Monday, February 28, 2005

Hoyas Hit "Bump" at MCI Center, as Villanova Triumphs 67-56

To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-

#23 Villanova continued its surprising dominance on Georgetown's home floor, the MCI Center, on Sunday, winning 67-56 behind a 14-point, nine-rebound, three-steal performance by Will "Bump" Sheridan. The Wildcats have never lost at the MCI Center in five appearances, since debuting there in December 1997.

Villanova has certainly had more of its share of problems with phone calls and cards over the years, ranging from Kerry Kittles' notorious suspension to the 2003 scandal. It may be fitting, then, that the basketball gods have decided that the only Big East building named after a phone company be one where Villanova is destined never to lose.

Sheridan's day amounts to a career-high, although technically it wasn't. His official career-high was the 23 points he scored against the non-Division I Redlands in November 2003, playing against a run-and-gun opponent on a phone-card suspension-depleted team. In essence, this was Sheridan's career-high under normal circumstances; a defensive specialist, he had never scored more than 13 points in any other contest.

The victory was the fifth straight for Villanova, which is continuing its cruise into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats are now 9-5 Big East, 19-6 overall, and are assured of a winning record in conference play. With two games remaining, the 'Cats are now in the driver's seat for one of the five byes in the Big East tournament.

The loss was devastating for the Hoyas, who desperately needed a home victory over a ranked team to bolster their NCAA at-large hopes. Georgetown's RPI ranking is only 49 and their record fell to 8-6 Big East, 16-9 overall. The Hoyas will require a very strong showing in New York City to reach the NCAAs for the first time since 2001.

The victory avenged the most bitter loss of the season, the 66-64 loss the Hoyas dealt 'Nova on Jan. 15, the day the glorious 1985 national championship team was honored at the Pavilion - and they did it by the same score, by which Villanova defeated Georgetown in the national title game.

Villanova now trails the all-time series by a 34-25 margin, which dates back to 1922. However, with the decline of Georgetown's program in the 21st century, 'Nova has had more success against the Hoyas. Villanova has now won six of the last eight meetings.

Sheridan scored a season-high 14 points and grabbed nine boards in leading 'Nova to the victory. Kyle Lowry, once again pressed into service at the point due to the ankle injury to Mike Nardi, once again came up big. Lowry finished with a dozen points, five rebounds and seven assists. Allan Ray finished with 18 points, but struggled with his shot, finishing a dreadful 5-17 from the floor. Curtis Sumpter just missed a double-double with 11 points and nine boards.

It was important that four starters reach double figures, because Villanova received almost no help from the bench, effectively playing with only six players. The five starters played almost the entire game (all but 22 minutes). Jason Fraser came off the bench to score four points and add four rebounds in 16 minutes. No other bench player took a shot and they combined for only one rebound. All of this means that Mike Nardi's return would be quite welcome. (Reportedly, Nardi was available today if absolutely necessary, and may return against Seton Hall on Wednesday.)

For Georgetown, Brandon Bowman scored 22 points to lead the Hoyas, before he fouled out during garbage time in the final minute. Of more consequence, however, was that super-freshman Jeff Green was held to just five points, tying his season-low. Bowman was the only Hoya to reach double figures.

As usual, 'Nova won its victory in the Big East trenches. The Hoyas were limited to just 35% field-goal shooting, took only ten free throw attempts, and were flattened on the boards, 41-31. It was the main reason why the game didn't tighten until the last couple of minutes, and even then 'Nova wasn't seriously threatened. The Wildcats also walloped Georgetown on the specialty stats of second-chance points and points off turnovers, easily outpacing the Hoyas in both categories. 'Nova permitted just 17 Georgetown points in the first half and had little trouble thereafter. The Hoya starting backcourt of Ashanti Cook and Jonathan Wallace combined to shoot just 6-24 from the floor.

'Nova sprinted out to early leads of 18-7 and 27-11 and wound up the half up 29-17. The Hoyas briefly showed a pulse during garbage time, after trailing by double digits for much of the half. They trimmed the deficit to seven with 1:24 to go and to six with under a minute left, but it was really too late to affect the outcome, which was never seriously in doubt. Georgetown's offense, now headed by the Princeton disciple John Thompson III, is not designed to score points in bunches.

Understandably lost in the uproar over the St. Joseph's/Temple game on Tuesday, was the fact that Villanova claimed at least a share of the Big Five title with the Hawks' victory. The Wildcats, 3-1 in City Series play, were assured of at least a tie for the championship when Temple fell to 2-1. If La Salle defeats a John Chaney-less Temple team next week, Villanova will win the title outright at 3-1.

Poll Watch

The Wildcats' standings will improve in both polls when they are updated on Monday, thanks to victories over #3 Boston College and Georgetown. The Wildcats are currently ranked #23 in the Associated Press and #24 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. Of the teams closely ahead of them, both #18 Pittsburgh and #20 Wisconsin may go a-tumblin'. Pitt lost twice this week, and Wisconsin fell to #9 Michigan State. 'Nova will likely leapfrog both.

March Madness Monitor

The Wildcats' NCAA seeding, thanks to all of these victories, could range as high as #4-#5. Villanova's rating as of last Sunday was up to #18, and with two victories, including one over third-ranked Boston College, that ranking will continue to rise. will create a new bracket on Monday; it currently has 'Nova as a #7 seed facing Miami (OH) in Nashville. Joe Lunardi, the bracketologist for, currently places the Wildcats as a #7 seed facing #10 Georgia Tech in Nashville, but notes that the 'Cats' seed is "rising".

Of more immediate interest is the Wildcats' seeding for the upcoming Big East tournament. With St. John's on probation, all 11 other Big East teams will qualify for the Big East tournament, with the top five receiving byes. The Wildcats cannot mathematically finish among the top three teams. However, the Wildcats can assure themselves of no worse than the #4 seed - and hence a bye - by defeating Seton Hall and St. John's this week, two of the worst teams in the conference. They currently reside in fourth place, with a one-game lead over Pittsburgh, Georgetown, and Notre Dame, all 8-6. The Wildcats would win tiebreakers over Pitt and Georgetown but would lose one to the Irish.

The Wildcats will next face Seton Hall on Wednesday, Senior Night, at the Pavilion, and attempt to sweep the Pirates over a two-week span. 'Nova won at the Meadowlands, 66-52, on February 17.

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