cotton

Big East Tournament: Providence removes any doubt, wins Big East title

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During Ed Cooley’s tenure at Providence, just when it seemed as if the program was turning the corner something would go wrong. Whether it was an injury or a suspension, it always seemed as if the Friars were being forced to fight with a hand tied behind their back due to a lack of depth.

But the key for Providence is that they continued to fight, and on Saturday night the program earned a reward in the form of its first Big East tournament crown since 1994. Bryce Cotton, who struggled offensively in wins over St. John’s and Seton Hall, scored 23 points to lead Providence to a 65-58 win over No. 14 Creighton and remove any doubt as with regard to their NCAA tournament prospects.

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Cotton’s led the way for Providence all season long, playing an average of more than 40 minutes per game and scoring 21.3 points and dishing out 5.9 assists per contest. But in order for the Friars to win three games in as many days he needed help, and sure enough his teammates stepped forward. Josh Fortune (ten points vs. Creighton) scored 24 points against St. John’s, with LaDontae Henton (nine points, 13 rebounds) going for 26 and 14 in the win over Seton Hall.

With those contributions, along with those of Kadeem Batts, Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris, Providence positioned itself to have the star take them home and Cotton did just that.

Providence’s defense was as important as Cotton’s offensive production, as their 2-3 zone limited the Bluejays to 8-for-30 shooting from beyond the arc. Against a team as good as Creighton is offensively identifying shooters is critical, and Providence did a good job of this for much of the night. Rebounding in the zone can be an issue for some teams but it wasn’t for Providence, which limited Creighton to just seven offensive rebounds and won the battle on the boards 32-29.

Doug McDermott, the focus of Providence’s defensive efforts, scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half and the Bluejays were able to pull to within three with 2:29 remaining. But two Batts free throws reestablished the separation Providence worked so hard for, and they were able to make the plays needed to close out the game.

This week wasn’t easy for Providence, but neither was the season as a whole. With limited numbers the Friars continued to fight, never losing sight of their goal. And on Saturday night, the Friars were rewarded for their efforts with a Big East title.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
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Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
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Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.