Josh Hart: Villanova’s Unheralded Star

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 15th, 2015

What makes for a good sixth man? Is it a guy who brings scoring punch off the bench; is it a senior leader who offers experience and mentorship? Or is it something that transcends the stat sheet in the form of hustle plays, position versatility and a willingness to do whatever the team needs in order to win? There may not be a singular definition that works in all cases, but the best sixth men tend to be players who can fill in and contribute in numerous ways. Through just two years into his college career, Villanova’s Josh Hart has become the prototypical ‘glue guy’, acting largely behind the scenes while Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono collect all the individual accolades.

Josh Hart Was the BIg East Tourney MVP Coming Off the Bench (USA Today Images)

Josh Hart Was the BIg East Tourney MOP Coming Off the Bench (USA Today Images)

Within two minutes of entering the lineup against Xavier yesterday, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year had registered four points, a rebound and a blocked shot. It didn’t take long for the 6’5″ sophomore to make an impact on the game, and his multifaceted presence over the last several is a large reason why Villanova left New York City as the Big East champs. He had a highly efficient set of games there, going 7-of-10 in the first two and scoring 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the championship win on Saturday. At a time when Hilliard, Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis were all struggling to find a rhythm against Providence, his timely baskets kept Villanova safely in the lead down the stretch. “You know what. Honestly, he’s about halfway there to what he can be. He really can be great player… To do it in all these big games, it just shows you talent, character and also shows you how much better he can get,” Jay Wright said following Hart’s recognition as the Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

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Five Takeaways from Championship Week Friday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 14th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. There were 44 games spread across 18 conference tournaments on Friday — here’s the TL;DR version of what happened.

1. Which ACC Loss Was More Troubling: Duke or Virginia?

The story of Championship Week Friday is a complex one, but it has to open with what transpired in Greensboro last night. Top-seeded Virginia and second-seeded Duke were toppled in the ACC semifinals by North Carolina and Notre Dame, respectively; and both upsets, in their own ways, were startling. First, there’s Virginia, which in a 71-67 loss gave up more points than it had in any other contest in conference play. Despite a late Cavaliers’ charge, the Tar Heels led the game from wire to wire and made Tony Bennett’s team look frighteningly ordinary for about 35 minutes of action. In the nightcap, Notre Dame, a little over a month after being waxed by Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, got its revenge. The Fighting Irish held the high-powered Blue Devils to 0.97 points per possession in a 74-64 win.

Notre Dame All Smiles After Last Night's Big Win (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame All Smiles and Hugs After Last Night’s Big Win (USA Today Images)

So which loss is more worrying? I’d have to say Virginia’s. Duke was outplayed by the Irish but the primary reason the Blue Devils lost was a 3-of-17 shooting mark from beyond the arc. On the other hand, Virginia doesn’t look like the same team it was earlier this year. The Cavaliers have continued to dominate lesser teams on the defensive end, but when they are coming face to face with teams that can match up with them physically, they don’t look nearly as special. Furthermore, Justin Anderson’s return — zero points in 26 minutes over two games — is troubling. Virginia fans should be somewhat worried.

2. Can Iowa State and Oklahoma Play Every Week?

The Cyclones and Sooners played another barnburner in the second Big 12 semifinals Friday night. Both regular season clashes had been instant classics, and while Friday’s meeting was maybe a tad more sensible — as in there were no 20-point comebacks or 59-point halves — it was back and forth all game long. In the end, Iowa State who pulled out a 67-65 victory when Ryan Spangler missed a bunny at the rim that would have tied the game. The Cyclones get a rubber match with Kansas Saturday, which will be another episode of Big 12 must-watch television.

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Rushed Reactions: Xavier 65, Georgetown 63

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

Another Disappointing March Moment for the Hoyas (USA Today Images)

  1. Xavier is putting everything together at the right time. With a championship game against Villanova coming up and the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, Xavier has played as well as any team in the conference. The Musketeers’ post defense still continues to struggle with interior positioning but shifting to a zone has helped Chris Mack’s team better contest jump shots and get into the passing lanes. This tweak in defensive approach has kept Xavier competitive in their games against top-tier defensive clubs like Butler and Georgetown. Both Matt Stainbrook and sophomore big man Jalen Reynolds have been playing their best basketball of the season, forcing opposing defenses to collapse on the duo and leaving the shooters open.
  2. Xavier is a matchup nightmare for Georgetown. Xavier had an inconsistent Big East season, going 9-9 in conference play and sweeping just two of the nine teams it faced. And while the Musketeers lost games to DePaul, Creighton and Seton Hall, one of those two season sweeps was over Georgetown, which they defeated by an average of 15 points per game. In tonight’s third matchup of the year, the result was more of the same until a late Georgetown run closed the gap in the last eight minutes of play. Stainbrook and Reynolds in particular were a handful for Georgetown’s big men and the team’s rapid ball movement around the perimeter left the Hoyas out of position on numerous plays. For whatever reason, Georgetown failed to successfully attack Xavier’s zone for the first 30 minutes of the game and a 21-point deficit ultimately proved insurmountable.
  3. Georgetown’s Big East Tournament performance left something to be desired. The recent stretch for Georgetown hasn’t been pretty. After struggling to knock off Seton Hall last weekend, the Hoyas pieced together a scrappy win over Creighton in the final minute yesterday before falling way behind against Xavier. Yes, the Hoyas put on a late run when it found a number of good shots, but the overall trend isn’t encouraging. It’s a bad time to be faltering and there are numerous concerns about Georgetown on the offensive end of the floor. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has had too many cold stretches; Joshua Smith picks up too many fouls; and the rising freshmen have a tendency to disappear. Is Georgetown facing another embarrassing opening round NCAA Tournament defeat next week?

Player of the Game. Matt Stainbrook, Xavier. The 6’10” senior had 14 points at halftime, including a buzzer-beatin tip-in, and finished the game with 20 points and nine rebounds. Few opposing big men have successfully conquered Georgetown in the post, but Stainbrook used his crafty hook shot to successfully score over Mikael Hopkins and Joshua Smith. Post presence has been a major contributor to Xavier’s success at MSG this week, routinely providing balance to the outside shooting of the Dee Davis, Remy Abell and JP Macura. After tallying a highly efficient 13 points and 10 rebounds against Butler, Stainbrook showed no sign of backing down against the bigger Hoyas and entered into all-out takeover mode for several key stretches of tonight’s game. There is no question that he will be a significant x-factor in the championship game against Villanova.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 63, Providence 61

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

  1. That was an old school Big East battle. Some people like to talk about how the “new” Big East just isn’t the same, but they fail to remember the Big East was a small nine-team league when it developed its reputation as one of the top conferences in the nation. Two of those nine teams battled it out in this game and the result was a throwback to classic Big East games of the past. This was as good as it gets. A tough, physical underdog going up against the conference goliath that is playing as well as any team in the nation. The Garden crowd was electric on this Friday night for a game that more than lived up to its billing.
  2. Providence dominated the boards and nearly overcame poor shooting. The Friars shot only 35 percent for the game but outrebounded Villanova 42-30, including a 19-9 advantage on the offensive boards. Freshman Ben Bentil in particular was great, pulling down six offensive boards and scoring 12 points mostly from second chances. Providence held a 19-6 edge in second chance points but just could not overcome a rough shooting night by most of its better players. LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn and Tyler Harris were a combined 11-of-33 (33 percent) from the floor.
  3. This game was a great test for both teams as they head into the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt that both Villanova and Providence will be participating in the Big Dance next week. Both coaches commented after that game about how much a tough, close, grinding game like this one gives them valuable experience heading into the NCAAs. NCAA Tournament games always seem to be played at a slower pace; although both of these teams are comfortable in transition, getting a hard-fought experience against a quality opponent like here can only help as they transition into next week’s action.

Player of the Game:  Daniel Ochefu, Villanova. Could reasonably have gone with Kris Dunn or Josh Hart in this spot, but Ochefu was dominant inside tonight, especially defensively. Providence was smothered most of the time when it tried to go in the paint and a lot of that credit goes to Ochefu. His five blocks tied a season high. On the offensive end, the Villanova big man totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season. Ochefu plays an important role as a true big man on an otherwise undersized team. He will be a valuable piece as Villanova begins its quest for a national championship.

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Five Storylines from Championship Week Thursday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on March 13th, 2015

As we reach the pinnacle of Championship Week over the next few days, we’ll take a breath each morning to run down the top five storylines from the previous day’s action. There were 60 games spread across 18 conference tournaments on Thursday — here’s the TL;DR version of what happened.

1. Who Wants to Make the NCAA Tournament? Anybody?

Monte Morris Lifted His Team to a Thrilling Comeback Win Over Texas (USA Today Images)

Monte Morris Lifted Iowa State to a Thrilling Comeback Win Over Texas (USA Today Images)

It was a big day for bubble teams all around the country, as many were facing possible “win-and-in” situations but a shocking number of them played like teams under suffocating pressure. Illinois looked downright disinterested in a blowout loss to Michigan. Texas got out to a big lead over Iowa State and had all but locked up a spot when it was up 10 points with under four minutes remaining, but the Longhorns crumbled late. Miami and NC State lost to better teams, but both came out flat. And two much-discussed SEC bubblers, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, found ways — for the Rebels, that way was fouling a desperation three-point shooter with a second left — to lose to Auburn and South Carolina, respectively. Even Iowa, though not really a bubble team, was awful in a Big Ten Tournament loss to Penn State. That makes wins for Indiana and UCLA (and off days for Purdue, LSU, and others) all the more important.

2. The Stage is Set in the ACC…

Upsets are fun. But really good basketball is even more fun, and that’s exactly what we’ll get in the ACC Tournament this evening. All four favorites held serve yesterday in Greensboro, giving us a regional-worthy treat between four top 20 teams. First we’ll get Virginia, which labored through its game yesterday with Florida State, taking on a North Carolina team that appears to be improving. The Tar Heels started slowly but were impressive for the final 25 minutes against Louisville on Thursday. The other semifinal pits Duke against Notre Dame, another fabulous matchup. Thursday wasn’t a memorable day at the ACC Tournament, but because of that outcome, Friday could be.

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Marquette’s Season Hinges on a Single Phrase: Why Not Us?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 12th, 2015

The future remains bright for first-year Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski. Players, coaches and fans all knew this would be a rebuilding year for the Golden Eagles, with the staff focused on developing its younger players and instilling a defense-first mindset to eventually return the program to winning ways. Transfers Matt Carlino and Luke Fischer brought much needed offensive firepower to Milwaukee this season, but Marquette still finished 13-18 overall and just 4-14 in Big East play, competing in many close games that they were simply unable to close. Next season promises more: After receiving a commitment from consensus top-five recruit, Henry Ellenson, Wojo proceeded to add four additional four-star recruits across a range of positions, bolstering the team ahead of the departures of seniors Derrick Wilson, Juan Anderson and Carlino.

With little on the line, Mark Carlino and Marquette played about "as well as we could play" according to head coach Steve. (AP/Frank Franklin II)

With little on the line, Mark Carlino and Marquette played about “as well as we could play” according to head coach Steve Wojciechowski in the upset over Seton Hall. (AP/Frank Franklin II)

So with very little on the line this week, Wojciechowski instituted a new mindset for his team as it entered the Big East Tournament. “Why not us? Seeds don’t matter,” Wojciechowski said. “I’ve been in situations where I have been coaching on teams who have been the No. 1 seed and we got our butts kicked. Seeds don’t matter. [For] everybody it’s a fresh start.” Maybe the Golden Eagles don’t have the most talented or athletic group of players, and certainly the season hasn’t gone the way they had hoped, but the players seem largely unphased by it. “We’re huge underdogs, so we have nothing to lose and we’re going to play that way,” Carlino said. “Hopefully play aggressive and play to win.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Tournament Preview

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2015

It’s that time of year again. Selection Sunday is right around the corner and sports sections in newspapers and websites across the country are littered with college basketball discussions. Championship Week is a tasty prelude to next week’s madness, but it offers much of the same intensity, drama and excitement. Every conference has a team (or several) fighting to keep its dream of making the NCAA Tournament alive. While many major conference teams already have at-large bids locked up, some others are forced to play each game as if it were its last, because, well, it might just be. The Big East has six teams that appear to have played well enough during the regular season to earn those coveted NCAA bids. The other four have not been quite so fortunate and therefore will begin their pursuit of the dream in this week’s second season. Below is a brief review of what to watch for at Madison Square Garden.

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Villanova Wants to Add Another Trophy to its Collection This Weekend (USA Today Images)

Key Storylines

  • Will Villanova uphold its projected #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament?
  • How will a surging St. John’s perform at home amid the tournament hype?
  • Will one of the bottom four teams piece together a tournament run similar to Providence last year?
  • Seton Hall’s fall has been a steep one, but is there enough in the tank to regroup and make a run?

The Favorite: Villanova Wildcats (29-2, 16-2). It should come as no surprise that Villanova is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big East Tournament. After bowing out in the quarterfinals to Seton Hall last season, the Wildcats brought back most of their core group while adding a steady backup point guard in Phil Booth. Save for an ice cold shooting performance at Georgetown in February, Villanova’s offense has looked nearly unstoppable, running over any Big East opponent that has stood in its way. That balanced offense, led by senior Darrun Hilliard and full of shooters and slashers, poses all sorts of problems. The recipe for beating it is to strategically extend out to the perimeter on every player while keeping a rim-protector nearby should the Wildcats put the ball on the floor. Georgetown successfully figured this out (for one game, at least), while Butler and Creighton came awfully close as well. It can be done.

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Weekly Big East Postseason Outlook

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 16th, 2015

With just three weeks remaining in conference play, most Big East teams have started rounding into postseason form. For some units like Butler and Providence, this means steady improvement with an eye on seeding and positioning. For others like Seton Hall and St. John’s, it means clinging to NCAA Tournament hopes that seemed much more secure a month ago. As we approach March, we’ll run down the status of each Big East team’s postseason prospects in this weekly look. As of today, the league appears to have six solid NCAA teams, with the remainder in the discussion for NIT bids.

Villanova (23-2, 10-2)
Up Next: Monday vs. Seton Hall, Saturday at Marquette
RPI: 4 SOS: 28

Darrun Hillard (USA Today Images)

Darrun Hillard Kept Villanova in Contention for an NCAA #1 Seed Saturday (USA Today Images)

On Track For: NCAA, No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Villanova boasts one of the strongest resumes of any team in the country: 5-1 vs RPI Top 25; 9-1 vs RPI Top 50; and its two losses were on the road to Georgetown (#21) and Seton Hall (#70). Even accounting for another loss the rest of the way, Villanova should still find itself locked in as a No. 2 seed this season, with an outside chance at a No. 1 seed if it can win out. Regardless, this team’s numbers classifies it as an elite team that is poised to run away with the Big East regular season crown. Yet some of the same knocks will be made as last season: Who is Villanova’s go-to guy; can it compete against more athletic opponents; and has it been tested enough? Only time will tell, but Jay Wright’s team looks like its on the right track.

Butler (18-7, 8-4)
Up Next: Monday at Creighton, Saturday at Xavier
RPI: 24 SOS: 20

On Track For: NCAA, No. 4 or No. 5 seed. Perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been the play of Butler under interim-turned-head coach Chris Holtmann. Junior Kellen Dunham has provided consistent scoring while a number of other players — Alex Barlow, Kelan Martin and Andrew Chrabascz — have given the Bulldogs better offensive versatility and defensive tenacity. Butler’s November win over North Carolina is still impressive, and while the Bulldogs are just 7-7 vs. the RPI Top 100 and 2-5 vs. the RPI Top 25, their lone loss outside of the top 30 was at Tennessee (#80). The Bulldogs have played a challenging schedule and have won nearly every game they were supposed to have won.

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Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #19 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#19– Where Long Suffering Redemption Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

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UConn and Cincinnati: Trading Places in the Postseason

Posted by Will Tucker on April 5th, 2014

On March 8, 2014, Cincinnati and UConn looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. Having just hung 97 points on Memphis to complete a sweep of Josh Pastner’s team, the Bearcats went on the road and clinched a share of their first conference championship since 2004. That same day, Connecticut suffered an 81-48 drubbing at the hands of Louisville – the kind of humiliating end-of-season defeat that might spell doom for a team’s postseason.

AAC Men's Basketball Championship

Mick Cronin and Kevin Ollie: diverging paths (Richard Messina / Hartford Courant)

To the Huskies’ credit, they had just beaten Cincinnati a week before, capping a 6-1 stretch that followed a road loss to the Bearcats in February. But Kevin Ollie’s team exhibited red some flags even before being massacred in Louisville. They had eclipsed 70 points during regulation only once in the past seven games. DeAndre Daniels, who in January I predicted was poised for a breakout season, scored in double figures only twice during the same time frame. UConn had been outrebounded in their previous six games by an average margin of 8.3 boards per game.

Cincinnati, conversely, looked like a physically imposing, battle-tested, and veteran squad that was prepared to usher the program beyond the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1996. Rebounding from consecutive close losses to Louisville and UConn, All-American Sean Kilpatrick was firing on all cylinders in his subsequent two games, averaging 29 points on 68 percent shooting. Fellow seniors Justin Jackson and Titus Rubles appeared up to the task of complementing Kilpatrick in the frontcourt. And after winning the number one seed in the AAC Tournament by way of a coin flip, the Bearcats seemed destined for a rematch with de facto home team Memphis, whom they had already twice beaten soundly.

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Rushed Reactions: #14 Creighton 86, Xavier 78

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

McDermott Continued to Add to His Legend With

McDermott Continued to Add to His Legend With 32 More Points

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. You cannot stop Creighton’s offense, you can only hope to contain it. Creighton’s offense is by far the most efficient in the nation. When you can spread the floor with four or five three-point shooters, you can get an open shot nearly every time. That’s what Creighton does to nearly every team, making it nearly impossible to defend. Xavier could not contain the three-point barrage and, despite a late run, could never get to a point where it truly threatened the Bluejays. Big runs necessitate stops and it is more difficult to get them against Creighton than against any other team in America. To beat Creighton, a team must expose it defensively and dominate the rebounding. You have to generate extra possessions and also hope they just miss shots they usually make. Creighton’s defense is not elite by any means, but if you limit possessions, you can beat them. Xavier did not do that tonight.
  2. Xavier showed tremendous resolve. Almost everyone in the building thought this game was headed into blowout territory but the Musketeers trimmed the lead to as little as five points with 1:27 left to play. If the eye test does exist, Xavier passed it in this week’s Big East Tournament. Chris Mack’s team methodically took out Marquette last night and fought a hard battle against Creighton tonight. This is a team that can win a game in the NCAA Tournament and maybe two with the right match-ups. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: Providence 80, Seton Hall 74

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Brian Otskey will be reporting from the Big East Tournament all week.

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Bryce Cotton Has Led His Team to the Brink of a Big East Title (NYDN)

Three key takeaways.

  1. Providence was simply the better team. After the teams traded baskets for the first six minutes, Providence opened the game up with a quick 12-0 run and never really looked back. Seton Hall never led again and Providence kept the Pirates at arm’s length for the majority of the game. There were multiple sequences throughout this game where Seton Hall would miss a jump shot and Providence would make one on the next possession. It was that simple, as the Friars thoroughly outplayed the Pirates en route to their first conference championship game since 1994 when they beat Georgetown.
  2. Providence had fresh legs and played outstanding defense. When Ed Cooley showed zone, his team executed the game plan very well. Fresh Friars’ legs allowed the zone to rotate flawlessly and track Seton Hall’s perimeter shooters all game long. The Pirates finished the game 6-of-23 (26.1 percent) from the three-point line, a team that makes 36.1 percent on average. It was the difference in the game as Providence was able to make Seton Hall incredibly stagnant on offense for the better part of the night. Three-point defense had been a strength for Cooley’s team in conference play, and it vaulted them to a win tonight.
  3. NCAA ticket punched? Providence will not have to worry about the bubble if it wins tomorrow night, but is a run to the Big East Championship game enough on its own? One would think so. The Friars have played extremely well down the stretch after a midseason lull. Aside from a double-overtime loss to league champion Villanova and a setback at Creighton on Doug McDermott’s senior night, Providence has taken care of business in every game since losing four out of five games in early February. While the resume remains light on quality wins, one would think Providence has done enough to warrant a bid, especially when compared to other bubble teams throughout the nation.

Star of the Game: LaDontae Henton, Providence. Look no further than Henton when searching for reasons why Providence is playing for the Big East title tomorrow night. The lefty wing filled up the stat sheet with 26 points and 14 rebounds on 9-of-13 shooting. Seton Hall never had an answer for him and Henton made his name known in front of a big crowd and a national TV audience. This is a guy that needs more publicity as he has been productive in every season at Providence. He is a big time breakout candidate as a senior in 2014-15.

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