Friday, March 03, 2006

#4 Villanova Bids Farewell to Memorable Class of 2006 on Senior Night at Pavilion, Sinking St. John's, 65-52

By Craig Dimitri

#4 Villanova bade farewell to one of its best senior classes ever on Wednesday night at the Pavilion.

The game itself was somewhat anticlimactic, given that the Red Storm has weakened and they were not really considered a major obstacle to Villanova’s drive for a regular-season title, a Big East tournament championship, and a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This basic assumption turned out to be true, as the Wildcats were never seriously threatened en route to a plodding, pedestrian 65-52 victory. Team defense was instrumental in the victory, as the Red Storm scored just 22 points in the second half. After the loss, St. John’s fell to 5-10 Big East, 12-14 overall, and it is still in doubt as to whether they will even qualify for the conference tournament. Without it, they have no way of crawling to .500 and the NIT bid that usually comes for any BE team at the break-even mark.

The most noteworthy aspect of the evening, of course, was the fact that it was Senior Night, and all the seniors started: Allan Ray and Randy Foye, as always, but also Jason Fraser, and the seldom-used Baker Dunleavy and Chris Charles.

Villanova improved to 13-2 Big East, 23-3 overall, and now has assured itself not only of a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament, but also of finishing no lower than the second seed. Thus, Villanova would await the winner of the #7/#10 game if it finished second – so in the first round, the worst case scenario is playing the 7th seed, an enviable position, of course.

The marquee seniors, as a matter of routine, drove the team’s offense – Foye had 21 points, and Ray had 15. Ray dispelled any major concerns about his knee injury suffered against UConn, with his performance (it had been announced earlier in the week that he had a sprained knee, and he wore a brace to protect it during this contest). However, the important story line tonight is that all 13 Wildcats saw action, which is obviously unusual. Moreover, seniors Charles and Dunleavy saw more than cameo action (Charles played 11 minutes and Dunleavy logged five), as well as Ross Condon, who got into the game in the final minute. Charles and Dunleavy each scored two points as well (Charles from the floor and Dunleavy from the foul line), delighting the crowd.

The Wildcats will play their regular-season finale at Syracuse on Sunday, marking the second consecutive Sunday that Villanova will be appearing on CBS. Hopefully, it will yield a more favorable outcome than last Sunday’s loss at UConn.

In the other major news story of the week, Wright and Curtis Sumpter held a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, officially announcing that the injured senior would opt to take a medical redshirt season this year, and return for a fifth season next year. Sumpter has not played since injuring his knee against Florida in the second round of the NCAA tournament last season, and he then suffered another knee injury in October 2005.

In my opinion, this was the absolutely correct decision for both Sumpter and the program. With the team’s two best players this season (Ray and Foye) departing (for what will likely be NBA careers), plus the loss of a key bench player in Jason Fraser, Villanova would have been thin next year if Sumpter were to lose his eligibility after this season. Instead, Villanova has the nucleus of another Top 10 team for 2006-07: Mike Nardi, Kyle Lowry, Will Sheridan, and a healthy, rested Sumpter (essentially, returning four battle-tested starters). That team would also have a legitimate chance at reaching the Final Four. It just seemed illogical that Sumpter would want to waste his final year of eligibility just to play in the 2006 tournament, when he could be the central player on another glorious run next season.

Moreover, while Sumpter’s return (other things being equal) would certainly be welcome, it must be said that the Wildcats simply don’t need him for the 2005-06 season. He hasn’t played a single minute, and the team is 23-3 and likely headed to a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The team has already gotten acclimated to playing the entire season around him – and they’ve turned in a record so stellar that it can hardly be improved upon. My speculation on what would happen by adding a wild card to the mix (especially a player that is rusty from not having played at all since the previous NCAA tournament): there really would be nowhere to go but down, since the season’s already been about as successful as even the most optimistic Villanova fan could have dreamed during the offseason.


Yasser Rahman said...

Great Blog you got there.. I noticed March madness . So your going to be busy blogging the fortunes of the team now ? :)

Yasser Rahman said...
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