March Madness is on hold for Providence College and has ended for Johnson & Wales University. March Melancholy has set in at the University of Rhode Island. And at Brown, anticipation is the word.
Second-ranked and top-seeded Villanova beat Providence, 76-68, Friday night in the semifinals of the Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York. While the 29-4 Wildcats will play Seton Hall for the title, the 23-10 Friars will sit home and wait for the NCAA Tournament selection show Sunday at 5:30.
After a spectacular 40-minute, 38-point performance in a 74-60 victory over Butler in the quarterfinals on Thursday, PC sophomore Ben Bentil got into foul trouble against Villanova and was not a factor. The big East's leading scorer managed but three points in 26 minutes before fouling out with 9:40 to play.
Kris Dunn, the Big East Player of the Year, played 40 minutes but could not take control of the game, as he did at times this season and frequently last season. He made only one of eight shots, zero for four from three-point range, and seven of 12 free throws for only 9 points. The versatile point guard had six assists, two rebounds and a blocked shot.
Sophomores Rodney Bullock (18 points, 7 rebounds) and Kyron Cartwright (14 points, all in the second half) paced the PC offense. Villanova's Kris Jenkins led all scorers with 21 points.
Villanova finished first in the Big East during the regular season, during which the Friars and the Wildcats split their series. Villanova also defeated Providence in the 2015 Big East semifinals.
Only one player in the history of the Big East Tournament scored more points in a tournament game than Bentil did against Butler. Donyell Marshall of Connecticut scored 42 in 1994. Bentil, the league’s leading scorer, was a contender for Big East Player of the Year, but the coaches voted the honor to Dunn for the second consecutive year despite a few sub-par games by Dunn and two missed games at the end of the season because of illness. Dunn, also the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, scored 15 points and passed for seven assists in the quarterfinal victory.
Johnson & Wales lost to Tufts University, 101-85, in the NCAA Division III Sectional Semifinals, or Sweet Sixteen, in Medford, Mass., Friday night. The Wildcats finished with a 28-3 record, the best in school history. Tufts, one of four NESCAC teams in the original field, improved to 23-6. J&W trailed 47-43 at the half.
Tom Garrick led the Wildcats with 30 points.
URI’s season ended Thursday night with a 67-62 loss to Massachusetts at the Atlantic 10 Championships at Brooklyn. At 17-15, the Rams will probably not receive an invitation to the NIT, and coach Dan Hurley told The Providence Journal after the game that his team is not interested in one of the lesser post-season tournaments.
This game played like so many for URI this season. The Rams battled back from an 18-point deficit and took a 59-58 lead with 1:34 to play, but they could not finish. This season, 15 of URI’s games were decided by six points or fewer, a tribute to the gritty resolve Hurley has instilled in his players. This team did not quit.
But URI won only four of those close encounters, the result of losing their two best players to knee injuries, E.C. Matthews in the first half of the first game of the season and Hassan Martin late in the season. Injuries and end-of-season fatigue affected other URI players.
Brown usually does not experience March Madness because the Ivy League season ends the first week of the month, the league champion receives the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and Brown is rarely the league champion. Until now. The league announced Thursday that it will hold a post-season tournament, starting next season. The top four teams will meet at the Palestra in Philadelphia for semifinal and final rounds with the winner advancing to the NCAA Tournament.
The Ivy League is the only conference in Division I without a basketball tournament. The current format rewards the team that posted the best record during the 14-game regular season. The new format will reward the team that finishes in the top half of the eight-team league and gets hot for one weekend. That system works for conferences like the Big East and Atlantic Coast, which will earn several NCAA bids, but not lesser conferences like the Ivy League and Patriot League, which will still get only one bid. So, if a team goes undefeated in the Ivy League team next season, it will be the Ivy champion. But if it loses in the tournament, it will not go to the NCAA Tournament. It’s not fair, but it is the reality of college basketball in 2016.