Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Ultimate #1 Villanova/#16 Monmouth Preview, 2:50 PM Friday, 3/17/2006, Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, CBS

The Viewpoint on the Monmouth Hawks

By Craig Dimitri

Villanova, as we know, sits on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia, but Monmouth University, located just off the beach in the town of West Long Branch, in Monmouth County, New Jersey, is just 82 miles away from Philadelphia.

Were one to travel from Villanova to Monmouth, it would take about an hour and a half to cover the 91 miles between the campuses, according to And most of it is highway – I-195 and the Garden State Parkway. And so perhaps the NCAA Selection Committee decided to reward the Hawks for their fine play this year, by assigning Monmouth a site where its thousand or so fans lucky enough to obtain tickets, could travel there very easily.

Obviously, it would be one of the greatest – and from a Villanova standpoint, the most infamous- games in the 67 year history of the tournament, if Monmouth somehow defeated Villanova at 2:20 PM Friday afternoon- in Philadelphia, no less.

The Northeast Conference champion has never won a first-round tournament game, against 24 losses. Monmouth’s play-in victory over Hampton was only the second time that any NEC team had won any NCAA game, play-in or otherwise. The only other NEC team to even win a play-in game was Robert Morris in 1983.

Monmouth’s triumph over Hampton was also a milestone in school history, which has been Division I for just over two decades. It was the first victory for the school in the NCAA tournament, including play-in games. It had previously lost true first-round games to Marquette in 1996, to Duke (the eventual winner) in 2001, and to Mississippi State in 2004.

Of course, Villanova fans never take any NCAA opponent lightly. It is not far from the Villanova faithful’s minds, that notorious St. Patrick’s Day in 1995, when the Kerry Kittles-led squad (red-hot and everyone’s trendy pick to reach the Final Four) fell to #14-seed Old Dominion and Petey Sessoms in triple OT. It took a decade – until last year’s Sweet 16 run – to lift the malaise that had descended on the Main Line, after the ODU fiasco.

Actually, this loss would be exponentially worse than the ODU game. That game wasn’t in Philadelphia, it was a #3/#14 contest as opposed to #1/#16, and ODU hadn’t had to play another team in Dayton on Tuesday and then travel. So, on those terms, it would be the worst loss in Villanova’s illustrious 86 seasons of intercollegiate competition. (So let’s REALLY hope it doesn’t happen!)

So here’s a comprehensive look at the Monmouth Hawks (and unlike the Hawks from City Avenue, these Hawks are blue and white…)

Coach and Context

Dave Calloway (Monmouth, 1991)

(Note: Geoff Billet, whom we all remember as a star at Rutgers in the late ‘90s, is an assistant coach at Monmouth.)

Although this is now his ninth season coaching in West Long Branch, Calloway is only 37. When he was hired at his alma mater for the 1997-98 season, he was only 28 and a rising star in the coaching ranks. He’s had a lot of success recently, as this is Monmouth’s third NCAA bid under his leadership. And in a one-bid conference like the Northeast, going three times in nine years is not an easy accomplishment.

Calloway’s alma mater wisely showed patience, when the former player returned to the Hawks’ nest. The three NCAA bids came eventually – but his first two seasons had been disasters; according to the Courier-Journal article, he won just nine of his first 45 games, a winning percentage of .200.

But Monmouth stayed the course, and they are now savoring the rewards – three bids.

2005-06 Season

This year, the Hawks will be making their second NCAA appearance in three seasons. In the 2004 tournament, Monmouth was shelled by Mississippi State, 85-52. Obviously, they will be hoping for better luck this time.

However, in mid-December, it seemed extraordinarily unlikely that the Monmouth Hawks would be returning to the NCAA tournament. On December 12, the Hawks fell on a visit to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, and their record also fell to a dismal 1-7.

It should be noted, though, that the Monmouth’s 1-7 included some unusually stiff competition for a Northeast Conference school. In November, they lost their opener @ San Francisco. Afterwards, Monmouth traveled to the Top of the World Classic in Alaska, where they faced Southern Illinois, South Carolina, and Oral Roberts. SIU and Oral Roberts subsequently reached the NCAA tournament, while South Carolina missed it by a single game, falling in the SEC tournament final to Florida.

And the Hawks acquitted themselves quite well, against such formidable competition. Monmouth solidly defeated SIU, winning by a dozen points. They then fought hard against both South Carolina and Oral Roberts, giving up an identical 62 points in each, while scoring 56 and 54, respectively – so the games were close. Monmouth returned to New Jersey with the idea that despite a 1-3 record, a Northeast Conference title was not out of reach.

Surprisingly, traveling through New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, the Hawks were unable to replicate their Alaska performances. In succession, Monmouth lost to Rider at home, then @ St. Peter’s, @ Seton Hall, and @ Lehigh – and thus they were 1-7. The rest of the season did not look promising.

Things turned around, however. The most memorable game of the season came against in-state rival Princeton – at Jadwyn Gymnasium, the Hawks triumphed, 41-21, in a game that seemed to have emerged from the pre-shot-clock, pre-three-point-line 1980s. They continued that momentum, defeating visiting Sacred Heart in their NEC opener. The Hawks followed it up by winning a nonconference game @ Hartford. From 1-7, to 4-7. They capped off 2005 with a New Year’s Eve loss to Bruiser Flint’s Drexel squad, falling to the visiting Dragons, 53-49.

4-8 isn’t great, by any stretch of the imagination – but it was the Northeast Conference, and anything could happen.

The Hawks rocketed out to a great start in the NEC, winning four of their next five NEC contests: @ St. Francis (NY), a home loss to Robert Morris, a narrow two-point win over visiting St. Francis (PA), then @ Central Connecticut State and @ Quinnipiac. (Note: showing that the basketball gods have a sense of humor, there is in fact both a St. Francis – New York and a St. Francis – Pennsylvania in the same conference. The PA St. Francis, located in rural Loreto, has one of the best nicknames in the sport: the Red Flashes.)

So after winning @ Quinnipiac on January 14, the once 1-7 Hawks were now 5-1 NEC, 8-9 overall, and very much in the hunt for the NEC’s automatic bid.

Monmouth then stumbled a bit, losing two of its next three – losing at home to Mt. St. Mary’s, completing the season sweep of Quinnipiac, and then being swept by Robert Morris. After the road loss to the latter, the Hawks were back down to 6-3 NEC, 9-11 overall.

But then the situation reversed itself, and the Hawks started soaring again, capturing four of their next five. They completed sweeps of St. Francis (PA) and Central Connecticut State; faced Wagner twice in eight days, and swept them, with the only loss coming to LIU-Brooklyn.

(Note: In 1996-97, the 4th-seeded Wildcats defeated #13 seed LIU in the NCAA first round at Wake Forest’s Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., the first NCAA tournament game ever attended by the author. The final score was 101-91, but ‘Nova was in control throughout. That was known in retrospect as the “Tim Thomas year”, when the freshman joined Alvin Williams and Jason Lawson, but regrettably falling to #5 California two days later. Cal’s Tony Gonzalez, who went on to a distinguished career as a tight end with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, thoroughly outdueled Thomas in the latter game.)

Thus, on Feb. 13, after defeating Wagner for the second time, the Hawks now perched at 10-4 NEC, 13-12 overall. Of the four remaining NEC regular season games, there loomed an enormous home-and-home series with the first-place squad, Fairleigh Dickinson; the Hawks and Knights would battle twice in eight days, including the regular-season finale.

The Hawks stumbled in the return game with Mt. St. Mary’s, as legendary Jim Phelan’s former squad swept the Hawks. But on Feb. 20, Monmouth stopped visiting FDU, 96-89, and then finished up a sweep of visiting St. Francis (NY). The Hawks were now 12-5 NEC, 15-13 overall.

When Monmouth traveled to FDU for the season finale on Feb. 27, it was the biggest game of the season. The Hawks held their destiny in their own talons, so to speak. Should they defeat FDU, they would be the top seed in the NEC tournament. However, this was not just a matter of bragging rights, as it is for a major-conference tournament – or even for the slight advantage of being the #1 seed, as opposed to #2 or #3. For the NEC tournament, every game would be held at the home floor of the higher seed (NFL-style). Thus, if Monmouth could top FDU on the road, the Hawks were assured of home-court advantage throughout the tournament.

Of course the Knights already had assured themselves of a share of the regular-season title, at 13-4. Tied for second, one game behind, were both Monmouth and Central Connecticut State, each sporting 12-5 records. Central Connecticut State was playing its finale @ Quinnipiac. If the Hawks triumphed, they were guaranteed at least a third of the regular-season title, regardless of what CCSU did; if CCSU won, the Hawks would get half the title. However, most importantly, Monmouth was guaranteed the top seed in the NEC tournament with a victory @ FDU, regardless of what CCSU did. If Monmouth won, they would be 13-5, tied with FDU and possibly CCSU. In that case, Monmouth would win tiebreakers over both opponents, since Monmouth had swept both FDU and CCSU in the regular season. Thus, Monmouth could enjoy not only the competitive advantage of being the top seed, but the right to play all of its games at home.

So on February 27, the Monmouth/FDU showdown came – but the host Knights knocked off Monmouth, pounding the Hawks and emerging with a 17-point victory. To make matters worse, the Blue Devils of CCSU won their finale – and thus vaulted ahead of Monmouth. FDU took the regular-season title (and top seed) outright, at 14-4. CCSU finished second at 13-5, with Monmouth third at 12-6. Heading into the NEC tournament, the Hawks also stood at a respectable 15-14 overall.

As the #3 seed, they hosted #6 LIU and defeated them in the quarterfinals, and then traveled to #2 CCSU. The Hawks defeated the Blue Devils for the third time, setting up Round 3 with top-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson – on the Knights’ home floor.

Of course, Monmouth pulled off the upset of FDU, as we all know, winning 49-48 in front of ESPN’s cameras on March 7.

The Play-In Game

The play-in game is inherently unjust, in my view. It recurs periodically throughout Marches, depending on the constant fluctuation of conference alliances. The NCAA – for whatever reason – won’t permit more than 30 automatic bids to be issued. Back in the mid-to-late ‘90s, the disappearance of conferences like the Southwest was able to push the number of automatic bids down to 30 or below, thus temporarily abolishing the play-in game. However, now that it sits at 31 once again, the NCAA feels compelled to take the two worst teams, and make them play each other. Then they must travel and get prepared to play a #1 seed, often at a geographic site that drastically favors that #1 seed (as is the case this season.)

(Note: This is sometimes known as a “pigtail game”, due to the fact that it extends off one of the four brackets, like a pig tail. The brackets are very neat and elegant, except for the play-in game bracket, hanging off the region to which it is attached – hence “pigtail game”.)

About the only upside to the play-in game, I imagine, is that it does give the little schools who participate a chance – albeit a temporary one – to play a NCAA tournament game against an opponent of their own caliber. Both teams have a legitimate chance to win on the neutral court at Dayton (the permanent site of the play-in game, due to the rabid basketball passion of the denizens of Dayton). And so it’s a chance for them to have some fun. They get to have ESPN televise the contest (obviously, these schools will generally only be on ESPN in holiday tournaments or in the finals of their conference tourneys) and that helps their program’s exposure (TV is everything when it comes to recruiting).

This final point is more of a rationalization, but nonetheless: it does make it more difficult for the #1 seed to prepare, since it won’t know until Tuesday night which of the two teams they’ll be playing on Friday (a disadvantage not shared by the other 62 teams in the tournament, who all know the identity of their Thursday/Friday opponent the instant CBS unveils the bracket. However, if they were to be asked for a candid reply, most top seeds would be more than happy to wait until Tuesday evening to learn which of the two they’ll be playing. The tradeoff for the #1 seed is the advantage gained by the fact that the little school will have to travel to Dayton, play on Tuesday, and then hop on a plane and travel to the next site, and spend less than three days preparing for the top-seeded opponent (as opposed to the four or five days the other #16 seeds have to prepare to defeat the top-seeded teams.)

So let’s look at the Tuesday night play-in game:

Monmouth had no trouble at all, flattening Hampton 71-49, after racing out to a 35-20 advantage at the break.

The Hawks (now 19-14 overall) played their trademark stifling defense, holding Hampton to under 50 points, the third straight contest in which a Monmouth opponent was restricted to under the half-century mark. Hampton (whose season ended at 16-16) shot a dreadful 19-63 (30%) from the floor, and just 4-13 (27%) from beyond the arc. Most impressively, the Hawks swatted 10 Hampton shots (with five coming from John Bunch off the bench). Jaz Cowan was Hampton’s leading player, scoring 14 points and just missing a double-double with nine rebounds.

Monmouth coach Dave Calloway – to his credit – acknowledged that Monmouth had a very unfair advantage. The Hawks hadn’t played since Wednesday, March 8, the day they knocked out FDU – giving them almost a week to rest. In contrast, Hampton didn’t even win its MEAC championship until Saturday evening, its fourth game in four days – and then had to travel to Dayton and play once more on Tuesday. An excellent critique of the injustice of the play-in game can be found at

Probably the most striking statistic from the box score, is what ESPN analyst Steve Lavin (the former coach at UCLA) described as “the thrill of the pass”. Monmouth plays a Princeton-style offense, with skilled ball movement, and so the Hawks had 27 field goals – and 21 assists. A high ratio of field goals to assists is the hallmark of an unselfish, well-coached team in the Princeton style, where the emphasis is on interchangeable parts, players who can readily shift from one position to another.

Another indicator of the Princeton style is a low number of trips to the foul line. Fouls tend to be generated by driving to the hoop and feeding the low post, neither of which Monmouth does much. In contrast, the Princeton offense is designed to free up players for back-door, bounce-pass, easy baskets, as well as unguarded shots out on the perimeter – none of which are likely to trigger trips to the foul line. As a team, Monmouth took only nine free throws, making seven. And center John Bunch, the only Hawk to spend a lot of time in the low post, unsurprisingly went 3-3 from the line – so the rest of the team went just 4-6 of the line. Putting it another way – there are 200 minutes in each game. Bunch played just over 10% of the minutes (21), but took 33% of the team’s free throws.

Analyzing Monmouth’s starters, in the victory over Hampton:

For Hampton, Chris Kenny – the hero of the NEC championship against FDU – scored a game-high 20 points on 7-14 shooting, including a stellar 6-9 from beyond the arc (all but one of his seven field goals were triples), while playing only 32 minutes (once the game was well in hand, Calloway probably decided to rest him a bit).

Forward Dejan Delic was the second-leading scorer for Monmouth, logging 27 minutes, finishing with 14 points and a pair of rebounds.

Point guard Tyler Azzarelli played only 28 minutes, scoring four points but dealing nine assists against just three turnovers.

Marques Alston (a name which was easily confused with former Wildcat Marcus Austin, who was on the team when Monmouth visited the Pavilion in December 2004) finished a strong all-around game with seven points, eight boards, six assists, and two blocks in just 31 minutes.

Corey Hallett, who started at forward, played just 14 minutes and had little impact, finishing with two points and three rebounds.

Off the bench:

The Hawks benefited from 24 bench points as well, notably from John Bunch, who contributed seven points and six rebounds (plus his five blocks) in just 21 minutes of action. M Shipman also came off the bench to score 11 points in just 20 minutes, on 5-9 shooting. (It seems apparent, after Villanova received two bench points against Pitt in the Big East semifinals, Monmouth is going to receive more help from its reserve troops than the Wildcats will).

The Viewpoint on the Hawks, In General

Coach Dave Calloway goes deep into his bench, considerably deeper than Villanova does, in fact. Nine Hawks play on a semi-regular basis. The balance is reflected in the fact that nine different players average at least 11 minutes/game – but every player on the roster plays less than 30 minutes/game. This deep bench – full of largely interchangeable parts – makes them difficult for opponents to wear down or sink into foul trouble.


#3 Guard – Tyler Azzarelli – 6-1 Senior

Azzarelli runs the point and is the keystone of the offense. His role is not to score (he averages just under nine points/game), but to keep the Monmouth offense well-oiled and mistake-free. His assist-to-turnover ratio is 1.9-1, an outstanding figure.

However, Azzarelli’s importance can be inferred by looking at the Monmouth assist-to-turnover ratio as a team. Monmouth – surprisingly for a team with their slow tempo – commits a surprisingly high number of turnovers, averaging nearly 15 a contest. Since Azzarelli himself averages less than two miscues a contest, it means that all of the other Hawks are turnover-prone, and so when Azzarelli is not on the floor, it is a golden opportunity for Villanova.

Surprisingly for a point guard in such a fundamentally sound system, Azzarelli has been a poor free throw shooter this season, converting just 60% of his attempts.

#35 Guard – Chris Kenny – 6-3 Senior

Kenny was the hero in the NEC championship game against FDU. Overall, he is one of Monmouth’s two perimeter weapons, with Delic being the other. Kenny is not, quantitatively speaking, a particularly accurate shooter from beyond the arc (he averages only 33%) but he has developed a reputation as the go-to player at crunch time. He also is a fine foul shooter, as his 78.1% at the line is tops on the team.

#23 Forward – Marques Alston – 6-4 Junior

As I noted in the December 2004 regular-season game story on VU/MU, Marques Alston’s name is remarkably similar to former Wildcats player Marcus Austin, who graduated in 2005. (Say them both quickly, and you’ll see.)

Alston is arguably Monmouth’s most important player. In the NEC title game, his double-double (14 points/10 rebounds) was instrumental in Monmouth’s triumph. He also has been heating up of late, reaching double figures in nine of the last 11 contests (and one was the play-in contest against Hampton, when he wasn’t needed as badly). Alston leads the team in points scored, rebounds, field goals, free throws (made and attempted) and tied for first with Delic for field goals attempted.

#1 Forward – Dejan Delic – 6-6 Junior

A native of Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, Delic leads the team in scoring average, at just over a dozen points/game. He also is the team’s leading perimeter threat, leading the team in triples with 64. Like Kenny, he isn’t especially accurate (he shoots only 33% as well), but he takes a lot of shots on the outside. At 6-6, he probably will be guarded by Big East Player of the Year Randy Foye, who can sky like a forward at 6-4.

#55 Center – John Bunch – 7-2, 320 lbs - Junior

Bunch is the most interesting Hawk, both due to his personal story and the problems he might cause for ‘Nova on Friday. Bunch has swatted 73 shots this season, an incredible figure for a player who plays only about half the time, and here we’ll explore why.

I must credit the Courier-News article, to which I have previously referred, for this one player’s astonishing path to reach the opening steps on the Road to the Final Four….

Bunch will be appearing on CBS this Friday, causing headaches for Jay Wright, solely because of the fact that the wife of a Division III head coach opted to see the 2002 animated film Ice Age…. That’s a fact.

How did such a turn of events take place?

The coach of Lincoln University (Pa.), a Division III program, is Robert Byars. One day, Mrs. Byars decided to head to the local movie theatre to catch Ice Age. While she was there – being the spouse of a basketball coach – she could not help but notice the 7-2 guy working at the theater. She informed her husband-coach, who decided to recruit Bunch for Lincoln. He found himself as the new center at the Division III program. Bunch subsequently transferred to Monmouth, and started playing this season, as a junior.

Bunch didn’t play much earlier in the season, but he found himself with more and more minutes as it progressed. (MU is only 3-6 when Bunch doesn’t play, 15-8 otherwise.) He averages 8.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per contest, and those numbers are exceptional, when one considers how few minutes he averages (less than 21 per game). Bunch is eighth on the team in minutes played, but he’s second on the team in rebounds. And when it comes to blocking shots – Bunch has 73 blocks, while the entire rest of the team has 47. And he’s a part-time player.

Obviously, it can be anticipated that Bunch is probably going to see more than 21 minutes against Villanova on Friday. Will Sheridan will be at a considerable size disadvantage facing a 7-2 (and wide) player. Moreover, Bunch can strike at Villanova’s central weakness – depth in the low post. Jason Fraser’s availability may be nil; Wright has stated publicly that they are saving Fraser for one last finale in the NCAA tournament, and would prefer not to have to use him in the Monmouth game. The most important thing for Villanova is that Sheridan not fall into foul trouble, because it would be difficult to contain Bunch without him. However, Bunch is a terrible foul shooter (52%), and if the game stays close, that could be a factor.

The Rest of the Rotation

#5 Guard Whitney Coleman – 6-2 – Freshman

Coleman plays a lot (27.6 minutes/game), and is Monmouth’s best perimeter shooter, when he gets the opportunity (45% from beyond the arc). His biggest weakness is that he’s turnover-prone (2.2/game, second-worst on the team).

#10 Guard Mike Shipman – 6-1 – Freshman

Monmouth’s backup point guard is the seventh Hawk to average over 20 minutes per contest, Shipman averages over two assists/game, good numbers in light of his minutes.

#13 Corey Hallett – 6-10 – Junior
#34 Brent Wilson – 6-8 – Senior

Hallett and Wilson are both forwards. Hallett is bigger, plays more often, and scores more points. Wilson is a junior-college transfer brought in for some size off the bench, but he’s the ninth of the nine-man rotation. An extra big body for Calloway.

Final Roster Note: freshman center Shawn Barlow won’t play much, but he is from St. Augustine’s in New Jersey, the alma mater of former Wildcats Brian Lynch and Andrew Sullivan.

Series History

Villanova has won all four contests against Monmouth. In what hopefully is a good omen, one of the four meetings came during the 1984-85 season, which of course culminated in a Villanova national championship.

Villanova vs. Monmouth, All-Time

November 29, 1981 (Jake Nevin Fieldhouse) VU 96, MU 48

December 7, 1984 (Jake Nevin Fieldhouse) VU 77, MU 62

February 25, 1986 (The Pavilion – a rare late-season OOC contest against a team from a lesser conference) VU 85, MU 52

December 7, 2004 (The Pavilion - ironically, 20 years to the day from the second meeting) – VU 70, MU 50

It might be of some value, to read the story I wrote on the December 2004 Pavilion clash. Most of the players, obviously, who participated in the game, are still on both rosters:

Wildcats Ground Hawks, 70-50, At the Pavilion

By Craig Dimitri

In a solid, albeit unspectacular, effort, the Wildcats overcame some atrocious first-half turnovers to ground the Monmouth Hawks, 70-50, at the Pavilion on Tuesday night. 'Nova committed an appalling 11 miscues in the first half, and led by just seven at intermission. However, the Wildcats blew the game open early in the second half and breezed to victory, maintaining a comfortable double-digit lead for most of the second stanza.

The sluggish start may have been due to some letdown after the difficult City Series loss to Temple at the Palestra on Saturday. Villanova improved its record to 2-1 on the young season, while Monmouth fell to 1-5 overall.

Four Wildcats reached double figures in the contest. Allan Ray and Curtis Sumpter each scored 14 points to lead all scorers, while Randy Foye (12 points) and Mike Nardi (10 points) also made significant contributions on the offensive end. Tyler Azzarelli led the Hawks with 10 points.

Villanova filled up the stat sheets very well. The bigger Wildcats crushed the Hawks on the glass, outrebounding them 36-22, and swatting eight Monmouth shots (three of those courtesy of Will Sheridan). 'Nova made 53% of its shots overall and a formidable 46% from beyond the arc, as well as a nearly-perfect 13-14 from the free throw line (93%).
Perhaps more importantly, 'Nova has played very tenacious defense thus far this year. In three games, the Wildcats have yet to yield more than 53 points. UMBC scored 41, Temple 53, and Monmouth 50; that's a good sign for the future. Also, the Hawks weren't strangers to Big East competition; in fact, in their last outing, Monmouth had actually led Seton Hall at the Meadowlands at halftime, before the Pirates fought back and eventually blew them out by 20 - ironically, 70-50, precisely the same score as tonight's contest. However, familiarity and short road trips haven't helped Monmouth against Big East opponents; the Northeast Conference school is now 0-24 all-time against the Big East.

It was Monmouth's first game against Villanova, since the Hawks came to the Main Line for the Pavilion's inaugural season in 1985-86. Villanova improved to 4-0 all-time against the Hawks. (As a New Jersey-based, nearby cupcake opponent, one would think we'd see them more often.) The Hawks also were an opponent of the 1984-85 Wildcats, who went on to capture the national championship; Villanova won a 77-62 decision that year.

The final minute of the first half was interminable, due to a couple of timeouts and a mistake by Randy Foye. Attempting a long pass on an inbounds play with less than two seconds remaining, Foye hit the scoreboard overhanging center court. This 11th and final turnover of the first half gave Monmouth an additional possession, and the Hawks capitalized upon it, with Chris Kenny scoring at the buzzer to trim the 'Nova lead to 29-22.

'Nova's defensive statistics at halftime were awesome. Monmouth was held to a shooting percentage of just 28.5%, on 8-28 shooting, and the Hawks also committed nine turnovers in being limited to just 22 points. Unfortunately, 'Nova's torrid 58% shooting percentage was offset by the 11 turnovers. Allan Ray was leading the way with nine points.

Fortunately, the 'Cats took quick control as soon as play resumed. At the under-16 timeout, VU led 42-30; at the under-12, 'Nova was up 49-32, after leading by just seven at the half. The rest of the game was uncompetitive. The best play came when Foye hit a shot as the shot clock expired at the 8:33 mark, pushing the Villanova advantage to 20. Ross Condon and Mike Grace received some playing time at the end; Condon scooped up a rebound and had an assist Chris Charles dunked, on an assist from Marcus Austin in the final minute.(Coincidentally, Monmouth had a player with the similar-sounding name of Marques Alston, who finished with seven points.)

Allan Ray moved closer to the milestone of 1,000 career points. The junior guard had entered the game 51 points shy of the mark; he finished with 14. With 37 points still to go, it would appear that he'll clear the millennial hurdle on Dec. 22 at the Pavilion, against Albany. He'll be the first Wildcat to join the club since Ricky Wright did so in 2002-03.

One oddity: Mike Nardi had 8 points at halftime, but didn't score again until just after the under-4 minute timeout.

Villanova will resume City Series play at the Palestra on Saturday afternoon, when they take on the La Salle Explorers. Both teams will be seeking to rebound from disappointing losses in last Saturday's 4th Annual Big Five Classic; the Explorers fell to Penn, prior to 'Nova's loss to Temple.

What to Look for Friday Afternoon

Villanova, of course, enjoys substantial (in fact, overwhelming) advantages in this contest. It will be played on its quasi-home floor, although he crowd will not be unanimously for ‘Nova. Arizona and Wisconsin fans that remain for the second half of the doubleheader will obviously be pulling for the underdog Hawks, as well as Monmouth’s thousand tickets or so will be going to their partisans. Nonetheless, I would estimate that 75% of the fans there will be cheering for the Wildcats.

Ironically, usually the best opportunity for a little school to defeat a big one is – counterintuitively – in the NCAA tournament. (I credit this insight to a Sports Illustrated College Basketball preview issue back in the late ‘90s.) It was noted in the article that during the Novembers and Decembers of the regular season, the small program has to go to the big program’s home floor, and play with the big program’s conference officials, and in exchange for getting crushed, the small program receives a nice check.

In contrast, usually, in the NCAA tournament (outside of the top seed) the contests will be played on a neutral court, with neutral officials, and with many of the fans rooting for the underdog.

Of course, some things have changed since that article was written. At the time, only the top seed in a region was usually given the de facto home court advantage. However, under the new “pod system”, it permits many more high seeds to stay in nearby venues – and thus stack the deck even more in their favor. Under the old system, either Villanova or Connecticut would have been in Philadelphia – but since they were both #1 seeds, only one of them could play there. No longer. They are both here, now. (Although one side benefit for Monmouth is that its campus is only 82 miles away from Philadelphia, and so its fans will be able to see the Hawks in the NCAA tournament, live, and will have that memorable experience for the rest of their lives).

And if that weren’t a big enough problem for Monmouth to overcome, it also lacks another key element for a NCAA upset: surprise. In most cases, the #1 and #16 are from disparate regions and are totally unfamiliar with each other. Not this time – Monmouth had the bad luck to be paired with Villanova, and the teams had already faced each other in the recent past – i.e., the beginning of last season, December 7, 2004. So both coaching staffs, as well as the vast majority of the players, are already familiar with each other. Monmouth would have been far better off drawing Duke or Memphis, neither of whom has seen the Hawks recently. And this fact is even more significant, because of the unusual style Monmouth uses. It’s a lot more effective against teams that haven’t seen it before – but Jay Wright and his staff already have seen it in person, less than 18 months ago, and know how the Wildcats can best defeat it.

According to the Asbury Park Press article by Tony Graham (

“Calloway noted that Monmouth has held its last three opponents to under 50 points."If we hold the next team under 50 points I'm going to be making a lot of defensive clinics down at the Final Four,'' he said.”

Truer words have never been said. The Wildcats were held under 50 points only once this season, at Big East cellar-dweller South Florida, where they edged the Bulls 49-48 – in a game when Allan Ray was unavailable due to a sore ankle. In fact, there were only two other games where they were held under 60 – the Jan. 14 loss @ then-#9 Texas, 58-55; and the Big East tournament semifinal loss to Pittsburgh, when Ray suffered the horrible eye injury – the final score, as if it mattered after such a horrific incident, was 68-54.

So it would severely strain Monmouth to even hold the ‘Cats under 60. But you never know.
As noted above, Monmouth plays an extremely elegant, complex, Princeton-style offense that is often fun to watch. It relies on long possessions and slowing the tempo, two factors which are well-suited to a team facing a much more athletic and powerful opponent such as Villanova.
The Hawks, who rank well in terms of opponents’ field goal and three-point shooting percentage, will try to slow down the speedy ‘Nova quartet of guards as much as possible. Incredibly, they surrendered only 21 points to Princeton earlier this season, which tied the record for the fewest points allowed in the shot clock era, according to Andy Glockner of And they are used to hostile environments; Glockner also reports that they were the first team in NEC history to win the conference tourney semifinals and final on the road.

Of course, that all having been said – there is no way that Villanova should lose this first-round matchup- the first time that VU has ever received a #1 seed. The most important thing is for VU to take a big lead early (with the deliberate way MU plays, they certainly won’t be able to catch up) and thus permit Allan Ray to rest for as long as possible. It would also be beneficial to get the bench players some minutes in NCAA action and excitement, to better prepare them for subsequent rounds against more formidable foes.

Should Villanova win, they would take on the winner of the previous contest, #8 Arizona/#9 Wisconsin, on Sunday afternoon, in the second round, for the right to go to Minneapolis for the Sweet 16.

I’ll have a full recap after the game, as well as a preview of Villanova/Arizona or Villanova/Wisconsin.

Go Wildcats!

Addendum: The author’s personal experience, regarding #1 - #16s throughout NCAA history

The simple reality is that no #16 seed has yet defeated a #1 seed, in the 21 NCAA tournaments which have taken place, since the expansion of the field to 64/65 in 1985 (of course, the glorious year of Villanova’s national championship). In fairness, there have been some close calls.

I had the extraordinary opportunity to see one of those close calls in person, during the 1996-97 tournament, mentioned earlier in this article. Since Villanova was a #4 seed, there was a #1 seed at the Winston-Salem, NC site hosted by Wake Forest – i.e. North Carolina, with its huge fan base in the state. The Stags of Fairfield (who had entered the tournament with a sub-.500 record) were the #16 seed facing the Tar Heels. Coincidentally, Dean Smith was only one win away from tying Adolph Rupp for the most career victories. He could tie the record against Fairfield, and would break the record by winning the second round game on Saturday.

I was, naturally, thrilled to have a chance to see two contests of such historical significance. And the crowd (90% of which was pulling for UNC, with only the other schools at the site rooting for Fairfield) was stunned when Fairfield took a 35-28 lead at halftime. I recognized, at that point, that I was going to witness history firsthand, one way or another. Either I was going to be there when Smith tied the win record (and possibly break it, when we returned on Sunday, as UNC would be playing Colorado before VU/Cal).


I was going to be at the venue for the first time that a #16 seed had ever defeated a #1!

Either way, I was going to witness a tremendous historical milestone. And I really wanted to see Fairfield win, so I added my voice to the pro-Fairfield chorus. Regrettably, UNC rallied in the second half and took control, but the overmatched Stags put forth an admirable effort in defeat. (As it turned out, I did get to see Smith break the win record against Colorado on Sunday – although unfortunately, Bob Knight at Texas Tech will probably break it next year).

No comments: