Rodney Bullock, Providence’s leading scorer from a year ago, will return for to school for the 2017-18 season.
Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal reported the news on Monday afternoon.
Bullock led the Friars in scoring and rebounding averaging 15.7 points and 6.4 boards per game. He announced that he would entry the NBA Draft but would not hire an agent, allowing for him the option to return to school. That decision perhaps ended when he was not among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine in Chicago.
The return of Bullock not only puts the Friars in a good position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season, it means Providence should contend for one of the top spots in the Big East Conference. Villanova will undoubtedly be the preseason favorite but aside from the Ryan Fazekas, who transferred to Valaparsio, the Friars bring back everyone from their rotation — including Bullock and Kyron Cartwright, two surefire preseason all-conference picks — that won 20 games and finished tied for third in the league standings.
“I am excited about returning to Providence College next season,” Bullock said, according to the Providence Journal. “With a deep roster and the addition of some talented freshmen, I think we will have a good team again.”
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.
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.
During last season’s Big East tournament, Villanova guard Josh Hart played well enough over the course of three days to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors after the Wildcats won the title. Hart, who was a supplementary piece on that team, is now a star and the Wildcats’ leading scorer as they look to win a second straight Big East tournament title.
So who moves into that supplementary role that became vacant thanks to Hart’s progression? Down the stretch of this season that player’s been junior forward Kris Jenkins, and in the Wildcats’ 76-68 win over Providence in Friday’s Big East semifinals he produced another quality performance.
In 34 minutes Jenkins scored a team-high 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field while also dishing out four assists. The 6-foot-6 Jenkins is capable of scoring both inside and out, be it by way of catching passes off of dribble penetration or by putting the ball on the deck himself and driving to the basket. That full array of skills was on display against a Providence team that did not have an answer for him. The Friars had to deal with Ben Bentil being limited by foul trouble, but even with that being the case Jenkins was able to find the spots where he’s most effective.
Having an effective Jenkins on the court makes Villanova that much more difficult to defend, as it gives them a player at the four who can force a mismatch offensively. That was one reason why the Wildcats, who rank among the nation’s best in two-point field goal percentage, scored 40 points in the paint. With more room to operate it becomes easier to find high percentage shots.
Since accounting for just four points and one rebound in a home win over St. John’s February 13 Jenkins has averaged 20 points and nearly four rebounds per game, shooting 53 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc. And if he can continue on this path while also chipping in defensively, an area in which he’s made strides as the season’s worn on, Villanova will benefit.
This group is capable of not only winning another Big East tournament title, but also progressing deep into the NCAA tournament and the emergence of Jenkins is one reason why. Jenkins wasn’t the only reason why the Wildcats took care of Providence, but he was a major factor in the outcome.
It goes without saying that sports can inspire some interesting promises, from players and coaches guaranteeing victory to fans making statements that hinge on the outcome of a particular game or play (see: tattoos celebrating a team’s triumphs before they’ve even won the game in question). For one Marquette fan, the need for Providence’s Kris Dunn to miss a free throw during Wednesday night’s game (which Marquette won in overtime) inspired him to make a promise that he intended to keep.
Jamey Schilling took the approach of yelling that he’d pay Dunn $10 if he missed the free throw. Sure enough Dunn missed the shot, and Schilling made good on his promise. But with players themselves unable to receive such funds due to NCAA rules, Schilling sent the check to the Providence athletic department.
Schilling’s gesture did not go unnoticed by Marquette either, as the school sent him a gift card to use in the Marquette Spirit Shop.
H/T For The Win
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.