29-5, 16-2 Big East). If you’re down on the Wildcats, don’t be. Sure, they lost to Seton Hall in the Big East title game, and yes, their recent NCAA Tournament record isn’t great – Jay Wright’s team has not reached the second weekend since 2009 despite being a #2 seed or better three times. But if past performance is no sure indicator of future results, then there’s also no reason to think that Villanova – with one of college basketball’s most balanced rosters – cannot make a very deep run. The Big East regular season champions rank among the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with five players averaging more than 9.7 PPG and a true rim protector in 6’11’ senior Daniel Ochefu (7.8% block rate). The bottom half of the South is not swelling with raw talent, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the Wildcats and their spread attack to push deep into March.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Temple (21-11, 14-4 American Athletic). Temple’s inclusion as a #10 seed seems to be proof that the committee simply didn’t give a darn about advanced metrics – nor quality non-conference wins, for that matter. The Owls enter the NCAA Tournament as the lowest-ranked at-large selection in KenPom (#86 overall) by a staggering 26 spots, with perhaps their best non-conference victory being a five-point neutral court win over 8-23 Minnesota. If its KenPom number holds, Temple will finish the season as the lowest-ranked at-large unit since Colorado State in 2012 (95th). Yuck.

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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: Seton Hall 78, Villanova 76

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 12th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Seton Hall Shocked the World With Its Run to the Big East Title (USA Today Images)

Seton Hall Shocked the World With Its Run to the Big East Title (USA Today Images)

  1. Isaiah Whitehead proved he is the most talented player in the Big East. There isn’t a better player around when it comes to hitting clutch shots and making things happen offensively. Time and time again, head coach Kevin Willard put the ball in Whitehead’s hands and let him create something. And create he did. Tonight’s 26-point effort was the result of an endless stream of floaters in the lane, savvy moves to create space for shots, and a game-winning play down the stretch where he drew contact and finished an old-fashioned three-point play. It’s his uncanny ability to score combined with a penchant for putting his teammates in good position that makes Whitehead the best all-around player in the conference. The 6’4 sophomore has always had talent but his decision-making has caught up with his skill set. Gone are the forced passes and ill-advised shots; what remains is a heady player who now makes the right plays at the right times. Seton Hall is the clear beneficiary.
  2. Daniel Ochefu‘s injury takes away the best part of Villanova’s offenseThe 6’11” center has played in limited minutes this week due to an ongoing ankle injury, which he re-aggravated against Seton Hall tonight. Backup Darryl Reynolds was more than sufficient on the defensive end and held his own on the glass, but problems arose when it came to offense. Reynolds isn’t nearly the passer that Ochefu is, thereby eliminating the inside-out game that allows Villanova to generate open three-point shots. Instead, Seton Hall rarely doubled down on him and were quick to close out on Villanova’s shooters and force them to drive into traffic. Jay Wright will absolutely need Ochefu healthy should the Wildcats hope to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Seton Hall will no longer surprise teams in the NCAA TournamentIn back-to-back games, Kevin Willard’s group knocked off the #5 and #3 teams in the country and now have the full attention of every media outlet and head coach from coast to coast. These statement wins have given Seton Hall its first Big East championship in 23 years but have also correspondingly put a giant target on its back. After being continuously overlooked for much of this season, this team often succeeded by playing with a chip on its shoulder, but that will change as Seton Hall will no longer catch anybody by surprise.

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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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2016 Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2016

Here we are again. March is upon us, this time with 70 degree weather in New York City and four straight days of Big East basketball in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The conference is likely to follow up last season’s six-bid NCAA Tournament mark with five teams, all of which will be vying for better seeding this week. The other five teams are looking at a frenzied series of as many as four straight games, their only avenue to the Dance via what would be a surprising run to the Big East Championship. Often the most vulnerable teams are the most comfortable teams, so the target on Villanova’s back as the defending champ as well as this season’s regular season winner is bigger than ever.

BigEastbracket2016

Here’s a printable version of the bracket: 2016 Big East Tournament Bracket

And the Winner is: Villanova

It’s a boring pick, but given the Wildcats’ continuing success, it’s hard to build an argument against them winning this thing again. Villanova posted a 16-2 Big East record this season and has no shortage of experienced players on its roster. Junior Josh Hart played his way into the Big East Player of the Year discussion as one of the league’s best all-around players; Kris Jenkins has developed into a deadly sharpshooter; and seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu continue to provide their typical steady contributions. The team’s balanced, inside-out attack utilizes a heavy dose of screening that keeps opponents off-balance and sets up quality outside looks. But even on bad shooting days, Jay Wright’s club can grind out wins with tremendous team defense. Should the favorite somehow falter this week, Xavier and Seton Hall are the most likely candidates to supplant Villanova as the Big East Tournament champion. Read the rest of this entry »

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