Saturday, March 19, 2005

Villanova in the NCAA Tournament - First Round - PART II - Lobos In Sheep's Clothing

To the Wildcat faithful-

Here's Part II...

In the second half, Villanova made only three baskets on 23 shots (13%) and missed all 10 three-pointers it attempted, and lost the half 36-21, committing a dozen turnovers. The Lobos fortunately only went 4-16 from beyond the arc, or else it would have been considerably more terrifying down the stretch.

Villanova still had the game comfortably in hand as late as the under-eight TV timeout, cruising with a 19-point, 42-23 advantage with 7:59 to go. Time to start preparing for Florida, maybe give the bench players a little more time, get Lowry out of the game and rested.

Then the wolves began to circle, and the sheep disguises disappeared. In just over four minutes, the Lobos bayed at the moon, rallying their pack for one of the most stunning comebacks I've ever seen, albeit one which was ultimately fruitless. In the next 3:09, New Mexico went on a 13-2 run, pulling to within 44-36 on Alfred Neale's three, bringing Jay Wright to call for a halt to the proceedings (which frankly was long overdue).

The Wildcats appeared to have stopped the comeback cold at 1:23, when Lowry made a pair of free throws to push the lead back to 52-42. But 'Nova then began crumbling at the foul line. It wasn't over, and the Lobos actually got the deficit down to just five in the final minute of play.

New Mexico was kept alive by the fact that Mike Nardi, Curtis Sumpter, and Allan Ray combined to miss FIVE consecutive free throws in the final minute, before Ray made his second to boost the lead to 53-47 with 26 seconds left, after But everyone was sweating. In Jake Nevin, where I watched the game, it was a silent as a tomb, other than low groans when each missed free throw clanged off the rim. Nobody, least of all the Wildcats, relaxed until Nardi iced it by making two with 16 seconds left to push it to 55-47, the final score.

It was official: Villanova Victory. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief that the Wildcats had been spared the embarrassment of coughing up a 23-point second-half lead.

Let's look at the numbers:

Team as a Whole

The Wildcats' key to victory, aside from allowing only 11 points in the first half, was clobbering the Lobos on the boards, grabbing every loose ball for a 51-37 advantage. However, this was reduced by shooting a miserable 28% both from the floor and beyond the arc, as well as committing 20 turnovers. Since all the missed free throws came down the stretch, the numbers were surprisingly good (17-24, 71%).

The Wildcats also were outstanding at the defensive end, hounding the Lobos into 29.8% shooting, including 17% from beyond the arc (4-25) and 17 turnovers. It was the first time New Mexico's potent offense had been held below 30% in five seasons, since March 9, 2000 at BYU.


Sheridan: Described above.

Sumpter/Ray: As noted above, both had horrible days. Sumpter mitigated his a little bit by grabbed a team-high dozen rebounds.

Foye/Nardi: Both stepped up and had good statistical performances, combining for four steals, six assists and a blocked shot.


Kyle Lowry: Despite being hobbled by a stomach virus, he came off the bench for 20 minutes. Lowry had eight points, five rebounds, three steals and an assist. Had he not been available, 'Nova might easily have lost.

Jason Fraser: The Lobos were small and so Fraser wasn't needed as much, playing only 14 minutes (two points, four boards).

Marcus Austin: The Big Dog played against the Lobos for three minutes, scoring one basket and collecting one rebound.

Breaking Down the Lobos

Only two of McKay's seven-man rotation reached double figures: Granger and point guard Mark Walters.

Better than Advertised: Walters. He had 14 points, six boards, two assists and a steal, while four fouls limited him to 31 minutes.

Worse than Advertised: sharpshooter Troy DeVries, the best shooter in the Mountain West Conference. DeVries missed all seven three-point attempts, finishing with just two points and committing three turnovers.

Some other notes:

Just noticed that the Mountain West logo has purple trim, which is appropriate given the "purple mountain majesty' immortalized in the classic song "America the Beautiful." Villanova doesn't face Mountain West teams all that often: it hadn't faced a school which is now a member of the conference since 1990. The only times 'Nova had faced its members, respectively, prior to Friday:

Air Force: Never Brigham Young: 1951, 1970, 1984 Colorado State: 1965 UNLV: 1985 Utah: 1951, 1963 San Diego State: 1982, 1989, 1990 Wyoming: 1955, 1968

Some positives to take away:

It was Villanova's lowest point output in a NCAA victory, since defeating Princeton, 50-48, in the first round of the 1991 tournament. (It should be noted that Princeton very well could have won that game, running a brilliant set play to draw a foul while attempting to inbound the ball. Trailing and having to inbound under its own basket at the end, the Princeton player ran along the end line, to inbound the ball. When the Wildcat guarding him raced to keep up, without looking where he was going, he utterly bulldozed the Tiger whom coach Pete Carrill had cleverly planted there, explicitly to take a charge. But the official blew the call and failed to whistle the foul, dooming the Tigers to defeat.)

It was Villanova's first NCAA victory since 1997, when Tim Thomas, Alvin Williams, and Jason Lawson led #4 Villanova to a 101-91 victory over odious #13 Long Island, 101-91, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The 47 Lobos points were the fewest surrendered by Villanova to a NCAA opponent, since yielding just 43 to Maryland in the Sweet 16 in 1985, winning 46-43. (In the shot clock era, which began the following year, the previous low had been the 48 yielded to Princeton.)

Bottom line - a win's a win. All that matters is that the tournament field has now been reduced to 32 teams. 32 teams still have a chance, however slim, for immortal glory with a national championship, and Villanova is still one of them.

My own personal perspective

I watched the game with approximately 100 people in Jake Nevin Field House on the big screen, in front of the stage. Phil Andrews from WPVI (6-ABC) was also there, with a cameraman, and "Action News" ran a couple of Andrews' interviews with students on its 6 PM newscast. The AV people did a great job in cranking up the sound (you haven't truly lived until you've heard Bill Raftery's baritone reverberate throughout Jake Nevin - "Send it in, big fella!")

Some reactions from fans: One woman sitting behind me, who requested not to be identified, described the game brightly and succinctly, with a smile: "You can quote me - Ugly with a Capital U." After the game was safely over, freshman Kelly Fromuth, from Landenburg in Chester County, described the suddenly-tight game as "stressful at the end. New Mexico did a good job." Fromuth's confidence for the next game was not diminished by the second-half collapse - when asked if 'Nova would beat Florida on Sunday, she replied: "Yes, we're going to win." Junior Matt DePont, an economics major from Annapolis, Md., spoke highly of the mood on campus this week. According to DePont, "the campus has been buzzing, people have been checking scores during classes. Lots of people are talking about skipping classes and going to Nashville." DePont is part of the new generation of Villanova fans: students from outside the Philadelphia metropolitan area, who didn't experience the mid-1990s NCAA setbacks and who approach this year's Wildcats without the cynicism of the older fans. Their optimism is refreshing.

"Five Good Minutes" with .... Phil Andrews of 6-ABC (WPVI)

Andrews is one of the best-known sports anchors in Philadelphia, at perennial ratings champion "Action News" on the ABC affiliate, WPVI. At the event to chat with students for coverage on the 6 PM broadcast, Andrews was gracious enough to have a brief, off-camera conversation with me at halftime, on Villanova, and the Philadelphia media. I had never met him before, but judging from today's conversation, he's very personable and a nice guy. His observations are not verbatim, as I didn't have a recorder with me, but here's the gist of what he said, paraphrased:

On Villanova's prospects:

"I think Villanova is a team that can reach the final [Four]. Wins over Kansas, Boston College."

On the first half of Villanova/New Mexico (remember, this is back when it appeared that victory was a foregone conclusion :)

Andrews was quite high on Villanova's prospects, remarking, "This game really helps them a lot. It gets rid of the jitters, especially for a team with players that have never been there before." "Villanova is getting EVERY rebound and EVERY loose ball. New Mexico, when they're shooting, all their other guys are just standing there."

On the alleged bias against Villanova in the Philadelphia media (I carefully phrased this question, accurately noting that I don't personally believe this is true, but many of our posters do.)

Andrews strongly disagreed with the assertion, that the Philadelphia media is biased against Villanova. "Everyone I know roots for ALL the teams to win, wants to see ALL of them do well." Nor did he give much credence to lingering animosity over the ruptured, since repaired, City Series from the Rollie era (1991). "Some of the older people may feel that way, but I don't think it's widespread. And that still doesn't mean they wouldn't want Villanova to succeed."

On the issue of the Eagles stealing Villanova's thunder this season, and why football dominates sports coverage in Philadelphia:

Three reasons, Andrews feels. First, that "Philadelphia is a blue-collar town and they identify with football." Second, "The Eagles are a 365-day a year story in Philadelphia. Outside of their seasons, nobody wants to talk about the other teams. When Villanova's not playing, nobody wants to talk about them. When the Phillies aren't playing, same thing. When the Sixers aren't playing, same thing." Finally, "The Eagles are universal. Philadelphia is a college basketball hotbed, but the fan base is divided six ways. The college teams don't have THAT strong an appeal, outside of their own students and alumni."

Historical Note: Vasco da Gama

Lundquist and Raftery told an amusing story about the size of the Wildcats' Nashville resort hotel, so large that maps have to be issued to help guests navigate its scope. Apparently, Jay Wright himself got lost in the hotel while trying to find a meeting room he had announced for a 9 AM team breakfast on Thursday morning. While roaming the hotel, he bumped into an equally befuddled Kyle Lowry - who had enough problems already with the stomach flu - and Lowry pleaded that he couldn't find the room, coach. Wright facetiously demanded in mock-anger, "I was wondering where YOU were." Raftery observed, reflecting his fine La Salle education: "Well, Vasco da Gama, he's not. But he's a good coach." I laughed at that, having never dreamed in a million years that the name of the great turn-of-the-16th-century Portuguese explorer of the Age of Discovery, would ever be mentioned during CBS' coverage of the NCAA tournament. (They must learn a lot about Explorers at La Salle :), or that Jay Wright would ever be compared to him.

Unfortunately, since some Americans probably thought da Gama is the latest hot coach at a mid-major being groomed for an ACC slot, or the latest top 6-9 prospect out of Oak Hill Academy- and since there probably wouldn't be a NCAA tournament if it weren't for Da Gama, a quick sketch to explain Raftery's witticism:

Admiral Dom Vasco da Gama was born in Portugal around 1469, and died in India in 1521. He is still remembered 500 years later, because he was the first European to sail from Europe via the open ocean, to the wealthy trade areas of India, instead of snaking through the Mediterranean and rivers to get there. India had peppers and spices, which were among the most valuable commodities in Europe at the time, due to the absence of refrigeration. Prior to the voyage, it wasn't understood that you could reach India from Europe by sailing around the bottom of Africa; it was assumed that the Indian Ocean wasn't connected to any others.

In 1497, five years after Columbus' voyage to America, Da Gama forced the revision of this belief, by sailing from Portugal around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and onward to India. His legacy was to shift the focus of international trade routes and power from the Mediterranean states such as Venice, to the Atlantic states like Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and England. Among the historical consequences which flowed from this, was the rise of the British Empire due to trade, including the founding of English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. And thus - and of only slightly less consequence - the invention of basketball by Dr. James Naismith in Massachusetts and the creation of the NCAA tournament. And Raftery is correct - da Gama probably wouldn't have had too much trouble with the hotel in Nashville... (But could da Gama teach how to break a press? Or recruit effectively in the 21st century? :)

I'll break down Florida the rest of Saturday, and the preview will be posted as soon as possible...

Back to Part I...

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