The cannon roared, and the smell of gunpowder filled the air, and the Pirate ship gave the 'Nova battle cruiser an honorable challenge for one half. But eventually, 'Nova's superior firepower won the day, led by Randy Foye's career-high 27 points, decisively capsizing the Pirates, 79-58.
In doing so, #19 Villanova completed its Pavilion slate as Senior Night ceremonies were observed. Walk-on seniors Tom Grace and Ross Condon symbolically started for Villanova, and Grace finished with four minutes and Condon with two.
Foye had an incredible overall game. In addition to the 27 points on 11-15 shooting, he finished with six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Curtis Sumpter also played quite well, completing his night with 19 points and nine boards, and Allan Ray added 16 points. For Seton Hall, Kelly Whitney was the only player to reach double figures, finishing with a dozen points, four rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Donald Copeland managed to make just one of his 11 shots. Local product John Allen (from Chester County's Coatesville) played his final college game in the Philadelphia area. Allen finished with nine points and three assists in 27 minutes of action.
Of some concern was the lack of presence of two injured Wildcats. Jason Fraser, who played only 14 minutes and Mike Nardi played only nine; Fraser has chronic injuries while Nardi is recovering from a sprained ankle, which had kept him out of the two most recent games, against Boston College and Georgetown.
Seton Hall hates the Pavilion, as the Pirates haven't won there in over a decade. The Pirates have now lost seven straight games there, with the last victory coming on February 26, 1994. Nonetheless, Seton Hall has done almost as well on its home turf at the Meadowlands, and as a result, this is 'Nova's first regular-season two-game sweep over the Pirates since the 1994-95 season. On February 17, the Wildcats won at the Meadowlands for the first time since 1995, triumphing 66-52. Villanova has also now won three straight against Seton Hall, dating back to the 2004 Big East tournament. In addition, the game served as a milestone for 'Nova: it will be Villanova's first 20-win season since 2000.
The victory assured that 'Nova will have a first-round bye, as either the #4 or #5 seed in next week's Big East tournament, and will face either Pittsburgh or Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. Those two teams play on Saturday and the winner will take on 'Nova. The Wildcats, winners of six straight, now boast a 10-5 Big East record, 20-6 overall. Villanova would have to lose to woeful St. John's on Saturday AND have Notre Dame defeat Pittsburgh to avoid finishing #4. The Red Storm is ineligible for postseason play and the Big East tournament, and will probably just want to get the game in and go home.
Either way, 'Nova will be playing at 2 PM Thursday, in the #4/#5 clash, bypassing the battles on Wednesday for the first time in many, many years - since 1997, Villanova has always played in the opening round. If the Wildcats win, they would then play at 7 PM Friday night. (More about this below.)
Seton Hall fell to 3-12 Big East, 11-15 overall, and will be heading home unless it has a miraculous resuscitation and defeats four superior opponents in four days next week, which seems highly unlikely. Pirate Captain Louis Orr may be facing a mutiny, after the Pirates' rough seas this year. NorthJersey.com reports that a series of player suspensions have raised questions among "influential boosters" about the personal qualities of the players Orr has recruited, and while Orr still has backing at SHU, he's got some "fences to mend".
It was also cool that there will be no anticlimactic NIT games this year at the Pavilion. Senior Days and Nights have had this undercurrent of dread to them over the past several years, that the senior(s) will actually be back in a couple of weeks to play in person. This time, it won't happen, as 'Nova's NCAA bid is in the bank.
That didn't meant that tonight's game wasn't nerve-wracking for a while. Seton Hall took early 9-3 and 20-13 leads, and trailed by just 37-36 at halftime, shooting well over 60% from the floor in the early going. Fortunately, Villanova reasserted control over the game after intermission, blasting the Pirates into oblivion. The Wildcats won the second stanza by a resounding 42-22 margin. Seton Hall trailed just 43-42 at the 16:29 mark - and then simply stopped scoring. The Pirates managed only two points in a nine-minute span. Villanova zoomed out to a 67-44 lead (a 24-2 run) after Sumpter and Foye scored 12 straight points heading into the under-eight timeout. The rest was history.
Big East Tournament Notes
A quick sketch of Big East tie-breaking procedures: the conference is a bit unusual in that after head-to-head competition, the next tiebreaker is NOT points scored against that opponent, but record against the highest-ranked teams. Villanova's potential tie-breaker scenarios:
vs. Pittsburgh: Villanova wins tiebreaker thanks to victory in sole meeting.
vs. Notre Dame:
First, it is important to note that this tiebreaker has turned out to be of literally no importance. If Notre Dame wins Saturday and 'Nova loses to St. John's, even if it turns out that ND wins a tiebreaker, the only consequence would be that 'Nova wears blue uniforms in Thursday's game instead of white.
Nonetheless, while this is difficult to determine, I think - after crunching the numbers for a while - if Notre Dame beats Pittsburgh on March 5, and 'Nova falls to St. John's, ND would win the tiebreaker. VU and ND split their regular season games. Going through the conference, the rule basically states that if you have an uneven number of games against an opponent, you don't get credit for it. (I.e., Notre Dame went 1-1 against BC while 'Nova went 1-0, but it's not ND's fault they had to play them twice.) So it doesn't count. Both teams have a loss to Connecticut and Syracuse. Then each other. The next team would be Pittsburgh, probably. Villanova beat the Panthers and ND has already lost to them once. If Pitt wins on Saturday, ND would be 0-2 against them while Villanova is 1-0, thus breaking the tie in 'Nova's favor. But it wouldn't matter because if that happened, there would be no tie with Notre Dame. If ND beats Pitt, it gets even tougher because neither records against Georgetown nor West Virginia would break the tie, either. You go all the way through the conference and there's no advantage for either team.
The rule then states that you DO get credit for winning percentage if that scenario occurs. Since ND has a 1-0 record against BC, and 'Nova is 1-1, and a 1-1 record against Connecticut, while 'Nova is 0-1, ND would hence win the tiebreaker. (If I didn't figure this correctly, feel free to point it out.)
Let's just hope 'Nova wins - as expected - against St. John's and renders the issue moot.
Thanks to the victory over then-#3 Boston College, Villanova made a quantum leap in the Associated Press poll, jumping all the way to #19 in Monday's poll, up four spots from #23. It was 'Nova's fifth consecutive week in the poll. Villanova jumped over Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oklahoma in doing so. (Leapfrogging Oklahoma was quite impressive. The Sooners were ranked #22 to 'Nova's #23 last week. Oklahoma upset Kansas and then annihilated Baylor by 43 points, and STILL lost ground to the Wildcats. They only moved from #22 to #20, and are now looking up at 'Nova.)
In the ESPN/USA Today poll, Villanova has moved from #24 to #22, surpassing both Pittsburgh and Wisconsin to advance two rungs on the ladder.
March Madness Monitor - CollegeRPI.com's Jerry Palm on Villanova's Prospects
Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com now has 'Nova as a #5 seed, up from a #7 in his Feb. 14 projection, and has the Wildcats facing #12 Holy Cross in Tucson, Ariz. (Unfortunately, he also has unbeaten #1 Illinois in that bracket, whom Villanova would face in the Sweet 16.) He also pegs 'Nova's RPI rating at 13, the highest it has been in many years.
Palm has graciously agreed to share his views on Villanova's potential NCAA seeding; he is widely regarded as the top national expert in bracketology. And he has good news for Villanova fans. When asked for his analysis of Villanova's status, Palm replied, "I see 'Nova as a top 25 seed right now, which means, say, a 6-7. Of course, there's still a lot of ball to go, and the seeds in the middle of the bracket are the most fluid." However, Palm also indicated that it's too early to begin wondering about a potential first-round draw: "I'd rather not speculate on a first round opponent. Too much ball left to be played." (More of Palm's analysis of 'Nova's NCAA destiny will appear in my recap of Saturday's game against St. John's.)
The Wildcats will play their regular-season finale against St. John's on Saturday in New York, and then turn their attention to the Big East tournament, which opens on Wednesday.