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

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

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

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

Key Takeaways.

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

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

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RTC Bracket Prep: East Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 13th, 2017

All day Monday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. 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

The Champs Are Ready to Defend Their Title (USA Today Images)

Favorite: #1 Villanova (31-3, 15-3 Big East). Sure, Duke’s ACC Championship run over the weekend was impressive, a sign that perhaps its unreasonably-high preseason expectations weren’t so unreasonable after all. But Villanova—the reigning National Champion, let’s not forget—has been more consistent, more dominant, an outright better team from start to finish. Senior Josh Hart (18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG) has arguably been college basketball’s best player, making key plays in key moments for an offense that ranks second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Former five-star recruit Jalen Brunson (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG) is realizing his potential at point guard. Mikal Bridges, whose effort against Kansas last March helped propel the Wildcats to the Final Four, has helped Jay Wright’s club hold Big East opponents to a paltry 0.98 points per possession this season. And, oh yeah, Kris Jenkins (86 made three-pointers) is still on the roster. Remember him? Balanced, experienced, and tough-as-nails, Villanova has all the pieces for a trip to Glendale.

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-8, 11-7 ACC). Equipped with one of the most talented rosters in recent memory, the injury-plagued and controversy-laden Blue Devils bungled their way through ACC play, only to rediscover their mojo just as the calendar flipped to March. That’s bad news for the bottom half of the East Region. Preseason All-American Grayson Allen seemed to recoup some confidence in the ACC Tournament after struggling through the month of February. As did soon-to-be lottery pick Jayson Tatum, who averaged 22.0 PPG in Duke’s four-game championship run in Brooklyn. Luke Kennard (20.1 PPG), the ACC Tournament MVP, continued his season-long excellence, while even Harry Giles—a hyper-talented forward beset by knee injuries—showed why he was once considered the future #1 overall pick. With a remarkably talented supporting cast to boot, there’s no reason the Blue Devils can’t vie for a National Championship—especially if Villanova stumbles up top.

Grossly Overseeded: #7 South Carolina (22-10, 12-6 SEC). Non-conference victories over Michigan, Syracuse, Vermont and Monmouth are nice, and South Carolina did beat Florida, but a #7 seed? The Gamecocks went 3-6 over their final nine games of the season, failing to beat a team better than Georgia (at home) from February 1 onward. This team lost to Alabama twice—including an 11-point defeat in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals—fell at Ole Miss, and was down by 16 points in December to a Memphis team that had just ended its season in historically bad fashion. Meanwhile, Wisconsin—a team with fewer losses and a higher volume of quality wins—was slapped with a #8 seed.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Creighton 60

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2017

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

Villanova Just Keeps Winning (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 55, Seton Hall 53

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

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

Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado Expressed His Agony After the Buzzer (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Villanova’s defensive versatility once again saved the day. Even though the team’s 1-2-2 full court press hasn’t been as effective as last season, Wright still successfully employed it interchangeably with a 2-3 zone and its patented switching man-to-man tonight. Throwing out different looks not only forces opponents to re-adjust their offensive sets, but it also takes valuable time off the shot clock. Despite a lack of height and Eric Paschall’s lingering foul trouble, the Wildcats’ defense challenged Seton Hall’s paint-dominant and relentless style of play, holding the Pirates to just 0.90 points per possession and ultimately curtailing Angel Delgado‘s 13-game double-double streak.
  2. Seton Hall’s half-court offense has come a long way since November. Much has been said about the post-Isaiah Whitehead adjustment period, but over the last few weeks this team looks radically different in its half-court execution. Even though forward Desi Rodriguez is still struggling with his outside shot, his dribble-drive threat remains the team’s most reliable source of scoring opportunities. Being able to attack the rim with his 215-pound frame also provides the benefit of room and rebounding chances for Delgado, the nation’s leading rebounder. Seton Hall’s lack of a true passing point guard is unquestionably overcome by its penchant for attacking the rim in one-on-one situations.
  3.  At the end of the day, playmaking abilities won out. At the risk of sounding too cliché, this could not have proven truer on Friday night. In a game between two down-tempo, physical teams, the total score barely eclipsed the century mark. The 59-possession affair put a premium on making the most of limited opportunities in the closing minutes; supported by both Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, Villanova simply had the better playmakers.

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Previewing the 2017 Big East Tournament

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 8th, 2017

Here we are again: 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 five-bid NCAA Tournament mark with seven teams this year, all of which will be vying for better seeding this week in New York. The other three teams are looking at a frenzied series of as many as four straight games, their only avenue to the Dance in what would be a surprising run to the Big East Championship.

Here’s a printable version of the bracket: 2017 Big East Tournament Bracket

And the Winner is: Villanova

The obvious but boring pick. Even amid a slew of injuries and an undersized but shockingly effective lineup, the Wildcats have again found their way to the top of the Big East totem pole. Few teams have been able to slow down an offense churning out 1.23 points per possession — as a matter of fact, games at Butler (0.99) and at St. John’s (0.99) were Villanova’s only two instances under 1.0 PPP. Sophomore star Jalen Brunson is arguably the most underrated point guard in the country, embracing an old-school style of play that lulls defenders to sleep before blowing by them. Every rotation player with the exception of one is a capable three-point shooter, and the incessant ball screen switching on the defensive end has remained effective because entry passes are such a persistent headache. There are some chinks in the armor, however, as Butler has demonstrated. Crowding the paint on drives and staying down on ball fakes can slow the offense, occasionally causing this team to lose its mojo.

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Kris Jenkins Remains Vital to Villanova’s Repeat Hopes

Posted by Eugene Rapay on March 2nd, 2017

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

Boom. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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

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

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume II

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 2nd, 2017

A positive resulting from the recent struggles of Creighton and Xavier is the opportunity it has afforded the conference’s bubble teams. At the beginning of the season, five was a fair benchmark for possible NCAA Tournament bids coming out of the Big East this season. Now, with just one regular season game remaining for each team, as many as seven teams could hear their names called on Selection Sunday. At the expense of quality seeding has come quantity, which might prove to be a boon given the unpredictable nature of March Madness. Here is where those seven teams stand as we head into of the final weekend of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

  • Villanova: 27-3 (14-3); RPI: 1; SOS: 24
  • Butler: 23-6 (12-5); RPI: 10; SOS: 11
  • Creighton: 23-7 (10-7); RPI: 24; SOS: 44

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to destroy their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a virtual lock for a #1 seed, probably in the East Region; Butler has climbed its way up to the #3 seed line; and Creighton should find itself in the #5 to #6 range. With the right match-ups, all three are Sweet Sixteen contenders.

Should Be In

Xavier Has Lost Six Games in a Row and is Reeling as March Arrives (USA Today Images)

  • Xavier: 18-12 (8-9); RPI: 35; SOS: 7

Analysis: The Musketeers’ awful slide has continued with the once 18-6 team having now lost six games in a row. A home loss to Marquette does not help matters but it alone is not yet enough to knock the Musketeers to the fringe. Xavier has gone 0-6 vs. the RPI top 25 this season, but it has avoided any bad losses and still boasts a total of eight top 100 wins. The concern for Chris Mack‘s team at this point isn’t so much its seeding but just how poorly it might perform in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers’ last six games have been a disaster on the defensive end.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week 15

Posted by Walker Carey on February 27th, 2017

The penultimate week of the college basketball regular season is in the books, and it was a week marked by a few top teams suffering surprising defeats. First, #2 Villanova saw its seven-game win streak end Wednesday when #12 Butler went into Philadelphia and used an 18-0 second half run to catapult itself to a 74-66 victory. An even more stunning upset took place Saturday when previously undefeated #3 Gonzaga saw an early 16-point home lead disappear in being vanquished by a plucky BYU squad, 79-71. Not only did this loss end Gonzaga’s bid at a perfect regular season, but it also began conversations regarding if the Bulldogs are actually worthy of a number one seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. This season has been defined by the unexpected, so it is only reasonable to assume that more craziness will occur during the final week. Hopefully we will also see some of it carry over into the postseason. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 23rd, 2017

Selection Sunday is fast approaching and remaining schedules provide dwindling opportunities to make the cut line for the NCAA Tournament. Given how wide open the Big East has been this season (thanks in large part to a number of injuries affecting Xavier and Creighton), there is an unusually large number of conference teams still with a fighting chance. Here is where those teams stand as we head into one of the final weekends of the regular season. RPI and strength of schedule (SOS) figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

Villanova and Butler are Two of the Big East’s Mortal Locks (USA Today Images)

  • Villanova: 26-3 (13-3); RPI: 2; SOS: 29
  • Butler: 22-6 (11-5); RPI: 11; SOS: 12
  • Creighton: 22-6 (11-7); RPI: 26; SOS: 48

Analysis: These three teams have made things pretty easy for themselves — even losing out would not be enough to diminish their NCAA Tournament hopes. Villanova is a near-lock for a #1 seed even after last night’s home loss to Butler, while the Bulldogs and Bluejays should find themselves on the #4 or #5 seed lines.

Should Be In

  • Xavier: 18-10 (8-7); RPI: 22; SOS: 8

Analysis: Even accounting for the season-ending injury to Edmond Sumner, Xavier shouldn’t have needed to worry about which tournament it would take part in at the end of the regular season. But an ankle injury to leading scorer Trevon Bluiett has changed that perspective. Bluiett was back in action on Wednesday night, but the Musketeers regardless dropped their fourth consecutive game in ugly fashion at Seton Hall, and their upcoming schedule isn’t favorable. Still, three more losses would put Chris Mack‘s team at 18-13 with an RPI of ~38, which likely means squarely in the field. On the plus side, Xavier has been getting much better contributions from its post players, especially RaShid Gaston, which was a major concern earlier this season.

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2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week 14

Posted by Walker Carey on February 20th, 2017

As we enter the home stretch of the college basketball season, the top two teams in the RTC25 have separated themselves from the pack as the best squads in the country. Top-ranked Gonzaga continued its undefeated run with dominant home victories over San Francisco and Pacific. The Bulldogs finish their regular season on Thursday at San Diego and Saturday in Spokane versus BYU, making the likelihood of a perfect 30-0 mark entering postseason play very likely. Second-ranked Villanova extended its winning streak to seven in a row with easy road wins last week over DePaul and Seton Hall — the Wildcats are now 26-2 overall and 13-2 in Big East play. They will have a chance to improve on those marks with looming home showdowns this week against #22 Butler on Wednesday and #23 Creighton on Saturday. Of course a lot can still happen between now and Selection Sunday, but it certainly looks like Gonzaga and Villanova will be pleased with where they end up on the evening of March 12. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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