Friday, March 09, 2007
Villanova Viewpoint is happy to announce, that in order to serve its readers better, it has expanded to its own web site: www.villanovaviewpoint.com.
Since we are in the middle of March, here is how the transition from this web log to the new site will be handled:
www.VillanovaViewpoint.com will be used, exclusively for the time being, for NCAA bubble/seeding speculation, and Villanova's NCAA previews and recaps. Eventually, after the 2006-07 season is over, the archive of stories from the 2006-2007 season and 2005-2006 season will be transferred to www.VillanovaViewpoint.com.
Until announced otherwise, if you are interested in reading any stories/recaps from either 2006-07 (up to and including the Big East tournament) and/or 2005-06, please continue to visit this web log. Please continue to visit the archive for those stories, until an announcement is made that the archives have been transferred (and that announcement will be many weeks in the future, so please continue to come here for archived material for a very long time.)
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Thursday, March 08, 2007
#9 Villanova Falls to Top-Seeded Georgetown in Big East Tournament Quarterfinal Round, 62-57; Valiant Comeback After Hoyas Built 26-2, 35-10 Leads
Georgetown had never lost to Villanova in the Big East tournament, winning all three previous encounters with the Wildcats. The pattern continued today, as #9 Villanova fell 62–57, to top-seeded Georgetown in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon, March 8, 2007, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. It is ironic that despite the fact that both schools are long-time members of the Big East, this was only the fourth time that they had met in the tournament - and as we all know from the floor at Madison Square Garden, this was the 25th BE tournament at the Garden (and it had been in other locales in previous years).
The closeness of the final score is a great testament to Jay Wright, the coaching staff, and the Wildcats. At various points in the first half, Georgetown led by margins of (these are not typographical errors):
26-2 (over ten minutes INTO the game)
35-10 (Villanova trailed by 25 points at three different junctures)
and 37-18 at halftime.
But Villanova embarked on a strong run to start the second half, and remained within hailing distance throughout the rest of the contest. First, they drew as close as ten twice, trailing just 55-45 with 2:45 to go after a good post-up basket by Will Sheridan at the 2:43 mark. They also trailed just 56-47 with 1:22 after a Sumpter bucket, the first time the lead was in single-digits since it was (ironically) 9-0 to start the game. Sheridan went to the line with 1:20 to go, and made ends of a one-and-one after being fouled by Hibbert. 'Nova trailed just 56-49. Cunningham had to foul out to prevent what would have been an easy dunk by Hibbert in transition (great hustle by Cunningham to get back to be in a position to stop that basket and put Hibbert on the line).
Hibbert made both with 1:13 to play, to put the lead back to 58-49. However, Reynolds drove for a layup to cut it back to 58-51, and Georgetown, after some preliminary pressure, called timeout in the backcourt with 57.1 seconds to play. The Hoyas went for the "home run" pass, but the ball sailed well over the target's head, handing Villanova the ball, right back under Georgetown's basket, the optimal outcome for the Wildcats. Reynolds drove and drew a foul. Reynolds made one of two FTs to pull 'Nova to 58-52 with 53.7 seconds. The Hoyas immediately turned it over, and Reynolds had a great look at the triple that would have pulled 'Nova back to within three, but it didn't go down. Sheridan fouled DaJuan Summers over the back, and with 41.8 seconds to play, Georgetown led 59-52 after he made one of two free throws.
After Sumpter's initial shot was rejected out of bounds, he was fouled after the shot, from the perimeter with 27.9 seconds to play - giving him three FTs. The fifth-year senior made all three and it was 59-54. Sapp was fouled by Redding with 26.4 seconds left to play, going back to the line. He made one of two to push it to 60-54, but 'Nova couldn't score, losing the ball out of bounds when Sumpter's shot caromed off the rim and over the backboard with 10.5 seconds to go, effectively ending the game. After a celebratory dunk by Georgetown on the inbounds play, Sumpter made a buzzer-beater triple, cutting the final margin to a highly respectable 62-57. Not a bad outcome, when you started out down 26-2 and 35-10.
As noted previous, it is a credit to Jay Wright and his staff's inculcation of defense/rebounding, that the Wildcats not only made this score look respectable, but genuinely climbed back into the contest and actually threw a scare into Georgetown in the final minutes (the Hoyas had collapsed last season in the Big East tournament in a similar situation, with a large lead, and ultimately lost). The Wildcats have so bought into the Wright system that it is very, very difficult to blow Villanova out of the gym. Most other teams would have given up when they fell behind 26-2, but the Wildcats did not. What this means in the long run: Villanova develops a relationship for tenacity that will put all of its opponents on edge, until the final buzzer. Word has undoubtedly gotten around that "no lead is safe against Villanova", and that's an enormous advantage for Villanova's program.
It was the third time the schools had met this season, an increasing anomaly given the swollen size of the Big East. Villanova won at the Verizon Center on January 8; Georgetown won at the Wachovia Center on February 17, and now owns the neutral court victory as well.
The Hoyas, now 24-6 and ranked #9 in the AP poll, advanced to the semifinals, where they will face the winner of #4 Notre Dame/#5 Syracuse on Friday night. They are seeking their first BE tournament title since 1989. Roy Hibbert led with 14 points, with Big East Play of the Year Jeff Green adding a dozen points.
Villanova fell to 22-10 overall. Fortunately, the Wildcats are 100% certain of receiving an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, March 11, 2007. Thus, Villanova fans can safely root for the underdogs in college tournaments, knowing that it will not adversely affect the Wildcats’ chances.
Sumpter led with 18 points, with four Wildcats reaching double figures. Reggie Redding (the product of St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia) and Scottie Reynolds scored 11 points apiece, with Sheridan adding 10 points. Mike Nardi played only sparingly, as Reggie Redding started once more in his place. With the Wildcats now eliminated, they will not play again until Thursday, March 15, 2007 (the Ides of March), at the earliest. Hopefully with a full week of rest, Nardi will be back for the NCAA tournament. (It would also help if the Selection Committee gave ‘Nova a Friday/Sunday bracket, in order to provide an extra day for his injury to heal.)
Questions About the Bench
It seems clear that Wright is prepared to sink or swim with the following rotation, come hell or high water:
Backcourt - Reynolds, Redding, Nardi (if available)
Frontcourt - Sumpter, Shane Clark, Will Sheridan, Dante Cunningham
In fairness, this reflects a similar pattern in Wright's coaching style. As we get to March, he appears to have decided what combination has the best chemistry, and the rotation tends to contract to about seven or eight players. In addition, the games mean more in March than they do in January, and so it's logical that the bench players would get fewer minutes.
What about Dwayne Anderson, Bilal Benn, and Casiem Drummond?
They weren't injured. The fact that none of them saw the light of day - for even a single minute - in a game which had all of the following elements:
a) The opponent built a huge lead early;
b) The game was of little importance to Villanova, whose NCAA bid had been cemented after the win over Syracuse in the regular season finale;
c) Mike Nardi - the team's vocal leader, best ball-handler, best foul shooter, and the third of Villanova's three primary offensive weapons - was injured;
d) The opponent had a much bigger team;
If those three players didn't play, when all of those elements have been attained, then it seems safe to say that none of them will play in the NCAA tournament, unless a) a game-wrecking injury hits Nardi and/or any of the other six players in the rotation; b) severe foul trouble takes place.
I draw the inescapable conclusion that Wright believes that Villanova has the best chance to win with the healthy six plus Nardi, than it does with any of the bench players on the floor - and so accordingly, these seven are the Wildcats we're going to see (barring the two contingencies enumerated above).
Although the Wildcats are now out of the Big Eat tournament, Villanova Viewpoint's coverage doesn't stop there. Fom now through Selection Sunday, Villanova Viewpoint will be publishing “Bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble”, speculating about the fates of all the other bubble teams nationally: a group which, fortunately, does not include Villanova.
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Wednesday, March 07, 2007
#9 Villanova Downs #8 DePaul in Big East Tournament Opening Round, Will Face #1 Georgetown on Thursday at Noon
#9 Villanova downed #8 DePaul, 75-67, in the opening round of the Big East tournament in New York City on Wednesday, March 7, 2007.
The Wildcats improved their record to 22-9 overall, and advanced to face top-seeded Georgetown on Thursday, March 8, 2007, at noon. DePaul fell to 18-14 overall: it was the Blue Demons' first-ever Big East tournament game, as it is only their second season in the conference, and last year they did not qualify for the tournament.
However, although they are now officially off the NCAA bubble, the Blue Demons will receive a NIT bid. It was the first time these two schools had met in Madison Square Garden since the 1963 NIT.
An in-depth recap has been posted, which can be found beneath both a comprehensive preview of the Villanova/Georgetown contest on Thursday, and an updated Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History; just keep scrolling down.
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Preview of #9 Villanova/#1 Georgetown (#9 AP), BE Tournament Quarterfinal, noon, Thurs March 8, noon, ESPN
Georgetown is celebrating its basketball centennial this season, as it has an extremely ancient program. Villanova's did not start until 1920-21, almost a generation later.
The Viewpoint on the #1 Georgetown Hoyas (rank reflects BE seeding, not AP rank #9)
Coach: John Thompson III, who spent four years at the helm of Princeton (where he also played, graduating in 1988) and now in its third season at Georgetown, 65-29 record. Guided the Hoyas to a 23-10 record in 2005-06 and to the Sweet 16.
2006-07 Season Analysis: 13-3 Big East, 23-6 overall, RPI rank #17, as calculated by CollegeRPI.com through all games played on Sunday, March 4, 2007.
Ironically, Villanova sits just behind the Hoyas, at #18, despite finishing four games behind Georgetown in the Big East standings.
Georgetown’s record is impressive. At the same time, it should be noted that they faced a reasonably arduous nonconference schedule, and by Georgetown historical standards, extremely arduous. This is yet another area where JT III does not in fact resemble his father. The elder JT was notorious for loading his December schedule with the highest transfat content in America, playing some of the weakest opponents in the old, decrepit Capital Centre in distant Landover, Maryland.In contrast, Georgetown’s strength of schedule (SOS) as calculated by Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com, as of Sunday, March 4, 2007, is at a respectable #33. (Villanova has one of the toughest, ranked at #7). The Hoyas even invaded Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke in December, which is the sort of place that his father would avoid like the plague in December. Duke’s weakness this year means that the Hoyas’ loss there does not give them the RPI bump it ordinarily would have, but GU deserves credit for scheduling the home-and-home.
Other power-conference games: the Hoyas also traveled to Michigan and Vanderbilt, while losing at home to Oregon. Cupcakes: Georgetown racked up some easy wins over Hartford, @ Fairfield, Ball State, James Madison, Oral Roberts, newly-Division I Winston-Salem State (whom I believe shares the Lawrence Joel Coliseum in that North Carolina town with Wake Forest), Towson, and Navy. They also had a home loss to Old Dominion, but the Monarchs are having a solid season, ranked #58 by the RPI.
(To the current students reading this – ODU is one of the chief villains in Villanova basketball history. As a #14 seed, Petey Sessoms led the Monarchs to a shocking upset of the Kerry Kittles/Jason Lawson/Alvin Williams/Jonathan Haynes Wildcats, a #3 seed, in triple overtime on St. Patrick’s Day in 1995. That team roared into the NCAA tournament after winning the Big East tournament title, the only Villanova team to do so, before or since.) The only common opponent with VU, outside of the Big East, was Navy. Both Big East schools hosted the Midshipmen, but Georgetown had a much easier time sinking Navy, sending the Midshipmen to the bottom of the Potomac by an easy 65-44 margin. In contrast, the Wildcats had a much more difficult time sinking Navy, to the bottom of the Schuylkill, winning just 70-61, on November 25, 2006, at the Pavilion.
Big East Schedule
The Hoyas embarked upon the Villanova trip in February on a torrid tear, having won eight consecutive games. Their most recent loss was in mid-January, losing @ then-#7 Pitt, 74-69 on Jan. 13, five days after falling by four points, to the Wildcats at the Verizon Center (where Villanova remains inexplicably undefeated, since the building opened in 1998!)The Hoyas actually stumbled a bit out of the gate, beating Notre Dame and then losing at home to ‘Nova and @ Pitt. Villanova’s victory snapped a seven-game winning streak for Georgetown. However, in the subsequent eight-game winning streak, they have been very impressive, not just in the caliber of opponent but in the margins of victory. After the loss to Pitt, seven of the eight victories have been by double-digits. And in an ominous sign for Villanova, Georgetown’s two most recent conquests had been blowout victories over quality opponents in Marquette and West Virginia.First, they made the New Jersey road trip, to both Rutgers and Seton Hall in three days, and beat both of them by double-digits (RU is dangerous in the RAC, even when they are bad, like this year). They returned to DC, pounded DePaul and Cincinnati, and then went back on the road – where first they crushed St. John’s, 72-48. And in what was the most incredible victory of all, properly garnering national attention – the Hoyas wrecked Louisville’s dedication of Denny Crum Court at Freedom Hall, winning 73-65 on Feb. 7, 2007. The Hoyas then returned home and mauled # Marquette by 18 points, 76-58 on February 10, 2007. On Monday, February 12, they crushed West Virginia, 71-53.
After rallying to score the final seven points of the game to escape the Wachovia Center with a win on February 17, 2007, the Hoyas would eventually extend their winning streak to 11 games: they finished up their Big East schedule by winning three of their final four games. After winning @ Cincinnati, they returned to the Verizon Center to top then-#10 Pittsburgh. This victory gave the Hoyas the outright regular-season Big East championship, as they finished one game ahead of the second-place Panthers. They completed the regular season with a victory over NIT-bound Connecticut on Senior Day.
Their only loss in their last 13 games has been to their ancient archrival Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, 72-58, which ensured that the Orangemen will be headed to the NCAA tournament.
The Georgetown starting five is set in concrete: Hibbert, Green, and Wallace have started all 29 games, with Sapp starting all but one, and Summers all but three. They have some additional depth, though, in light of such a rigid starting lineup. It’s in theory an eight-man rotation, but the starters have the bulk of the minutes, with the sixth, seventh, and eighth players all averaging 12.9 min/game or less. Of the starters, all but Roy Hibbert can shoot from the perimeter, with varying degrees of success. (Ironically, although the pure Princeton system calls for even big men to take a three-pointer every once in a while, Hibbert has yet to take an attempt from long-range.)
#55 Roy Hibbert - 7-2 - Jr - Center- 12.7 points/6.4 rebounds/2.4 blocks/26.1 min/per game (Adelphia, MD)
Hibbert is the linchpin of Georgetown’s team, and stopping him is critical to the Wildcats’ hope of success. His one discernible weakness is his tendency to slide into foul trouble. He averages only 26.1 min/game, a low total for a star player, and the chief reason for that is that he also averages 2.6 personal fouls/game, tops on the team.
#2 Jonathan Wallace - 6-1 - Junior - Guard - 11.2 points/2.8 rebounds/2.9 assists/2.7 turnovers/31.4 min/per game (Harvest, AL)
Wallace is vulnerable to Villanova’s intense defensive schemes, as he committed half a dozen turnovers in the first game, and through the whole season, he has only a few more assists than turnovers. Despite those limitations, Wallace is of central importance to the Georgetown offense. He is a stellar marksman from three-point range, shooting an incredible 46.8% from that range and an impressive 49.8% from the floor. This makes him particularly valuable, as the Princeton motion offense places a premium on the three-point shot – one of its central tenets is that three-point shots should be taken without defenders in the way, something the weave strives to do on a regular basis. In addition, even for a guard, he is a great foul shooter, converting 91.2% of his shots from the line. Great shooter, mediocre ball-handler.
#21 Jesse Sapp - 6-3 - Sophomore - Guard - 8.9 points/4.1 rebounds/3.3 assists/2.0 turnovers/32.7 min/per game (New York, NY)
Sapp takes fewer three-point attempts than Wallace, but is far less talented at them, shooting only 29.7% from that range. Villanova will need to permit open looks on the perimeter, and one of Villanova’s goals will be to assure that Sapp, rather than Wallace, Summers or Green, receives those opportunities. He’s an OK foul shooter for a guard (63.1%). With the mid-season departure of Marc Egerson (see below), Sapp and Wallace are the only reliable ball-handlers the Hoyas have, and if one or both fall into foul trouble, Georgetown will have enormous problems
# 3 Dajuan Summers - 6-8 - Freshman - Forward - 8.7 points/3.4 rebounds/25.2 min/per game (Baltimore, MD)
Summers was the star for the Hoyas in the first game, as we discuss below in “What to Expect”. Of the five starters, he is the one who missed three starts and also plays the fewest minutes. Good foul shooter, at 77.4%. His status as a perimeter threat, at 32.6% from beyond the arc, has dipped slightly from the Wachovia Center contest, where he was at 38.9%.
Finally, the newly crowned Big East Player of the Year:
#32 Jeff Green - 6-9 - Junior - Forward - 13.6 points/5.9 rebounds/3.5 assists/2.8 turnovers/32.5 min/per game (Hyattsville, MD)
For a 6-9 forward, Green handles the ball a lot, as his high total of assists, as well as turnovers, indicate. The team leader in minutes played, he is a great three-point threat at 41.0%, and well as 76.7% from the line.
Off the Bench
A Player No Longer With the Program
#34 Marc Egerson 6-6 - Sophomore - Guard/Forward - 7.5 points/4.0 rebounds/24.1 min/per game (Wilmington, DE)
Egerson had been the clear sixth man, playing the most minutes by far of any bench player, and also starting three games. However, he had only participated in 13 games this season - a good foul shooter and a weak perimeter shooter. His final game was the December 30, 2006 trip to Michigan. Obviously, he was not all that crucial, as he didn't play a single BE game and the Hoyas went 13-3 without him.
On January 5, 2007, Egerson announced that he was leaving the Georgetown program, due to personal rebounds. The Washington Times speculated at the time that Egerson might have been unhappy that JT III had apparently recruited "over" him, so to speak, with the next recruiting class. Regardless of the reason for Egerson's departure, however, his loss means a considerable lack of depth, particularly due to his role as one of the trio of ball-handlers, as none of the other bench players play significantly. The three bench players are likely non-factors.
#5 Jeremiah Rivers - 6-4 - Freshman - Guard - 1.4 points/1.5 rebounds/11.8 min/per game (Winter Park, FL)
#1 Vernon Macklin 6-9 - Freshman - Forward - 3.0 points/1.4 rebounds/10.4 min/per game (Portsmouth, VA)
# 33 Patrick Ewing, Jr.- 6-8 - Junior - Forward - 3.9 points/1.8 rebounds/12.9 min/per game (Marietta, GA, via Indiana University)
The younger Patrick Ewing also wears his father’s #33. He’s not as big, fortunately for the Big East, being only 6-8 and thus not big enough to be the dominant post player his father was. Ironically, he did not initially attend Georgetown. Instead, he opted for Indiana, where he played for two years, and then transferred, possibly because of the ascension of JT III as head coach. Ewing, Jr., sat out 2005-06 as a transfer, and is newly eligible. He’s the ninth man, though, in a nine man rotation.
Overall Analysis of the Hoyas
JT III has opted to install the pure version of the Princeton offense, which he learned as both a player and while the head coach at the elite school, which Pete Carril had devised and perfected, for so many years. It is a gorgeous illustration of the method of play of days gone by, with its emphasis on weaving, cutting, bounce passes, and the like. Carril actually tried very hard to keep its secrets within the Princeton family, correctly recognizing that if the offense became commonplace, it would be easier for opponents to stop.
Accordingly, only Princeton family members (of which JT III was one, as a former player and eventual head coach) were let in on its true nuances, guarded as carefully as the inner workings of Freemasonry. Other schools have had some success with it, most notably NC State, although the Wolfpack’s Herb Sendek had to puzzle it out on his own, not being a member of the Princeton inner circle.
As a result, the transformation of Georgetown’s program is one of the most radical undertaken, by any significant program in the entire history of the sport. The formula of his father was to play incredibly ugly basketball, with an emphasis on tenacious and aggressive defense. As a result, the typical Georgetown game in that era was slow, marred with fouls, hideous shot selection, and scores in the 40s and 50s. In fairness, Thompson had a glittering run of success with this strategy, as he did win a national championship, go to three NCAA title games, and produce a stellar list of NBA players such as Sleepy Floyd, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, and the long-time 76er star Allen Iverson, to name just a few. (See the Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History for more on that era.)
After Thompson resigned in the midst of the 1998-99 season due to a highly messy and public divorce, one of his inner-circle disciples, Craig Esherick, took over the program. Esherick had played under Thompson and also served as an assistant for many years, and by and large, he continued the formula established by his mentor. However, Esherick – for a variety of reasons too numerous to deal with year – did not enjoy anything beyond modest success in the five-plus seasons at the helm. Out of six postseasons, the only feathers in the Hoyas’ collective cap were a NIT championship and one NCAA tournament bid. This decline took place, ironically, at the same time that Georgetown had finally developed a significant home-court advantage. Beginning with the 1998 season, the Hoyas moved from the dilapidated Capital Centre – located in distant Landover, MD – to the plush new MCI Center (now Verizon), located in downtown DC. Fans, especially students, now had a state-of-the-art facility as well as a much shorter trip.
Esherick, after a long siege shared by his AD, Joe Lang (who was encumbered by the albatross of foolishly stating – at least, publicly – that it was unreasonable to expect that Georgetown should make the NCAA tournament every year) was finally fired at the end of the 2003-04 season, under enormous pressure from alumni.
When Thompson took over, he inherited a program which had largely lost the interests of the students (in general, Georgetown hadn’t really been a major national power, since Iverson left in 1996), and had entirely lost the interest of the DC media market, always Redskins-obsessed. The stellar success of cross-town rival Maryland, in nearby College Park, became the focus of college basketball in the market. Georgetown just didn’t matter any more. And so his success in reviving the program – and doing it in such an innovative way – is really quite an achievement.
Thompson abolished the previous approach of his father and Esherick, of emphasizing defense over offense and a commitment to winning ugly. Instead – and moreover, doing it with players who had been recruited under Esherick – he installed the elegant Princeton offense, beautiful to watch but extremely unpleasant for opponents to face. In addition, it had the advantage of destroying the orthodoxy on how to beat Georgetown (which by 2004, the end of the Esherick regime, had spread throughout the entire conference). Every opponent had to discard their previous ideas on how to stop the Hoyas and adapt to facing the same players, but playing a radically different style, the basketball equivalent of being used to playing at the equator and suddenly having your game shifted to the South Pole.
What to Expect
The most instructive source for what will happen, are the previous games on January 8 at the Verizon Center and February 17 at the Wachovia Center.
The First Game - January 8
Villanova’s 56-52 victory was a throwback to the old Big East days of ugly ball, as the teams combined for an astonishing 39 turnovers (21 by Georgetown, 18 by Villanova; ‘Nova also had 11 steals, and steals are more likely to lead to easy baskets than other sorts of turnovers). The eventual Villanova victory can be attributed to three major factors, beyond the defense that forced 21 turnovers:
1) A superb 16-point effort by Scottie Reynolds, who as a freshman in the early part of the season, was not well known to the Georgetown coaching staff, who realistically underestimated the offensive threat he posed.
2) An equally superb 14-point outburst from Shane Clark, a sophomore who was used primarily as a defensive specialist during the 2005-06 season.
3) Finally, and most importantly, a clampdown on Roy Hibbert.
This clampdown was the most effective of any Georgetown opponent this season. He was a complete non-factor on the offensive end. Hibbert played 24 minutes, and not due to foul trouble (he finished with only two fouls). In those 24 minutes, he never even had a field goal attempt (his two points came at the line), and grabbed only three rebounds. Hibbert ranks among the nation’s leaders in field goal percentage, shooting at a 68.8% clip, and he didn’t even get a single shot that day. He was a presence on the defensive end with three blocks, but Georgetown was not able to get him the ball (when he gets no shots, it’s safe to say that Georgetown had no ability to integrate the low-post into their offense. The low number of rebounds – rebounds for big men generally come when short shots are missed – also reflects this fact.For Georgetown, the star was Dajuan Summers, who finished with 16 points, four rebounds, and three assists. The only other Hoya who reached double figures was Jonathan Wallace, whose dozen points were partially offset by the fact that he committed a half-dozen turnovers and had only two assists.
The Second Game - February 17
Villanova was unable to hold a lead, permitting the Hoyas to score the final seven points and emerge with a 58-55 victory at the Wachovia Center. Villanova was once again able to render Hibbert a nonfactor; he did not take a shot in the first half and had only one point. He quickly sank into foul trouble and logged only 18 minutes, ending up with four points on 2-4 shooting, three rebounds and two blocks.
The star for Georgetown was Jeff Green, who posted a career-high eight blocks and also made the game-winning basket with 19.8 seconds to play, finishing with 19 points while playing all 40 minutes. Jessie Sapp also made a significant contribution, with 16 points and five rebounds. For Villanova, Scottie Reynolds had 18 points and Curtis Sumpter added 15. The Wildcats had a poor shooting percentage of 34.6%, making only 18 field goals – while Georgetown had 14 blocked shots. As noted in the recap of the game (see the archive for more), when the opponents block almost as many shots as your team makes, that’s a very bad sign for your offense.
The #9 Wildcats (9-7 Big East, 22-9 overall, CollegeRPI rank of #18 as of Sunday, March 4, 2007) defeated #8 DePaul, 75-67, in the opening round today. The foul line was the source of many Villanova points, as were the duo of Scottie Reynolds (29 points) and Curtis Sumpter (25 points).
The emergence of Dante Cunningham (last year, as with fellow freshman Clark, he was used primarily as a defender, and would be shuttled in and out on defensive possessions in the end game) as an offensive force has helped propel the Wildcats off the bubble, and into safe NCAA territory. His high field goal percentage has taken some of the burden off Curtis Sumpter, and given Villanova additional presence in the paint.
One big question mark, however, is the availability of Mike Nardi, one of Villanova's major offensive weapons and arguably its best ball-handler. Nardi injured his ankle in the victory over Syracuse in the regular-season finale on Saturday, March 3, 2007, and has not practiced since then. Reggie Redding started in his place against DePaul; Nardi played just five minutes, in order to give Reynolds a rest at the point, and it was obvious that he is not 100%. His absence made Villanova's stellar foul shooting (33-38) that much more impressive, as he is the best free throw shooter on a team that leads the conference in that department. Wright clearly does not have much confidence in sophomore guard Bilal Benn, or he would have played far more today than he did, given the fact that Nardi was largely unavailable.
Villanova had already secured its bid in the NCAA tournament, prior to the DePaul game, and since defeating Georgetown is equally unnecessary, it would seem likely that Wright would prefer to use Nardi sparingly (if at all), in order to permit his injury more time to heal, before the NCAA tournament commences next week.
I’ll have a full recap after the game.
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Villanova's legendary rivalry with Georgetown is truly remarkable. The greatest game in Villanova history took place on April 1, 1985, when the Wildcats defeated the heavily-favored Hoyas to capture the NCAA championship. For more on the traditions and rivalry, please keep reading... At the end of this article, I will tell the story of the 1985 game, the most thrilling game I have ever seen, in any sport. But before I do so, I will describe the rise of the Hoya empire. Villanova's upset is fully appreciated, when one considers what the Wildcats had to face.
In marked contrast to Villanova, Georgetown had little basketball tradition, prior to the arrival of John Thompson in 1972.
First - The perennial question: "What Is A Hoya?"
I will quote the Georgetown media guide: "In the days when all Georgetown students were required to study Greek and Latin, the University's teams were nicknamed "the Stonewalls". A student, using Greek and Latin terms, started the cheer, "Hoya Saxa", which translates as "What rocks!" The name proved popular and the term Hoyas was eventually adopted for all Georgetown teams.Georgetown's colors are blue and gray, and the direct inspiration for them was the Civil War.
During the war, Georgetown's location on the Potomac river placed it at the border between Union and Confederacy. Maryland and the District of Columbia were part of the Union. But Virginia, across the river, was the most populous and important state of the Confederacy. In addition to its location, many Georgetown alumni, the "sons of Georgetown", had fought for each side. (It was an all-male school at the time.)In light of those facts, Georgetown decided to adopt blue and gray as its colors: the Union soldiers had worn blue uniforms while many Confederate armies had worn gray. Like the nation, the Georgetown community itself had been divided during the confict. The symbolism was intended as a healing gesture, to reunite after the war.
Thompson, a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame, is a genuine legend. Due to his success and his powerful personality, he remains one of the best known college basketball coaches in America. However, Thompson's accomplishments are even more remarkable, in light of the Georgetown program which he inherited. Thompson literally constructed the Hoyas' program, brick by brick, for over a quarter of a century.
Georgetown's program is among the oldest in the nation, as it observes its centennial anniversary this season. The Hoyas' first season (just four games) was 1906-1907: the Hoyas played nearby George Washington three times, and one against Virginia. The program did enjoy some success during the 1920s, posting some strong records. However, the success predated both the NCAA tournament and the NIT.Villanova traveled to Georgetown in the Wildcats' second season of play, 1921-22. But the Wildcats fell, 39-34.
Surprisingly, due to the close proximity of the schools, the teams would not play again for 23 years! In 1943, Georgetown qualified for postseason play, for the first time in school history. Led by Elmer Ripley, the Hoyas went 22-5 and qualified for the NCAA tournament, held at New York's Madison Square Garden that year. The talented Mr. Ripley must have been a great coach: at that time, the NCAA tourney invited only eight teams! Georgetown defeated New York University and DePaul to reach the national championship game. But Wyoming whipped the Hoyas, 46-34, to win the national championship. In the consolation game, Georgetown topped Toledo and thus finished in third place.
Unfortunately for Georgetown, its next two seasons were cancelled due to World War II. I speculate that due to the school's DC location, its building was commandeered for military use. For example, in Philadelphia, Penn's Palestra was used for Navy administrative offices. However, no Big Five team's schedule was cancelled due to the war.
After the war ended in 1945, Villanova and Georgetown began a spirited rivalry. Three months after the Japanese surrender, Villanova hosted the Hoyas for the first time. The Wildcats won, 40-37. For the next four years, they played each other twice a season, foreshadowing the twice-a-year rivalry in the BIG EAST. Georgetown swept Villanova in 1947, and the teams split the 1948 series. But Villanova swept the Hoyas, during the next two seasons.For some reason, the series ended after the 1950 season. Three decades would ensue, before the creation of the BIG EAST in 1980. Surprisingly, the teams played each other only three times, over those 30 years.
In 1953, Georgetown made its first NIT appearance: it was still the era when the NIT was probably more prestigious than the NCAAs. The Hoyas went 13-7, and lost to Louisville in the first round. They wouldn't return to post-season play until 1970, earning another NIT bid and losing in the first round to Louisiana State.Thompson arrived in DC, taking over for the 1972-73 season. He inherited a moribund Georgetown program, which had gone 3-23 the previous season. Georgetown's "tradition" was a grand total of three post-season appearances: two NIT bids and a NCAA third-place finish.Naturally, nobody expected that Georgetown would become even a respectable program, let alone a powerhouse. The idea that the Hoyas would become one of the most prominent and successful teams in the nation was utterly absurd. But Thompson was the architect and visionary that made it possible.
In 1975, Thompson's third season, the Hoyas made their first trip to the NCAA tournament in 32 years. While Georgetown lost in the first round, it began one of the most remarkable streaks in college basketball. Since 1975, Georgetown has reached postseason play, every year, to the present day. During that span, Georgetown has received 20 NCAA bids and made six NIT appearances. The Hoyas won the 1984 national championship, and reached the Final Four in 1982 and 1985. Georgetown also has made four trips to the Elite Eight, the most recent in 1996, led by Allen Iverson.
Georgetown was one of the eight original members of the BIG EAST, in 1979-1980. Villanova joined as the ninth team, one year later. Villanova has continued to do well in the BIG EAST. But Villanova has a worse record against Georgetown, in BIG EAST games, than against any of the other eight original members.
That brings us to the miraculous game, on April 1, 1985, when Villanova beat Georgetown and captured the NCAA championship!That season was the first year that the NCAA tournament consisted of 64 teams, up from 48. At 19-10, it was unclear as to whether Villanova would even receive a bid: the Wildcats received a #8 seed.
There is a consensus among national observers, that Villanova made the most unbelievable, miraculous run of any team in the NCAA tournament, before or since. The Wildcats defeated #9 seed Dayton on Dayton's home floor (teams are no longer permitted to play on their home floor.) Villanova then upset the #1 seed, Michigan, to head for the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats then flew to Birmingham, Alabama, and knocked off ACC powers Maryland and North Carolina. It was Villanova's first Final Four appearance since 1971, when the Wildcats lost to UCLA in the final. (Villanova's games were ultimately forfeited due to Howard Porter signing with an agent, prior to the tournament, rendering him ineligible.) Two other BIG EAST teams, Georgetown and St. John's, joined 'Nova in Lexington, Kentucky.
Villanova surprised Memphis State in the national semifinal, while Georgetown stopped St. John's. Georgetown was considered a virtual lock for the national title. The Hoyas were the defending national champions, and entered the game at 35-2. (Georgetown's only two losses had been to St. John's and Syracuse, by a total of three points.) Moreover, Georgetown had been routinely thrashing 'Nova, since the Wildcats had entered the BIG EAST in 1981. The Hoyas had won nine of the eleven games in that span, many by convincing margins.
In 1985, there was only a slight glimmer of hope. Villanova had battled the Hoyas in two close losses that season: a 57-50 loss at Georgetown and a heartbreaking, 52-50 overtime loss at the Spectrum. Nonetheless, nobody other than Rollie and the Wildcats thought that they had a chance to come out on top.College basketball observers everywhere agree that Villanova played "The Perfect Game," defeating the Hoyas, 66-64, to bring home the national championship to the Main Line! Villanova shot 22-27 from the floor, an unthinkable 78.6%. The Wildcats took only ten shots in the second half, making nine of them.
(At the original composition of this article, prior to the arrival of Jay Wright, I wrote that "I'm surprised that Villanova doesn't have an elaborate display in the Pavilion, regarding that season. There should be more than a single banner." Subsequently, under the Wright regime, a fitting and proper mural of the 1985 national championship team has been added to the ground floor of the Pavilion lobby. Nonetheless, there should be a mini-museum to tell the story. The mural was a good start, but more still needs to be done for proper commemoration.) The best illustration of Georgetown's stature: Villanova played The Perfect Game - and only won by two!
More recently, there has been another Villanova victory over Georgetown to savor. On January 30, 1999, Villanova pulled off a 93-90, double-overtime, miraculous win over Georgetown at the then-First Union Center. (I attended the game, and it was the most exciting finish that I've ever seen live.) In the second OT, we trailed 90-87, with five seconds to go. Georgetown was at the foul line. After the Hoya missed two shots, Howard Brown hit a three-pointer from the corner to tie the game with one second remaining. Georgetown carelessly inbounded the ball, it was stolen by Brooks Sales, and Jermaine Medley hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to win it...
Another worthwhile note: The Wildcats were the first opponent to play Georgetown at the new MCI (now Verizon) Center, in December 1997 - and won. Since then, they have never lost at Georgetown, including the most recent visit, on January 8, 2007.
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Foul Line Is Fine Line Between Victory and Defeat for Wildcats in Opening Rd of BET; #9 Villanova Downs #8 DePaul, 75-67
#9 Villanova downed #8 DePaul, 75-67, in the opening round of the Big East tournament in New York City on Wednesday, March 7, 2007. The Wildcats improved their record to 22-9 overall, and advanced to face top-seeded Georgetown on Thursday, March 8, 2007, at noon.
DePaul fell to 18-14 overall: it was the Blue Demons' first-ever Big East tournament game, as it is only their second season in the conference, and last year they did not qualify for the tournament.However, although they are now officially off the NCAA bubble, the Blue Demons will receive a NIT bid. In addition, it was the first time these two schools had met in Madison Square Garden since the 1963 NIT. Both a comprehensive preview of the Villanova/Georgetown contest on Thursday, and an updated Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History, can be found directly above this post.
There is a fine line between victory and defeat – and today the foul line was that line for Villanova. This was particularly true with the absence of Mike Nardi, who played just five minutes due to the ankle injury he suffered in the victory over Syracuse. (Nardi did not have any statistics in the box score, even in those five minutes.) The Wildcats went 33-38 (86.8%) from the line, a stellar performance, and that figure ultimately made the difference in their advance to the quarterfinal round.
Villanova’s victory was steady, well-played, and fundamentally sound. The game plan was clear: get the ball to Scottie Reynolds (playing in his first BE tournament) and Curtis Sumpter (playing in his last). The duo took 35 of the Wildcats’ 46 field goal attempts and combined to score 33 of the 42 Villanova points that did not come from the line. Reynolds finished with 29 points, Sumpter with 25. Dante Cunningham was the only other Wildcat to reach double figures, scoring a dozen points, but 10 of those 12 came from the line. He just missed a double-double with nine rebounds.
The Wildcats maintained a single-digit lead throughout the entire game, as DePaul never tied or took the lead, despite staying within striking distance for all 40 minutes.
Reggie Redding started in Nardi’s place; the senior made his first appearance at the 13:52 mark, but departed shortly thereafter. Redding played 33 minutes, and by and large, Jay Wright used only a six-man rotation. Other than the starters and Shane Clark’s 20 minutes, the only other bench help came from Nardi’s five minutes and a cameo appearance by Bilal Benn on DePaul’s final possession of the first half (done solely to prevent Reynolds from picking up his second foul). It does not bode well for the game against Georgetown tomorrow that the Wildcats have only six players, plus Nardi.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 8-0 lead to start the game, but led just 28-26 at halftime. After play resumed, they launched an identical 8-0 run in less than two minutes, that established control of the game. DePaul could never scrape together enough offense to make a sustained charge, although the Blue Demons hung around the entire afternoon, and could very easily have taken the game, if the Wildcats had been even average at the line. For DePaul, the big trio of Sammy Mejia, Wilson Chandler, and Draelon Burns led the way. Mejia had 20 points, Chandler and Burns with 18 each.
There was one particularly impressive sequence in the second half for ‘Nova. It consisted of a halfcourt set, starting with a screen from Will Sheridan to free Reynolds, who drove the baseline, underneath the backboard, dished to Sumpter, who whirled it to Redding at the top of the key for a rare three-pointer – his first triple since February 3 against Louisville. Redding had entered the game shooting at a 12% clip from three-point range – and since he hadn’t played a single minute in the regular-season loss at the Pavilion, it is safe to say that nobody on DePaul’s staff considered him a threat from the perimeter. Perhaps emboldened by his success, Redding subsequently took two other three-point attempts, although neither went down.
The rest of the second half was somewhat dreary for a win, as it consisted largely of Villanova free throws. The Wildcats did flirt with breaking the Big East tournament record for free throw accuracy, which I believe was something along the lines of 95%. The accuracy dipped near the end, though, and so they didn’t come close to breaking the record.
Next Up for the Wildcats
The top-seeded Hoyas, who had a bye for the first round, await Villanova on Thursday at noon. A preview for Georgetown is above this post, as is the updated Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History.
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Monday, March 05, 2007
Preview of #8 DePaul/#9 Villanova, Big East tournament opening round, Wednesday, March 7, noon - NYC - ESPN
Villanova received the #9 seed in the dozen-team Big East tournament, as a result of Providence's unexpected loss @ St. John's on Sunday afternoon. If PC had won, as was anticipated (St. John's had already been eliminated from any chance of entering the Big East tournament), Villanova would have ended up as the #10 seed.
As a result, Villanova will play DePaul at noon on Thursday. If the Wildcats prevail, they will play once more at noon, on Thursday, against top seed #1 Georgetown. This worked out very well, with the PC loss. Villanova not only drew a weaker opponent (albeit one to whom they lost in the Pavilion back in January) in the first round, but will now receive an opportunity to play top-seeded Georgetown (as opposed to Pittsburgh) in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats match up far better with the Hoyas than the Panthers, and so the basketball gods cut Villanova a break, by providing Georgetown as a potential quarterfinal opponent. But let's concentrate on DePaul first, which needs tournament wins far more than the Wildcats do. Here's a comprehensive preview:
The Viewpoint on the DePaul Blue Demons
Coach: Jerry Wainwright (2nd season at DePaul)
2006-07 Season Overview
9-7 Big East, 18-12 overall, RPI rank #61, Strength-of-Schedule (SOS) #19 (as of CollegeRPI.com’s Sunday, February 25, 2007 rankings, which will be updated soon.)
DePaul launched its season in November 2006 with a terrible start. For that reason, it is astonishing that DePaul even has a ghost of a chance of an at-large NCAA bid by now. They lost their opening two games, @ Bradley and @ Northwestern, in dreadful fashion. They were blown out at Bradley by 20 points, and lost @ cross-town rival Northwestern, one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, by 10 points. They returned home to Rosemont to crush cupcake Eastern Illinois by 30, and then traveled to Maui for a holiday tournament. Against Kentucky, they played pretty well, losing by just six points to the then-#21 Wildcats. After cruising past host Chaminade, they fell against Purdue. In summary, the Blue Demons ultimately won just two of their first half-dozen games - granted, with two good neutral-court losses to Kentucky and Purdue - in the month of November.
For some reason, though, when the calendar page shifted to December, the Blue Demons started to improve drastically, after the 2-4 start. They acquired their signature victory, a stunning upset of then-#5 Kansas, on December 2, 2006. (One would not think that a team with a 2-4 record would be able to pull that off, but DePaul deserves a lot of credit for doing so.)
Moreover, the post-Kansas momentum continued. DePaul easily beat crosstown rival Chicago State; traveled to UAB, losing by just one. With their record at 4-5, the Blue Demons then took five in a row: beating Wake Forest; winning @ Rhode Island; beating two California schools, UC-Irvine and Cal itself, and ended the calendar year with a 30-point blowout of cupcake Northwestern State. DePaul in November: 2-4. DePaul in December: 7-1. Thus, the Blue Demons entered 2007 with some self-confidence and a respectable 9-5 record.
Big East Schedule
DePaul finished Big East play with a 9-7 record, and qualified for the #8 seed over Villanova by virtue of their victory over the Wildcats at the Pavilion on January 6, 2007. Although in this era of 16-team conferences, identical records aren't always identical. Mike Adam of WeareDePaul.com called my attention to the fact that DePaul ranked 7th in BE schedule difficulty, within the conference itself; I had mistakenly thought that DePaul's Big East slate was much easier than it actually was, so I'd like to give him credit. Returning to my own team, Villanova had the most arduous BE schedule of any team in the conference.
Once 2007 began, the Blue Demons did very well in their first five contests. They lost @ St. John's in the opener, but then defeated 'Nova at the Pavilion (where 'Nova is all but invincible when the students are around, which they were not on January 8), and lost @ then-#7 Pitt by only 10 points. The Blue Demons followed up with an impressive 23-point victory @ Rutgers, where they held the Scarlet Knights to only 37 points. They then split the series with St. John's by defeating the Red Storm in Rosemont - a 3-2 record, with three road games (of varying shades of difficulty) out of the way.
DePaul then began to sputter, losing four of its next five: Louisville, @ Georgetown, @ West Virginia, and @ Syracuse, with the only victory coming at home against UConn. Their record stood at 4-7 Big East and they were nowhere near the bubble. But then they again reversed course, and heated up once more. Beginning on February 8, the Blue Demons won five of their final six BE contests, to close out the regular season: Notre Dame, then-#12 Marquette, Cincinnati, and a sweep of the home-and-home with South Florida. The only loss was @ Notre Dame (although it was by 24 points - at Rosemont, DePaul had won by a single point).
NCAA Tournament Bubble Analysis
DePaul would need to win two games in New York, to qualify with an at-large bid. They have been fortunate in that they drew Villanova, a team that already has a bid clinched and whom they've already demonstrated they can defeat (on the road, no less). Their RPI rank of #61 (as of Feb. 25, pending update), despite an impressive SOS of 19, is not going to get them in. They do have some good wins: @ Villanova, Notre Dame, Marquette, and their signature win, Kansas. But they need at least two more. No team with a RPI rank in the high 50s with DePaul's profile is going to get in, unless they not only get past 'Nova Wednesday, but the Hoyas on Thursday.
They also have two bad losses: to Northwestern (#167), @ UAB (#111). But to their credit, DePaul did assemble a very formidable OOC slate: Purdue, Kentucky, Kansas. The wins over Wake Forest, Rhode Island, and California, don't look all that great because those opponents have weak RPIs, but they weren't cupcake victories. The Blue Demons just don't have enough wins - yet. If they were able to add a second win over Villanova plus a win over Georgetown, though, they would make it.
It's better to think of DePaul as having an atypical 11-man rotation, rather than a fixed starter/bench setup. Only three players started on a consistent basis throughout the season (at least as measured by the DePaul statistics). As for the rest of the rotation, they are listed below that trio of Blue Demons. The other eight players, while there is a broad spectrum of minutes played, tend to have their minutes distributed equitably, so there's no true fourth or fifth starter. DePaul's official game notes did not list a starting lineup, so there's not really much for me to go on.
The Three Starters
#11 Sammy Mejia – Guard – 6-6 – Sr – Bronx, NY – 14.0 points/6.3 rebounds/2.8 assists/33.3 min/game
#3 Draelon Burns – Guard – 6-4– Jr – Milwaukee, WI - 11.1 points/2.9 rebounds/25.0 min/game
#22 Wilson Chandler – Forward – 6-8 – Soph - Benton Harbor, MI - 14.1 points/7.0 rebounds/1.5 blocks/31.3 min/game
The Rest of the Blue Demon Rotation
#5 Karron Clarke – Forward – 6-6– Jr – Brooklyn, NY, via Miami (FL) - 7.2 points/3.6 rebounds/21.3 min/game
#21 Marcus Heard – Forward – 6-7 – Sr – Springfield, IL - 6.8 points/4.7 rebounds/20.8 min/game
#1 Jabari Currie– Guard – 6-4– Soph – Detroit, MI - 3.6 points/1.2 rebounds/18.6 min/game
#30 Will Walker – Guard – 6-0 – Freshman – Bolingbrook, IL - 3.6 points/1.3 rebounds/16.1 min/game
#4 Wesley Green – Center -6-9 – Junior – Eustis, FL - 3.2 points/2.7 rebounds/13.1 min/10.6 min/game
#12 Cliff Clinkscales – Guard – 6-1 – Jr – Queens, NY – 1.6 points/1.2 rebounds/12.2 min/game
#44 Keith Butler – Center – 7-1 – Sr – West Medford, MA via Temple University - 1.7 points/2.3 rebounds/8.7 min/game
Worth noting: Butler played three seasons at Temple, prior to transferring to DePaul; he sat out the 2005-06 season, while practicing with the Blue Demons. He missed the first half-dozen games for violations of team rules (which in effect, means that he sat out a transfer year, in order to play about 80% of one season). He's not likely be to a huge factor, but the Philadelphia connection was interesting.
#32 Lorenzo Thompson – Center – 6-8 – Sr – Chicago, IL – 1.4 points/1.2 rebounds/7.3 min/game
What to Expect, Based on the First Game
The trio of starters - Mejia, Chandler, and Burns - all excelled at the Pavilion back on January 6, in DePaul's 73-65 victory. It was the Blue Demons' first trip ever to the Pavilion, and DePaul's first win in the Philadelphia region in over three decades, since the Bicentennial year of 1976. On February 25 of that year, DePaul defeated Villanova at the Palestra, 72-63. Mejia finished with 23 points on 8-14 shooting, including five triples. Chandler posted a double-double with 18 points and 11 boards, while Burns finished with 13 points on 5-9 shooting.
Scottie Reynolds had no trouble scoring for 'Nova, finishing with 25 points, including 7-11 from three-point range. Curtis Sumpter (15 points, eight rebounds, but on just 6-18 shooting) and Mike Nardi (13 points, on just 4-13 shooting) also reached double figures, while Will Sheridan added six points (on perfect 6-6 shooting from the line) and nine rebounds. With just under six minutes to play, 'Nova trailed by only three, but fell into an all-too-common scoring drought, not scoring again until there were only 50 seconds remaining.
From a team aspect, it is easy to see why Villanova lost. Jay Wright's entire philosophy is based upon defensive intensity and rebounding. For that reason, Wright's teams are virtually never blown out of games, even when facing more talented opponents. And Villanova neither played strong defense, nor rebounded effectively, against the Blue Demons. Villanova's ordinarily stingy defense was subpar: DePaul shot 49% from the floor and an appalling 42% from three-point range. Candidly, DePaul could have easily scored more points in that game- the only reason they didn't ,was that the Blue Demons shot just 15-26 (58%) from the line. Ironically, that is the one area, obviously, where Villanova's defense can't take any credit. The Wildcats also let the Blue Demons outrebound them, 36-31. On the offensive end, VU - the Big East leader in FT% - only shot 10-16 (62.5%) from the line. Moreover, the fact that they only took 16 FTs indicates that the Wildcats had enormous trouble getting fouled, a sign of a struggling offense. (DePaul took 26 FTs, as noted above.)
Villanova's starting five of Dante Cunningham, Sheridan, Sumpter, Nardi, and Reynolds played the bulk of the minutes, with Shane Clark and Bilal Benn coming off the bench for 16 and 14 minutes, respectively. Dwayne Anderson and Casiem Drummond, who have not played much recently, did get into the game, briefly. For a VU personnel perspective, the biggest change is the addition of freshman Reggie Redding, the product of St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia. Jay Wright loves Redding's defensive skills and intensity; he also has taken over the duties of inbounding the ball. As a result, Redding has become a key member of the rotation since then; he shut down Syracuse's Demetris Nichols on Saturday, playing 30 minutes. However, Redding did not play at all against DePaul, and consequently he will draw the assignment of shutting down one of DePaul's main scoring threats - so that's the wild card in the equation. DePaul has no film of Redding defending their own players, so that will be something to keep an eye on.
Another potential question mark, which involves Redding, is Nardi's availability. Nardi injured his ankle and suffered back spasms against Syracuse, consequently playing just 13 minutes, including just a minute and a half after intermission. The three-day break probably will help Nardi's recovery, but it's not certain, as of this writing, as to whether the senior guard will be available. If Nardi isn't available, or is only available sparingly, both Redding and Benn will play more than they otherwise would. In addition, Villanova is already IN the tournament. Therefore, there is no reason for Wright to take a chance on playing Nardi against DePaul (or Georgetown), if he's not 100%. Instead, Wright would vastly prefer for him to skip the entire conference tournament, if need be, and rest up for the now-assured trip to the NCAAs.
Villanova leads all-time, 9-7. As member of the Big East, it stands split at 1-1. Last year, DePaul's first season in the Big East, Villanova won in Rosemont, 61-51, on February 11, 2006. Prior to that meeting, the two schools hadn't met since 1979, when DePaul thrashed visiting Villanova, 99-66. The first meeting in the series came on January 21, 1939, at Philadelphia's now defunct Convention Hall (now the mothballed Civic Center in University City); DePaul won 36-29.
Surprisingly, the schools have met at Madison Square Garden before - over four decades ago, in fact. In the 1963 NIT, on March 14 of that year, Villanova won 63-51. (In that era, the NIT was still the more prestigious of the two postseason tournaments.)
The Wildcats (9-7 Big East, 21-9 overall) are coming off an NCAA-clinching victory against Syracuse in the regular-season finale, in which Curtis Sumpter had one of the finest performances of his career, scoring 20 points and pulling down a career-high 15 rebounds. (For more on the victory, please see the story below, which recaps a very entertaining regular-season finale.)
I’ll have a full recap after the game.
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Saturday, March 03, 2007
On Saturday, March 3, 2007, Villanova wrapped up its regular-season Big East schedule - not to mention its-already-in-the-mail NCAA tournament invitation - by defeating Syracuse, 78-75, at the Wachovia Center. The hero was Curtis Sumpter, who wrapped up his Philadelphia career with a truly tremendous performance: 20 points, a career-high 15 rebounds, while playing all 40 minutes.
Although the game belonged to Sumpter, there were other heroes, too. Dante Cunningham scored a career-high 21 points to go with eight rebounds, while Scottie Reynolds - fresh off his 40-point detonation @ Connecticut on Wednesday - added 22 points and six assists. Although he did not score, Reggie Redding - from St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia - played stellar defense on Syracuse's Demetris Nichols, the Big East's leading scorer. Assigned to Nichols in the second half, Redding hounded him relentlessly and disrupted his offensive rhythm, holding Nichols to just seven points for the vast majority of the game. Nichols finished with a dreadful 2-13 shooting performance from the floor.
Redding also expertly handled the inbounding chores, a skill at which he excels - he played 25 minutes, dealing three assists and committing no turnovers. And ball-handling was a priority, since Mike Nardi turned his ankle in the first half, developed back spasms, and would play less than two minutes in the second half, finishing with just 13 minutes overall. (He was highly visible, exhorting his teammates on the bench while limping on his ankle.)
Although Villanova had little to fear from the Selection Committee heading into the finale, the victory over another NCAA-bound team in Syracuse - and the 9-7 finish in conference play - makes it 100% certain that the Wildcats will appear on CBS's graphics on Selection Sunday, March 11, 2007. It will make the Big East tournament much less bothersome for both the team and the Villanova faithful. The Wildcats finished the regular season with a 21-9 overall record. It was their third straight win and their seventh in the last nine games - they are peaking at the right time.
As for Syracuse - the Orangemen finished also with a 21-9 overall record, 10-6 in conference. It ended Syracuse's five-game winning streak, which had culminated with an upset of Georgetown on Monday that had assured them of a NCAA bid.
With Nichols hampered by poor shooting on open looks in the first half - and Redding's relentless defense for most of the second - the 'Cuse had to look to their other perimeter shooter, Eric Devendorf. His accuracy nearly brought them a victory: he scored a career-high 33 points on 12-22 shooting. Nichols's dozen points meant that despite the 75 points (a very high number for a Villanova opponent), there were only two Orangemen in double figures.
Incredibly, Devendorf's 33 points are not in fact the record for a Syracuse player against Villanova in a single contest. That distinction belongs to Lawrence Moten, who dropped in 36 points to help Syracuse defeat Villanova, 89-87, in OT at the old Spectrum, on Valentine's Day, 1995 - a loss suffered by the Kerry Kittles/Jason Lawson/Alvin Williams/Chuck Kornegay/Eric Eberz era team. (Although Devendorf's record does stand, at least, as the Syracuse record for points against 'Nova in the new building.)
Villanova improved to 3-4 against Syracuse all-time in the "new building", i.e., the Wachovia Center, under its various titles; it was the second straight victory there for the Wildcats, who also won the 2006 contest. The Wildcats also avenged their earlier loss to the 'Cuse this season, 75-64, which took place at the Carrier Dome, on Saturday, January 11, 2006.
It was a marvelously entertaining game, filled with exciting dunks, transition buckets, and reached its denouement with a genuinely bizarre - but fortunately happy ending. However, had it cost 'Nova the victory, would have entered Villanova lore along with ODU in 1994 and the Miami buzzer-beater in 2000. But we'll get to that later.
Villanova could have saved a lot of agony by jumping out to an early lead. Syracuse gave them plenty of chances to do so: the Orangemen missed 15 of their first 17 shots and appeared quite lethargic - perhaps a letdown after the big win over Georgetown five days earlier. 'Nova led 11-3 in the early going.
However, Syracuse erased the deficit and climbed ahead, 21-19, with less than eight minutes to go in the first half. They took a resounding 35-31 lead into the locker room at intermission, when Paul Harris issued a thundering dunk as the half ended. The key statistic at halftime was the 13 offensive rebounds the 'Cuse had secured, way too many.
Devendorf threatened to lead a rout after play resumed. He scored eight straight points to boost Syracuse's lead to 45-35 at the 16:43 mark; for a team to score 10 points in less than four minutes against a Jay Wright defense: bad scene. For one guy to score eight in a row, that much worse.
The play that turned around the momentum came from Redding. With Syracuse leading 47-43, Redding missed a triple, but recovered his own rebound and masterfully shoveled it to Sumpter in the lane, who laid it in to cut it to 47-45 at the 12:57 mark. Soon after, Villanova retook the lead - and in retrospect, the victory - shortly after this dazzling sequence:
After diving to the floor to corral a loose ball, Redding called timeout while down - and Paul Harris, disregarding the same whistle that the other nine players heard, dove after him anyhow. He was whistled for a technical, and Reynolds' two free throws tied it at 49. The crowd got back into the game due to the confrontation, and was even more thrilled by what happened next. After a layup by Devendorf put SU up 49-47, Reynolds broke away for what appeared to be an easy layup, but his shot was swatted in spectacular fashion by Harris, coming from behind. Syracuse raced back down in transition - and Cunningham made an even more spectacular block from behind. Back down the other way - again - Reynolds lined up and canned a three to put 'Nova up 50-49! The crowd exploded, and was a major factor for the remainder of the game.
Villanova steadily built its lead, and led by as much as 69-59 with 2:22 to play, so it really should not have been heart-stopping at the end. Within this span were two triples by Sumpter, both of which brought down the house for the gallant fifth-year senior. During a Syracuse timeout, Montell Jordan's extremely-catchy, 1995 single "This Is How We Do It" reverberated throughout the building, and it was the perfect song for that situation: the Wildcats in control down the stretch, going to the NCAA tournament.
Another factor which contributed to 'Nova's steady lead as the clock ground down on Syracuse: the Wildcats' crack foul shooting was even better today - in fact, it was the margin of victory. Villanova's free throw percentage was an incredible 93.8% (29-32), made even more remarkable by the long absence of Nardi, the team's best shooter from the line.
Which leads us to the bizarre ending:
Villanova had a put-it-in-the-vault, 78-72 lead, after Reynolds hit two free throws with 7.4 seconds remaining, and Syracuse out of timeouts. All Villanova needed was to get out of the way and victory was assured. Sumpter - in really his only bad decision of the day - opened the door to what could have been disaster. He contested a drive to the basket by Syracuse's Josh Wright, when he should have just allowed him to have it (it didn't mean anything!). Wright went to the line for two shots with 3.9 seconds left, trailing by six. After making the first, the officials called Cunningham for an intentional foul, while trying to go for the rebound on the second shot (which went in, cutting the lead to 78-75). Replays indicated that while Cunningham was certainly guilty of a foul, it was neither flagrant nor intentional, and should not have been called as such.
Since it was an intentional foul, Syracuse received two more foul shots and the ball - and they were only down by four at this point. If they made both free throws, they'd be down just two with the ball at half-court with almost four seconds remaining. Nichols missed the first, made the second - giving the 'Cuse the ball on the side down 78-75. They ran a brilliant play, without the benefit of a timeout - Nichols had a wide-open look for the three, but missed; there was enough time for Andy Rautins to recover the rebound and launch his own three, which would have counted had it gone in (and it came alarmingly close to doing so). And so 'Nova nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
But all's well that ends well. In this contest, there were two other unusual plays worth recording:
Syracuse's Terence Roberts executed an incredible, left-handed dunk off a Nichols' missed triple, that was gravity-defying, at the 4:59 mark. It was really something.... The other was the presence of Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb (the former Syracuse standout and also a basketball player for Jim Boeheim) representing his alma mater, with a very impressive orange-plaid ensemble, complete with hat. Reynolds, while diving for a ball, ended up in the seats at McNabb's feet (and given McNabb's season-ending knee injury last season, it would have been remarkably ironic for McNabb to have been injured - by a Villanova player - during the seemingly safe activity of watching his alma mater hoop it up.) And one final note: Casiem Drummond was not at the Wachovia Center, as he was under an apparent one-game suspension by Wright for a minor violation of a team rule.
Afterwards, Sumpter - when asked about the NCAA tournament - pointed out that he hasn't had the opportunity to participate much in the Wright Renaissance, as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned: he's only gotten to play in one full tournament game, in 2005, as he was injured halfway through the second-round victory over Florida, and in 2006, he had to take a medical redshirt, and thus didn't participate at all in the Elite Eight run.
Next Up for the Wildcats
Despite finishing 9-7 in a 16-team conference, Villanova can finish no higher than 9th due to various tiebreakers with other 9-7 teams. At the Big East tournament in New York City, they will play either in the 7/10 game on Wednesday, March 7, at 7 PM, or the 8/9 game at noon. Marquette's victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday night has ensured that Villanova's opponent will be either West Virginia or DePaul. The only question left to be determined is whether Villanova will be 9 or 10; it depends on the Providence/St. John's outcome on Sunday, March 4.
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Thursday, March 01, 2007
The Wildcats will face the Syracuse Orangemen on Saturday, March 3, 2007, at 2 PM at the Wachovia Center, in the Big East regular-season finale for both schools. A comprehensive preview…
The Viewpoint on the Syracuse Orangemen
Coach - Jim Boeheim
2006-07 Season Overview
10-5 Big East, 21-8 overall, RPI rank #53, Strength-of-Schedule (SOS) #59 (as of CollegeRPI.com’s Sunday, February 25, 2007 rankings.)
Syracuse opened the year with five straight victories, all at the Carrier Dome and with victory margins of a dozen points or more: St. Francis (NY), Pennsylvania, UTEP, Northeastern, and Charlotte. They then traveled to nearby Jesuit school Canisius and won by 10. The Orangemen, after the brief foray to Buffalo, returned to the cozy Dome for their final eight non-Big East games.
On November 27, 2006, they outlasted Holy Cross (another Jesuit school) 72-64. With a 7-0 record, they then faced their first real tests of the season, two then-ranked opponents from the prairies: then-#17 Wichita State and then-#22 Oklahoma State , losing both. Syracuse, now at 7-2, easily turned back Colgate and Hofstra. At 9-2, they were upset by Bruiser Flint’s surprising Drexel squad, which had also defeated Villanova. They ended 2006 – and their nonconference schedule, with double-digit victories over Hofstra (a blowout) and St. Bonaventure (just by 10 pts). Thus, Syracuse finished nonleague play with a 11-3 record. All three losses were to respectable opponents, but it should be noted that Syracuse had no genuinely quality wins, other than the win over Holy Cross (#67 RPI) and to a certain extent, the courage of traveling to Canisius (it looked OK at the time, as Canisius was even invited to participate in the ESPN Bracketbuster weekend, but the Golden Griffins have now nosedived with six straight losses and now sports a RPI-destroying rank of #250!)
Big East Schedule
Syracuse got off to a great start in Big East play in 2007, winning four of their first five games and sitting at 15-4 overall, well-poised for yet another NCAA appearance. They lost their opener to then-#10 Pitt at the Carrier Dome, but then won @ then-#15 Marquette by a dozen points to start their four-game winning streak. Syracuse won @ Rutgers, beat the Wildcats on January 13, and narrowly escaped last-place Cincinnati by a single point at the Carrier Dome.
The Orangemen then went cold, losing four of their next five. First, they losing @ lowly St. John’s and @ not-so-lowly Louisville. Returning to the Carrier Dome, they were upended by then-#20 Notre Dame. After topping DePaul at home, they fell @ Connecticut. Suddenly, they were 5-5 Big East, 16-8 overall and squarely on the bubble.
In mid-February, Syracuse was able to heat up and played its way into the field of 65, winning five in a row: St. John’s, @ South Florida, Connecticut, @ Providence, and most recently and impressively, upsetting #9 Georgetown at the Carrier Dome on Monday, February 26, 2007. They are assured of doing no worse than 10-6 in Big East play, and the win over the Hoyas was the kind of signature win the Orangemen sorely needed to feel secure on Selection Sunday. And thus, there's no doubt they'll be in the Big Dance.
Here's why they needed that victory over Georgetown. What could have hurt the Orangemen, if they had fallen:
If they had failed to defeat ‘Nova and thus ended up 9-7 with an RPI around #50-53, they were on the bubble. RPIs are not going to fluctuate that much at this point in the season, even with RPI-rich ‘Nova and Georgetown added to their schedule. Even within the BE, Syracuse caught a break in playing lowly St. John’s and Connecticut twice and missing West Virginia entirely. Their only OOC win of any significance is over Holy Cross. Of their other three significant OOC opponents – Drexel, Wichita State, and Oklahoma State – all were home losses. In 2005, the NCAA began weighting home and road victories and defeats, and Syracuse’s three home losses to good teams will further sag their RPI. Until the victory over Georgetown, their bid wasn’t safe, not by any means, especially if they had lost to ‘Nova on Saturday.
#30 Josh Wright – Guard – 6-2 – Jr – Utica, NY – 7.2 points/2.0 rebounds/4.2 assists/26.7 min/game
#34 Demetris Nichols – Forward – 6-8 – Sr – Barrington, RI - 19.0 points/5.6 rebounds/34.4 min/game
#33 Terence Roberts – Forward – 6-9 – Sr – Jersey City, NJ - 9.0 points/7.7 rebounds/28.3 min/game
#13 Darryl Watkins – Center – 6-11 – Sr – Paterson, NJ - 8.7 points/7.3 rebounds/28.7 min/game
#23 Eric Devendorf – Guard – 6-4 – Soph – Bay City, MI (via Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy, which produced former Wildcat Jermaine Medley) - 13.1 points/2.8 rebounds/4.2 assists/29.9 min/game
#1 Andy Rautins – Guard – 6-5 – Soph – Jamesville, NY - 7.3 points/1.8 rebounds/19.6 min/game
Off the Bench
#11 Paul Harris – Forward – 6-5 – Freshman – Niagara Falls, NY - 8.4 points/6.9 rebounds/21.9 min/game
#24 Matt Gorman – Forward -6-9 – Senior – Watertown, NY - 3.2 points/1.8 rebounds/13.1 min/game
What to Expect, Based on the First Game
Villanova’s perimeter shooters were unable to fire accurately over the trademark, Boeheim 2-3 zone. Mike Nardi and Scottie Reynolds each went just 2-10 from three-point range, and the team as a whole went just 8-28 (28.6%) from that distance. In contrast, the Orangemen were exceptionally accurate from beyond the arc: 9-17 (52.9%). Syracuse also had a lot of success on the offensive end, scoring 75 points against the normally stingy ‘Nova defense. The 75 points were the second-highest allowed by ‘Nova to a Big East opponent, and the highest allowed to a BE opponent in a loss (the only higher score came from Notre Dame, in VU’s 101-87 victory.) Syracuse shot 54.5% from the floor, also very high for a ‘Nova opponent. They were able to successfully work the ball into the paint to Nichols and Roberts, who combined to go 14-22 from the floor and score 40 points. Roberts, who was coming off a 2 ½ month absence due to injury, grabbed 14 rebounds as well.
It wasn’t all bad news for ‘Nova, though: Curtis Sumpter had one of the best games of his illustrious career, scoring 24 points, grabbing a dozen rebounds and three steals (with no turnovers) in playing 37 minutes.
Jay Wright has significantly changed his bench rotation, however, and that could lead to a different dynamic. Dwayne Anderson, who virtually never plays at all nowadays, had five minutes; likewise for Casiem Drummond, who logged a dozen minutes. In contrast, Reggie Redding (a product of Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s Prep) has become a key bench player since then; Redding didn’t even get into the game at the Carrier Dome just six weeks ago.
Ironically, both Anderson and Drummond got into the game against UConn on Wednesday, and Drummond actually played significant minutes. It could be a sign that Drummond might re-emerge as a factor against the 'Cuse.
Even among the starters, Dante Cunningham has emerged as a more formidable offensive weapon during that span. He took just three shots in the first game and finished with only four points (and four fouls). His offensive skill set has improved drastically, however, and Syracuse might not be expecting him to be much of a threat.
The Wildcats (8-7 Big East, 20-9 overall) are coming off a probably-NCAA-clinching victory against UConn, in which Scottie Reynolds exploded for 40 points, evenly split in each half. It was only the 14th time a Wildcat had scored 40 or more points, in the 2,200-plus games in Villanova's 86-year, plus history of intercollegiate competition. As a result, it may soon be possible to determine their seed and/or their opponent in the first round of the Big East tournament on Wednesday, March 7, 2007, in the opening round.
On Monday afternoon, February 25, 2007 - this appeared to be a matchup of two Big East schools, each having a decent shot at the NCAA tournament, but neither entirely secure. After their respective victories earlier this week, however, both Villanova and Syracuse will be dancing, regardless of Saturday's outcome and their respective fates in the Big East tournament next week.
Villanova, at 8-7, certainly needs the game more than Syracuse, at 10-5. The Wildcats are stuck in a four-way logjam for 7th place with Providence, DePaul, and West Virginia, and would certainly help their Big East tournament seed with a victory, as they end up on the short end of many tiebreakers. The Wildcats are mathematically assured of finishing no lower than 10th or higher than 7th, and so we do know already that they will be playing on Wednesday either at noon (if they wind up 8th or 9th) or at 7 PM (if they wind up 7th or 10th).
For that reason, there may be a drop-off in intensity on both sides, in this regular-season finale. Villanova observed Senior Day last Saturday against Rutgers, and properly so, given that it was the last Pavilion game, and so the fact that it's the "home" regular-season finale doesn't carry much weight. That having been said, last year there was the expected likelihood of playing in Philadelphia in the NCAA tournament - which won't happen this year. This will be the final Philadelphia-area game for the quartet of seniors, and so the sellout crowd will be loud and raucous in sending them off, first up to New York and then to the NCAA tournament.
I’ll have a full recap after the game.
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