Ben Bentil

AP Photo/Gerry Broome

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

AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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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.

Villanova, Providence big men dealing with injuries ahead of Saturday’s rematch

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Saturday afternoon No. 3 Villanova visits No. 11 Providence in a rematch of an entertaining game played in Philadelphia January 24, with the Friars winning in overtime. However both teams could enter Saturday’s game at less than full strength, with their starting big men dealing with injuries.

Villanova senior center Daniel Ochefu hasn’t played since that loss to Providence due to a concussion suffered in practice in the days leading up to the Wildcats’ win over Creighton, and the program announced Friday that he is doubtful to return to the court Saturday.

Without Ochefu the Wildcats have started junior Darryl Reynolds in the post, and fellow junior Kris Jenkins put forth two of his best outings of the season in wins over Creighton and St. John’s. If Ochefu can’t play against the Friars, those two will once again be key for Jay Wright’s team.

As for Providence, sophomore forward Ben Bentil was listed as day-to-day following an ankle injury he suffered in a loss at DePaul Wednesday night. Bentil, who has been one of the nation’s most improved players this season, played just 14 minutes against the Blue Demons as a result of the injury. Without him Providence would likely call upon freshman Quadree Smith, who himself had injury issues to navigate earlier this season, for more minutes in the paint.

With Bentil sidelined for most of the game freshman Ryan Fazekas also saw increased minutes, playing 29 in what was his most extensive action since playing 35 minutes in the Friars’ win at Rhode Island in early December.

Providence’s Ben Bentil listed as day-to-day

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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Providence dodged a bullet this week as it appears that the ankle injury suffered by Ben Bentil in their loss at DePaul on Tuesday is not that serious.

In a release sent out on Thursday, Bentil, the Big East’s leading scorer, was listed as day-to-day.

Bentil injured his right ankle midway through the first half. He returned to the game in the second half but did not see much action. Bentil also injured his left ankle earlier in the season, missing the second half of a game against Boston College but returning to play the next game.

Providence is currently tied for third-place in the Big East standings, and if they have any hope of catching Villanova for the league’s regular season title, they need to win on Saturday when the Wildcats visit the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Ben Bentil hurts ankle, Kris Dunn struggle as No. 11 Providence loses to DePaul

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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The headline is going to read that No. 11 Providence lost to DePaul, and for anyone that is even remotely aware of DePaul’s recent history as a basketball program, you’ll understand why that is an issue.

Let’s put it like this: No one is college basketball is happier about the struggles that St. John’s is having than the Blue Demons, because it means they’re no longer the running joke of the Big East.

Doesn’t mean they’ve actually gotten much better under Dave Leitao, which is why the 77-70 win that they just landed over the Friars is such a big deal.

It also comes with an asterisk: Ben Bentil injured his right ankle midway through the first half, tried to return to play on it and couldn’t. He sat on the bench for most of the second half as DePaul somehow managed to hold onto their lead despite doing everything they could to let Providence make a run. Bentil’s presence is critical for the Friars; he’s the leading scorer in the Big East, after all.

Cooley announced after the game that Bentil was undergoing x-rays on the ankle, but had no update as to the severity of the injury.

But his absence also drives home the fact that Providence has such a minuscule margin for error when it comes to their Big Two. They can’t afford to have Bentil or Kris Dunn get injured and miss a significant amount of time. They can barely afford to have one of them have an off-night given just how inconsistent the rest of their starting lineup has been.

On Tuesday night, Dunn finished 5-for-20 from the floor for just 14 points. He also missed two critical 1-and-1 front-ends down the stretch of the second half.

That would qualify as an off-night.

And when you combine an off-night for Dunn with an injured ankle for Bentil, this is what you get.

A loss to DePaul.

Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil lead No. 10 Providence to win at Georgetown

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — No matter how glaring their biggest weakness is, saying that the No. 10 Providence Friars have a fatal flaw probably isn’t a fair thing to do.

Basketball teams don’t win 18 of their first 22 games if they have a fatal flaw. They don’t beat Arizona and they don’t sweep Butler and they don’t win at Villanova, what may end up being one of the five best wins of the entire college basketball season when we’re all said and done, if they have a fatal flaw. A lot can be overcome when the nation’s best point guard (Kris Dunn) shares the floor with the Big East’s leading scorer (Ben Bentil). Both stars had 26 points in Saturday night’s 73-69 win at Georgetown.

That said, the Friars do have one glaring weakness:

Entering Saturday night, the Friars were shooting 30.6 percent from three on the season, which is good for 320th nationally out of 351 teams. That’s bad, but not quite as bad as the 27.8 percent they were shooting from beyond the arc in league play. Only seven teams in high-major leagues (Tulane, Rutgers, Northwestern, Missouri, South Carolina, Stanford, North Carolina) shot that poorly from beyond the arc in conference play. Of those seven, only UNC has a real shot of doing more than scrapping their way into a double-digit seed, and the Tar Heels are only shooting that poorly because Marcus Paige had been mired in a 1-for-22 shooting slump from beyond the arc.

Long story short, Providence cannot shoot.

“If you watched us the last four or five games you saw some missiles being fired,” head coach Ed Cooley said.

He’s not wrong.

The Friars have fired up some of the most hideous jumpers that you’ll see from a really good team this season. The backboards of the Dunkin Donuts center must be made from bullet-proof glass, and while Dunn has been the culprit on couple of different occasions, for the most part, the kid whose shooting ability has been knocked by just about everyone has been terrific. In league play, he’s shooting 45.2 percent from beyond the arc himself, which means that, entering Saturday, the rest of Dunn’s team was knocking down a paltry 23.0 percent of the threes the shot.

Those teammates were shooting 19 threes per game.

That’s not exactly a recipe for success, which is why we’ve seen Providence lose to the likes of Marquette and Seton Hall, and why Creighton took this team to within one banked-in Dunn jumper from beating them in Omaha.

It’s also by design.

Dunn is not exactly a secret at this point. Everyone in the conference — everyone in the country — knows how good he is and how difficult he is to stop when he’s allowed to turn a corner and get downhill. So opposing defenses pack the paint, forcing Dunn into a decision: Try to go one-on-two or three, or make the smart pass to an open teammate. More often than not, it’s the latter.

“We’ve been played every imaginable way with him. Zone, man, two on the ball. He’s in a crowd every game,” Cooley said. “We see that every game. That’s where the third and fourth guys have to step up and make plays.”

We’ve talked about this quite a bit this season, how the Friars will go as far as Dunn’s supporting cast will carry him. Generally speaking, that conversation has usually centered around whether or not the likes of Kyron Cartwright, Junior Lomomba and Rodney Bullock are actually hitting their threes on that night, but that changed on Saturday night in the Verizon Center. Providence shot just 11 threes against the Hoyas, by far the fewest triples they’ve taken in Big East play the first time since their three-point rate — the percentage of field goals attempted that came from beyond the arc — was that low in a game since Dec. 5th.

“That was our plan,” Cooley said. He’s not dumb. He saw what the rest of us saw. He knew those shooting percentages better than anyone. He knew he team needed to stop settling and attack the rim. “We wanted to make some adjustments out of that. We wanted to go, go, go, go. And it paid big dividends.”

Dunn still did Kris Dunn things, including one three-possession stretch late in the first half when he scored on a ridiculous drive to the rim off of a ball-screen (video below), dribbled through traffic and found Bentil for a dunk, and followed that up with another tough, driving layup.

And while those three plays are what will stick in the mind of people watching the game, it was really the only point in the game where he was able to use the dribble to break down a set Georgetown defense.

“They did a really good job, it’s just that he scored in transition, he made two threes,” Cooley said. “He controls the game.”

In other words, it was business as usual for teams trying to slow down Dunn, but on Saturday, when he would find his open teammates on the perimeter, instead of simply settling for semi-open jumpers, they were putting the ball on the floor and trying to get into the paint. Providence eventually shot 5-for-11 from three, getting to the line 33 times.

And it made a difference.

The Friars landed their sixth-straight win on the road and will held into February just two games behind Villanova in the Big East regular season title race.