Rodney Bullock

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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.

No. 16 Providence avoids third straight home loss by surviving No. 18 Butler

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Ben Bentil scored 20 points and Rodney Bullock added 16 as No. 16 Providence dodged a bullet and picked up a win they desperately needed on Tuesday night, knocking off No. 18 Butler, 71-68, at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

I say the Friars dodged a bullet because they picked off a good Butler team on a night where Kris Dunn struggled. The Friars star finished with nine points and seven assists, but he managed just eight shots from the floor as Butler head coach Chris Holtmann put together a terrific defensive scheme to take away the Providence All-American.

The Bulldogs sat in a packed-in 2-3 zone where Roosevelt Jones was essentially tasked with guarding Dunn out to about 30 feet. Butler essentially dared Dunn to be a distributor, and it nearly worked. The Friars as a team shot 5-for-22 from three, and if it wasn’t for the play of Bentil and Bullock on the interior; I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Kyron Cartwright here, as he had 13 points and caught fire towards the end of the half.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Dunn could have finished with 15 assists had his teammates been able to knock down the looks that he created, and it belies a bigger issue for the Friars. Coming into Tuesday night, Providence had lost two of their last three games, their lone win coming in a hideous performance at Creighton. During that stretch, they shot 13-for-67 (19.4%) from three while taking exactly half of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. On the season, Providence entered Tuesday night ranked 288th nationally in three-point shooting.

That’s a problem.

Because it’s not going to change. The defenses that Providence faces are only going to get more and more compact as the likes of Bentil, Bullock, Ryan Fazekas and Drew Edwards continue to miss threes.

As far as Butler is concerned, I’m not sure that Bulldog fans should start getting worried just yet. At this point, their tournament hopes are not in jeopardy because they have exactly zero bad losses. Their Big East titles hopes are likely nothing more than a pipe dream as they are sitting at 2-4 in the league with wins over St. John’s and DePaul and a trip to Creighton looming at the weekend, but that’s not the biggest concern.

If, on a night where Kellen Dunham, Kelan Martin and Jones combine for 52 points while Providence shoots 5-for-22 from three and Dunn is quiet, the Bulldogs cannot beat Providence, it might be time to start questioning exactly what this group’s ceiling is.

No. 12 Providence’s win at No. 9 Butler validates status as contender

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Kris Dunn scored 15 of his 20 points and handed out seven of his nine assists in the second half as No. 12 Providence erased an 11-point halftime deficit, knocking off No. 9 Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse, 81-73, which means that it is now time to seriously start discussing Providence as a Final Four contender.

The Friars, at this point, may very well be the best story in all of college basketball. There were legitimate discussions during the preseason about whether or not these Friars would actually have the ability to make the NCAA tournament. With LaDontae Henton gone, Providence didn’t have a proven secondary scorer. Ben Bentil has more than adequately filled that role, and with Rodney Bullock playing the way he did on Thursday, the Friars look every bit the part of a top ten team and a Big East contender.

Think about this, for a second: As of today, you could reasonably argue that Dunn is the National Player of the Year, head coach Ed Cooley is the National Coach of the Year and Bentil is the nation’s Most Improved Player.

Dunn completely took the game over in the second half after struggling with foul trouble in the first 20 minutes. He picked up his second foul midway through the first 20 minutes, and with Bentil also in foul trouble, the Friars struggled to find a source of offense, digging themselves a 36-25 hole at the break.

Bentil finished with 19 points and five boards, as he had a couple of key buckets and one really important block down the stretch, but the hero of this game was Rodney Bullock. The 6-foot-8 sophomore entered the day having shot just 7-for-26 from beyond the arc on the season. He was 6-for-9 from three on Thursday, hitting finishing with 25 points. Drew Edwards also added 10 points off the bench, including threes on back-to-back possessions early in the second half that helped spark the Providence run.

The Friars are now 13-1 on the season, their lone loss coming to No. 1 Michigan State when Denzel Valentine was in the middle of playing like Magic Johnson.

As far as Butler is concerned, I don’t think it’s time to panic quite yet. In the same way that they matched up well against Purdue the Bulldogs matched up poorly with Providence. They’re going to struggle with dynamic back court playmakers, and there is no one in the country that fits that mold better than Dunn.

It doesn’t help matters that Kellen Dunham is in the midst of one of the worst slumps I’ve ever seen a really good shooter go through. He was 3-for-14 from the floor and 0-for-5 from three on Thursday, meaning he’s now missed 23 straight threes and, in his last five games, is 10-for-60 (16.7%) from the floor and 2-for-32 (6.3%) from three.

This is a team that thrives on their offensive potency, and Dunham plays a huge part in that. He’s not much of a defender, the kind of player that makes up for the points he gives up by outscoring the guy that’s guarding him. With Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin playing the way that they currently are, Butler is going to be fine once they get their best scorer back on track.

WEEKLY AWARDS: Javan Felix’s big shot, Wichita State’s bigger week

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Javan Felix, Texas

Before we get into what it means, let’s talk for a minute about what actually happened. Texas upset No. 3 North Carolina, 84-82, in a game where their defense didn’t do all that much to slow down the Tar Heels. They won because they were able to keep UNC’s big men in check — specifically off the offensive glass — and because they shot the lights out, no one more so than Felix. He finished with 25 points on 9-for-14 shooting, hitting 5-for-7 from beyond the arc, but his biggest shot of the day may or may not have come with time left on the clock. A missed Isaiah Taylor jumper happened to bounce out to Felix who buried an 18-footer than came a split-second before the buzzer.

This is a critical win for the Longhorns for a couple reasons. For starters, it’s the kind of non-conference victory that is going to look really good on their résumé come tournament time. I still think North Carolina is the best team in the country, but at the very least, the Tar Heels now have a win over a team that is going to be in the top ten range all year long. That’s the difference between a 10 seed and the NIT.

But this was also the most visible non-conference game that Texas was playing. It came at home, on ESPN, against a blue-blood program on the first Saturday after yet another disappointing football season. It was always a struggle for Rick Barnes to get Texas fans fully committed to supporting the basketball team, and Shaka Smart is likely to have some of those same issues. But for a fan base desperate for a good team to root for, the timing of this win in this fashion could not have been more perfect.

THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin had 25 points and 11 boards in 20 minutes off the bench in a come-from-behind win over Tennessee on Saturday, which followed up a 20-points, eight-rebound performance — also in just 20 minutes — on Monday against Indiana State. Martin is averaging 23.0 points over his last three games.
  • Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma: Buddy Hield is the guy that gets all the attention for Oklahoma, but Cousins was the best player on the floor in their blowout win over No. 9 Villanova, finishing with 19 points, 10 assists and six boards. He followed that up with 15 points, five assists and five boards against Oral Roberts.
  • Jameel McKay, Iowa State: Iowa State came back from 20 points down to beat Iowa at home on Thursday night, and McKay was the hero in that game. He finished with 20 points, 12 boards and a pair of blocks, but it was his energy — eight of those rebounds were offensive — that changed the course of the game.
  • Isaac Hamilton, UCLA: Hamilton looks like he is finally living up to his billing as a top 20 recruit in the country. He scored a career-high 21 points to help the Bruins avoid an upset against LBSU and followed that up with 20 points in UCLA’s win at No. 20 Gonzaga. He also added seven assists and seven steals this week.
  • Rodney Bullock, Providence: Bullock came up huge for Providence this week, scoring 15 second half points in the win over Boston College and following that up with 14 points, 13 boards, four steals and three blocks in a win over Bryant. Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil both missed the second half against BC and Dunn didn’t play against Bryant.
  • BENCH: Melo Trimble (Maryland), Josh Scott (Colorado), Allonzo Trier (Arizona), London Perrantes (Virginia)
Associated Press
Associated Press

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Wichita State Shockers

This week was the most important week of the regular season for the Shockers. Having lost four of their first six games, Wichita State was in a position where they not only needed to prove — to themselves, to their fans, to the media — that their early season losses were a direct result of injuries to the likes of Fred VanVleet and Anton Grady, but they needed to start building a résumé that would give them a chance to play in the NCAA tournament this season if they don’t happen to win the Missouri Valley’s at-large bid.

And they did just that.

On Wednesday, the Shockers beat a talented UNLV team and followed that up by blowing out No. 25 Utah. In total, the Shockers gave up 100 points on the week, playing the kind of physical half court defense that we’ve become accustomed to from Gregg Marshall coached teams. VanVleet doesn’t quite look like he’s totally himself yet, but he had bursts in both games where it was quite obvious his hamstring is feeling better than it did prior to the Advocare Invitational in Orlando.

As of this moment, Wichita State is probably back to being one of the top 15-20 teams in the country, particularly if guys like Zach Brown and Markus McDuffie are going to play the way they did on Saturday.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Xavier Musketeers: Did anyone make a bigger statement this weekend than Xavier? The Musketeers totally blew the doors off of arch-rival Cincinnati, a pretty good team in their own right this season. The Muskies look like a legitimate title contender.
  • UCLA Bruins: The Bruins may be the most confounding team in the country. They lost to Monmouth at home, lost to Wake Forest in Maui and got their doors blown off by Kansas. They also beat then-No. 1 Kentucky and, on Saturday, went into Spokane and beat No. 20 Gonzaga at the Kennel. Are you buying them yet?
  • Marquette Golden Eagles: Even if Marquette misses the NCAA tournament this season, their season will be considered somewhat of a success as the Golden Eagles picked off in-state rival Wisconsin in the Kohl Center on Saturday. They seem to have made a renewed commitment to getting the ball into the paint.
  • Boise State Broncos: It’s been tough-sledding for Boise State early on this season, but the Broncos picked up two big wins this week. It started when they avoided getting upset by Loyola Marymount and ended with a win over No. 24 Oregon in Boise, a win that is only going to look better as the season progresses.
  • Chattanooga Moccasins: Not only did the Mocs go into Dayton Arena and knock off the Flyers on Saturday, they did it without their best player, Casey Jones. In his first season as head coach, Matt McCall has now landed wins over Georgia, Illinois and Dayton. Not bad.
  • SMU Mustangs: In their only game this week, the Mustangs pounded Michigan. It really is a shame this team is banned from the tournament, because they are certainly capable of getting to a Final Four this year.

SET YOUR DVR

  • No. 25 Utah vs. No. 8 Duke, Sat. 12:00
  • No. 9 Villanova at No. 10 Virginia, Sat. 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 1 Michigan State at Northeastern, 12:00 p.m.
  • No. 3 North Carolina vs. UCLA, Sat. 1:00 p.m.
  • Indiana vs. Notre Dame, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
  • No. 23 Cincinnati at VCU, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 Butler vs. No. 11 Purdue, Sat. 5:00 p.m.
  • No. 16 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:00 p.m.
  • UNLV at No. 13 Arizona, Sat. 9:30 p.m.