Providence snags commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Makai Ashton-Langford

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Providence landed its point guard of the future on Monday night as the Friars picked up a commitment from four-star Class of 2017 floor general Makai Ashton-Langford.

The former UConn pledge opted to back out of his commitment during the spring as he opened things back up and stayed in the Northeast by going with Providence.

Regarded as the No. 38 overall player in the Rivals.com Class of 2017 national recruiting rankings, Ashton-Langford is a winner at guard who has good size at 6-foot-2.

Ashton-Langford joins four-star big man Nate Watson and center Dajour Dickens in the Class of 2017 recruiting haul for the Friars. Head coach Ed Cooley is hoping that Ashton-Langford can develop some of the same traits that made Kris Dunn so successful at Providence.

Big East Conference Tournament Preview, Bracket and Conference Postseason Awards

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Big East Player of the Year: Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart confirmed what was almost unanimously believed in November: he was the best player in the Big East. The senior wing averaged a conference-leading 18.7 points — shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three — to go along with his 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game for first-place Villanova. One of the best two-way players in the nation also had some of his best single-game performances outside of the conference slate.

Big East Coach of the Year: Ed Cooley, Providence

Two days before Christmas, Providence closed out the non-conference slate with a loss at Boston College. The Friars followed by dropping the first two conference games. All three losses were by a dozen or more points. Yet, this team — without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil — is in possession of another 20-win season, and tied the highest finish Providence has had since the conference’s relaunch. This is a competitive race, especially when you consider what Chris Holtmann and Steve Wojciechowski has done. And that doesn’t include Jay Wright’s continued dominance. But Cooley took a young roster with all the makings of a rebuild and turned it, in all likelihood, a fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

First-Team All-Big East

  • Josh Hart, Villanova
  • Andrew Chrabascz, Butler: The statistics don’t jump off the page, but the senior forward impacts the game in so many different ways for a Butler team that was projected to finish sixth, but ended as the No. 2 seed.
  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Taking the full-time ball handling duties this season, the sophomore averaged 14.8 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the field. He also registered a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  • Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The nation’s leading rebounder (13.1 RPG) has recorded 24 double-doubles this season. He’s also improved his offense, posting 15.7 points per game.
  • Marcus Foster, Creighton: The transfer guard is second in the conference in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He’s taken on a bigger role since Watson’s season-ending injury.

Second Team All-Big East:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
  • Kyron Cartwright, Providence
  • Kelan Martin, Butler
  • Justin Patton, Creighton

RELATED: Player of the Year | Coach of the Year | NBC Sports All-Americans

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Villanova brought the Big East the national championship in 2016, ending critcism of the program’s shortcomings in March and providing the league with an added level of legitiamcy it yearned for since its relaunch in 2013.

So, what will the Big East do for an encore? The conference might send 70 percent of its members to the NCAA Tournament.

Like the previous three seasons, the league was dominated by Villanova, which won its fourth consecutive regular season championship. Butler finished second, and spent much of the year in the top-20. Creighton looked every part of a Final Four contender until Maurice Watson Jr. tore his ACL in mid-January. Xavier, which began the season ranked, has struggled since Edmond Sumner suffered the same season-ending injury. Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall have all made late pushes for at-large bids, resulting in a wild finish to the regular season. Four days in New York should be eventual, to say the least.

The Bracket

When: March 8-11

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York City

Final: Saturday, March 11 5:30 p.m.

Favorite: Villanova

This should come as a surprise to no one. This reigning national champions enter the World’s Most Famous Arena as the top seed for the fourth straight season. Villanova has at its disposal the conference’s player of the year, another unanimous first-team selection, a national coach of the year candidate and the athleticism and versatility not many teams can brag about. Depth is a concern, with Phil Booth out for the season and Darryl Reynolds, the only true big man in the rotation, recently returning from injury. It’s also worth noting that two of three Big East losses came against the same opponent.

And if they lose?: Butler

The Bulldogs have twice defeated the Wildcats. They did so in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4, handing Villanova its first loss of the season. Butler went for the sweep by knocking off the Cats on Feb. 22, the only time they lost at the Pavilion this season. In both contests, Butler made the key plays down the stretch for hard-fought victories. Butler has an improved defense from last season to compliment with its always-efficient offense. With a big like Andrew Chrabascz, the Bulldogs are more equipped to match up with Villanova. Also, Kelan Martin, since his move to a reserve role, has caught fire in the last five games of the regular season.

Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Other Contenders:

  • Providence: The Friars have won six straight, with wins over Butler, Xavier, Creighton and Marquette. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock may not be Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, but they are anchoring a hot team that could give Providence its second postseason championship in four years.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles are the only Big East team team other than the Bulldogs to defeat Villanova. They have a nice balance with a deep roster. Five players average double-digits in points, and Andrew Rowsey, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year, and Katin Reinhardt have been huge in the second unit.

Sleeper: Seton Hall

The Pirates played strong basketball down the stretch last season to win the Big East Tournament championship. Isaiah Whitehead is playing in a different borough now, but Seton Hall is rolling, winners of seven of nine. The defense isn’t as strong as it was during last year’s run, but Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are capable of a repeat performance.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the season. They have two wins in the past five weeks: both against DePaul. A loss to the Blue Demons on Wednesday night could burst Xavier’s bubble.
  • Marquette: The Golden Eagles should be safe at this point. Sure, they earned a come-from-behind win against Villanova, but that won’t stop critics from poking holes in their resume on Sunday, especially when four wins against Xavier and Creighton came after injuries to Edmond Sumner and Mo Watson.
  • Providence: A six-game winning streak and a third-place finish should mean the Friars are safe, but most bracket projections have them as one of the last at-large four bids.

Defining moment of the season: Marquette, down 17 points, comes back to stun No. 1 Villanova, starting a run for the NCAA Tournament.

CBT Prediction: Villanova

Hart scores 25, No. 1 Villanova beats Providence 78-68

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Josh Hart saw an opportunity to drive with the ball and kept attacking the basket instead of shooting jumpers.

Hart scored 25 points, Kris Jenkins had 19 and No. 1 Villanova beat Providence 78-68 on Saturday.

The defending national champion Wildcats (19-1, 7-1 Big East) have won five straight since their only loss at Butler on Jan. 4 temporarily knocked them out of the No. 1 spot in The AP Top 25.

Hart tied a season-low with only two 3-pointers attempted and made both. He scored seven of his 10 baskets on layups. Villanova only tried 17 shots from 3-point range, making seven. The Wildcats entered the game averaging 25 attempts from beyond the arc.

“They do a great job of taking away 3s,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Providence. “Our guys did a good job of reading the defense and not taking contested 3s. Josh is as relentless at attacking the basket as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Hart finished 10 of 16 from the field.

“Just be aggressive is something Coach always says,” Hart said. “If they step up, make the right pass, If they don’t, you score.”

Rodney Bullock had 17 points and Jalen Lindsey added 14 for Providence (13-8, 3-5).

The Friars were coming off consecutive wins over Seton Hall and Georgetown but couldn’t compete with Villanova.

An 8-0 run to start the second half gave Villanova its biggest lead to that point, 43-31. Mikal Bridges got it started with a layup and jumper, Jenkins hit a jumper and Hart made another layup.

“Villanova took advantage of every mistake we made,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “The game was lost on the first five possessions of the second half.”

Jalen Brunson and Jenkins nailed consecutive 3s from almost the same spot to extend it to 60-43 midway through the second half and the Wildcats led by 20 at one point.

But Providence wouldn’t go away. Lindsey hit three straight 3s to cap a 13-2 run that got the Friars within 66-57 with 5:05 left.

Then Villanova scored the next three baskets, including a nifty, driving layup by Brunson to put it away.

“They have a great defensive team, they’re gritty and tough,” Cooley said.

Hart hit a 3-pointer to start the scoring and Villanova never trailed. The Friars tied it at 12 midway through the first half before Villanova went on a 10-0 run capped by Bridges’ 3-pointer.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: G Kyron Cartwright scored 12 points before he left the game with a stomach bug in the second half. … Isaiah Jackson also scored 12. … The Friars are 2-14 all-time against the top-ranked team. … They are 38-60 vs. Villanova. .. . The teams meet again on Feb. 1 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Villanova: Bridges had 15 points and Brunson added 13. … The team shot 51.7 percent (30 for 58). … The Wildcats played the second of four games at the home of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, who host New Jersey on Saturday night. They are 15-2 at the Wells Fargo Center since the 2012-13 season. … Junior G Phil Booth, who led all scorers with 20 points in the national championship game last April, missed his 17th straight game because of inflammation in his left knee.

SPREADING THE LOVE

“Kris is rare,” Hart said of his teammate. “He’s a gifted scorer who gets more excited at other people’s success and that shows a lot about his character.”

UP NEXT

Providence will host St. John’s on Wednesday.

Villanova visits Marquette on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Providence gets Shaq to DJ and host Late Night Madness festivities

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It has become a tradition for schools to pull out all the stops for their madness festivities to open the season and Providence got an interesting former player to host its ceremonies.

The Friars announced on Friday that Hall of Fame big man Shaquille O’Neal will serve as co-host and DJ for the school’s Late Night Madness event that runs on Oct. 15 at Mullaney Gymnasium.

According to the release, O’Neal will perform a DJ set after the event in which he will go by his DJ Diesel moniker. In case you weren’t up to Shaq’s latest musical endeavors, he has slowed down his rap career in favor of becoming an EDM DJ who has performed at a few festivals around the world.

While it’s hard to say how Shaq’s DJ set goes over with the crowd, he’s certainly a big name and a natural entertainer, so this is an intriguing pull for Providence to host this event. With Shaq being an LSU alum, it will also be odd to hear how this whole thing came about and how the Friars were able to get him for the event.

Second half run pushes No. 1 North Carolina into Sweet 16

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Faced with the task of slowing down the tandem of guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil, East No. 1 North Carolina relied on its depth to get the job done. Roy Williams’ Tar Heels were in a fight for the game’s first 30 minutes but managed to pull away down the stretch, winning 85-66 to advance to the Sweet 16.

North Carolina’s depth and talent won out, with Dunn and Bentil both having to deal with foul trouble and the latter fouling out with 7:23 remaining. By that point the Friars were already down 14, and the loss of Bentil was essentially the final nail in the coffin for Ed Cooley’s team.

Providence’s bigger issue was that they didn’t get much from the supporting cast outside of Kyron Cartwright’s seven points on the night. No Friar outside of Dunn (29 points), Bentil (22) and Cartwright scored more than two points, with Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsay scoring two points apiece. The lack of consistency outside of Dunn and Bentil cost Providence during Big East play, and against a team as good as North Carolina that can’t happen.

North Carolina’s improved defensively down the stretch of this season, and while Providence’s two main cogs combined to score 51 points they were made to work for them all. And when you add in the Tar Heels’ defending of Providence’s other players, it’s easy to see why Roy Williams’ team managed to advance.

Offensively North Carolina performed well, with Brice Johnson finishing with 21 points, ten rebounds and two blocks and four other Tar Heels reaching double figures. As a team they shot 52.5 percent from three and 19-for-21 from the foul line, areas in which they held a clear advantage over the Friars. Next up for North Carolina is No. 5 Indiana in Philadelphia Friday night, and the Hoosiers pose a different test for the Tar Heels on both ends of the floor.

With more scoring options Indiana will be a tougher cover for North Carolina. But with their improved attention to detail, something that wasn’t present in the first half of their win over FGCU, the Tar Heels are capable of adding to their current run of seven straight wins.

Last-second layup gives No. 9 Providence first tourney win since 1997

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It had been nearly two decades since East No. 9 Providence had experienced a win in the NCAA tournament, with their 1997 Elite Eight team being the last to do so. And with Big East Player of the Year Kris Dunn battling foul trouble for much of the night, it appeared as if the streak would continue on for another year. But other players stepped forward down the stretch, and Rodney Bullock’s layup with 1.4 seconds remaining gave the Friars a 70-69 win over No. 8 USC in Raleigh.

Bullock finished the game with 16 points and ten rebounds, stepping up to provide help on the offensive end on a night in which Ben Bentil needed 22 shots to score 19 points and Dunn tallied 16 on 5-for-13 shooting. Providence also received ten points and five assists from guard Kyron Cartwright, who helped the team do just enough to hang around with their floor general on the bench.

But it’s important to acknowledge that the Friars had some help down the stretch from a USC team that was making its first NCAA tournament appearance in five years. Andy Enfield’s young Trojans were in position close the game out at multiple points in the second half, but turnovers, poor shot selection and missed free throws left the door open for a Providence comeback.

After losing 20 games in each of Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm the Trojans won 21 this season. And with just one scholarship senior on the roster, USC can use Thursday’s crushing defeat to push them into a 2016-17 campaign they’ll begin with the expectation of being a contender in the Pac-12.

As for Providence, next up for them is East No. 1 North Carolina, and the Tar Heels will present a far different test for Ed Cooley’s team. Possessing depth, talent and experience, the Tar Heels are one of the favorites to get to Houston and if Providence is to win they’ll need contributions from everyone.

With one star on the bench and the other struggling to find his groove offensively other options stepped forward against USC, which is why the Friars will get their shot at North Carolina.