Bubble Breakdown: Providence lets opportunity slip away against Villanova

With less than one month remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.

When Ryan Arcidiacono knifed into the lane, absorbed contact and converted a go-ahead layup in the final seconds of double overtime Tuesday night, he didn't just push Villanova into a first-place tie with Creighton atop the Big East standings.

He also dealt a devastating blow to Providence's chances of making the NCAA tournament.

An 82-79 home loss to Villanova is crushing for the Friars because it cost them a chance for a badly needed marquee win. Aside from a terrific victory over co-Big East leader Creighton, the best teams the Friars have beaten this season are Xavier and fellow bubble teams St. John's and Georgetown.

At 17-10 overall and 7-7 in the Big East, Providence needs a late surge to create separation between itself and the rest of the league's bubble teams and to reduce the amount it will have to accomplish in the Big East tournament. The problem for the Friars is that three of their final four regular season games are on the road including a season-ending visit to Creighton and the lone home game comes against surging Marquette.

Credit Providence for even remaining in contention into late February because it would have been easy for the Friars to fold given the adversity they've endured.

Ex-McDonald's All-American point guard Kris Dunn underwent season-ending surgery in mid-December on his right shoulder and top 2013 recruits Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock never suited up for the Friars as a result of undisclosed team rules violations. As a result, coach Ed Cooley has seldom used his bench all season and played his five starters virtually the entirety of a 50-minute game on Tuesday night.

LaDontae Henton forced overtime by nailing a 3-pointer from the right wing for his first basket of the game with 20.4 seconds left in regulation. Bryce Cotton helped ensure the Friars reached a second overtime with a twisting reverse layup along the baseline that tied the game at 72.

Still, it wasn't enough thanks to Arcidiacono's clutch layup and foul shot. That's a shot Providence may be seeing in its nightmares if it doesn't hear its name called on Selection Sunday in a few weeks.


• Clemson (16-9, 7-6): It's a long, steep hill to climb for Clemson to earn an at-large bid, but the Tigers took a baby step on Tuesday night by pounding fellow bubble hopeful NC State at home. That snapped a three-game losing streak and elevated Clemson to above .500 in league play. An early-January home win over Duke boosts Clemson's stock, but there's a lot working against the Tigers too. Their RPI is in the 70s, their non-conference strength of schedule is among the worst in the nation and they don't have any other wins over teams likely to make the NCAA tournament. Four winnable games await, followed by a regular season-ending visit from Pittsburgh. Realistically, Clemson needs to win four at minimum – maybe all of them.

• St. John's (18-9, 8-6): Even without shot-blocking center Chris Obekpa, who will miss the next 10-14 days with a sprained right ankle, St. John's had little trouble dispatching Butler on Tuesday night. A 77-52 thrashing of the Bulldogs marked the Johnnies' ninth win in 10 games, elevating them into the NCAA tournament picture after they were left for dead following an 0-5 start to Big East play. St. John's might be one of the last teams in the field if the season ended today, but the Johnnies would be wise to keep winning. Their RPI is a mediocre 54th, a product of their lack of eye-popping wins aside from a victory over co-Big East leader Creighton and decent wins over bubble teams Georgetown and Providence. To say the least, winning at Villanova on Saturday would be huge.

• Tennessee (16-10, 7-6): Georgia may have the SEC's third-best conference record, but the Bulldogs probably aren't the league's third-best team. Tennessee reminded everyone of that with a 67-48 thrashing of the Bulldogs on Tuesday night behind 20 points and 11 rebounds from big man Jarnell Stokes. Snapping Georgia's four-game win streak eased the sting of disappointing losses to Missouri and Florida last week for Tennessee, which again inched above .500 in SEC play. The problem for the Vols is a lack of quality wins besides non-league victories over Virginia and Xavier. They're done with Kentucky and Florida for the regular season, so they need to avoid bad losses the next couple weeks and then take care of fellow bubble team Missouri in the regular season finale on March 8.


• Richmond (17-9, 7-4): Already squarely on the bubble when Cedrick Lindsay's knees gave out earlier this month, Richmond's task became even tougher with its leading scorer sidelined for the rest of the season. Credit the Spiders for winning their next three games against subpar competition, but a reality check came Tuesday in the form of an 83-75 home loss to a George Washington team that is likely NCAA tournament bound. All hope is not lost for Richmond with three winnable games up next with La Salle at home and then struggling Rhode Island and George Mason on the road. Win those, and it will set up a monumental home game against VCU. Despite a top 50 RPI, Richmond lacks marquee wins, with its two biggest coming against UMass and St. Joseph's.

• Ole Miss (16-10, 7-6): Since it lost to Dayton and Mercer in non-league play and failed to record any especially notable wins, Ole Miss pinned its at-large hopes on performing well against SEC foes. That appeared conceivable for a while when the Rebels got off to a 7-3 start, but they've crashed back to earth of late with road losses at Alabama and Georgia and Tuesday's convincing 84-70 home loss to Kentucky. With 10 losses and a dearth of meaningful wins besides victories over bubble teams LSU and Missouri, Ole Miss needed to beat either Kentucky or Florida at home this week to even remain within range of the bubble. One opportunity was squandered Tuesday. The second follows this weekend.

• NC State (16-10, 6-7): Oh, NC State. Only three days earlier, you were on the verge of a season-changing upset at top-ranked Syracuse before late turnovers derailed that bid. Now you're tumbling back to the outskirts of the bubble picture after no-showing in the second half of a 73-56 loss at Clemson on Tuesday night. An RPI hovering in the 50s isn't very promising for NC State, nor is a list of notable wins that starts and ends with fellow bubble hopeful Tennessee. Bottom line, the Wolfpack are lacking both quantity and quality of wins and they're running out of time to get either.

More from the bubble breakdown series:

• Saturday, Feb. 15: Disastrous week sends Indiana tumbling out of contention
Sunday, Feb. 16:
Out of nowhere, Nebraska enters picture with win at Michigan State

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