In the immediate aftermath of Providence’s win over St. John’s on Thursday, many held the belief that the Friars had done enough to make the NCAA tournament regardless of what happened in their semifinal matchup with Seton Hall. However with the members of the selection committee being the only ones who truly know the answer (opinion: they’re in), why leave anything to chance?
Also of note was the fact that a win would advance Providence to the Big East tournament final for the first time since 1994, and LaDontae Henton made sure the Friars accomplished that goal. Henton tallied 26 points and 14 rebounds to lead Providence to the 80-74 win over the Pirates, meaning that on Saturday the Friars will play for the conference’s automatic bid.
Providence made 48.9% of its shots from the field and their starters were responsible for 78 of the 80 points scored. That isn’t a surprise for this group, with injuries and the suspension of two freshmen whittling Ed Cooley’s rotation down to six players for most of the season. But Providence has continued to fight and after Bryce Cotton (18 points, ten assists) led them for much of the season his teammates have risen to the challenge in New York.
Friday night it was Henton, one day after guard Josh Fortune scored 24 points to push Providence past the Red Storm. The question now is whether or not Providence will have enough left in the tank to win a third straight game, and if they’re to do so the Friars will need to perform better in the paint.
Seton Hall scored 40 points in the paint, and with a matchup with either Creighton (Doug McDermott) or Xavier (which has multiple interior options) in front of them Providence will need to help Kadeem Batts in this area. Either matchup will be difficult in that regard, but this entire season has been difficult for Providence. And the Friars have continued to fight, reaching this moment as a result.
What will be on the line Saturday night at Madison Square Garden? Not only the chance to leave no doubt when it comes to their NCAA tournament chances but to also take their place in history alongside the 1993-94 Friars, the only Providence team to ever win this event.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.