Wednesday, February 25, 2009

#10 Villanova Escapes Ignominious Upset @ Big-East-Winless DePaul, 74-72

To the Wildcat faithful-

On Sunday, February 22, in the aftermath of the second victory over Syracuse, this one at the Carrier Dome, I wrote in the recap:
Villanova will now enjoy a considerable breather as it heads to Chicago to take on struggling DePaul on Wednesday. The Blue Demons are locked in the hell of a winless Big East season, and are trying to avoid becoming the first BE team to go through an entire conference slate without a victory since the 1994 Miami team went winless (credit Ryan Fannon on the radio post-game show for that fact).
Nobody would wish a winless Big East slate on anyone, particularly when it hasn't happened in 15 years. Unfortunately, the #10 Wildcats came unpleasantly close to permitting DePaul from escaping that ignoble record on Wednesday, February 25, in Rosemont, Illinois. The Wildcats were down eight at halftime and still down by one with as late as the 12:23 mark in the second half, prior to escaping Chicagoland with a far-too-suspenseful victory over woeful, winless DePaul. The Blue Demons entered the game trapped in the Hades of the Big East, with a 0-14 conference slate, 8-19 record overall.

A loss certainly would not have wrecked Villanova's at-large NCAA hopes; a Top 10 team is in the tournament at this point. That having been said, it would have severely tarnished the team's image in the eyes of the Selection Committee. It would have been a truly bad loss, to a team with 20+ losses of its own, and might have knocked the Wildcats down significantly when it came to seeding. Equally importantly, it would have hindered the Wildcats' quest to obtain one of the first-ever double-byes in New York City in March for the Big East tournament.

Villanova "improved" - if that can be said - its record to 11-4 Big East, 23-5 overall, and should remain in the top 10 with a victory over Georgetown on Saturday. DePaul "fell" - likewise, if that can be said, in light of the fact that they lost a two-point game to the #10 team nationally- to 8-20 overall, as the team's nightmare season continues.
Although the Wildcats' five-point lead was shaved to two by a three-pointer by Dar Tucker at the buzzer, the narrowness of the score accurately reflects the margin of the game, one in which DePaul led for a good portion of play. And while it's still a loss, it's a game that DePaul can view as a highlight of an otherwise very arduous season, in the nation's toughest conference.

One solace, unavailable to recent Big East nether-dwellers, is the fact that all 16 teams will participate in New York City. Granted, the probability of any team - let alone DePaul, still winless - rattling off five straight neutral-court wins and taking the automatic bid is extraordinarily low. But it's something to keep hope alive. More probably, DePaul would have the opportunity to damage the hopes of a team on the bubble, as a loss to the 16th-place team in a conference tournament would probably decisively knock a team off the bubble. But it's far better than nothing- which is what those bottom-feeding teams have had for many years now in the Big East, come March.

Looking at the box score:

The Wildcats' two primary weapons, senior Dante Cunningham and junior Scottie Reynolds, both scored 18 points to lead the way for 'Nova. Cunningham turned it on in the second half, adding five rebounds to his 7-13 shooting and 4-4 from the line. Reynolds recovered somewhat from his difficult game against Syracuse on Sunday, ending up with 5-11 shooting and 7-8 from the line.

Reggie Redding turned in another strong performance, on the heels of his heroism against Syracuse. The junior guard nearly posted a double-double, finishing with nine points, nine rebounds, and five assists. While Redding played very well, the other hero at Syracuse - Dwayne Anderson - did not. Anderson veered to the other extreme, missing all six of his three-point attempts and making just one field goal in 29 minutes. He did rebound and defend effectively, finishing with half a dozen boards and a pair of steals, but 'Nova needs his outside shot and didn't have it at all tonight. Shane Clark was plagued with foul trouble, ending the game with four fouls and 16 minutes of action, with a pair of points, rebounds, and steals.

The Coreys came off the bench and once more provided some punch. Fisher scored a dozen points in two dozen minutes, and Stokes also reached double figures with 10 points in 19 minutes. Antonio Pena saw more action than he had against Syracuse, logging 14 minutes, with three points, three boards, and two assists. What also hurt 'Nova were turnovers - 14.

For DePaul, the big guns were Will Walker, who had a game-high 23 points and four rebounds, and center Mac Koshwal, who finished with an impressive 17 points and 13 rebounds. Dar Tucker also had 16 points, but he shot just 7-23 from the floor (including a dreadful 1-11 from beyond the arc, with the single triple coming at the buzzer while trailing by five points). He also committed five turnovers...

Villanova will host Georgetown on Saturday afternoon at the Wachovia Center, and will be looking to snap the Hoyas' four-game winning streak in the hotly contested series... Check back soon for the Villanova/Georgetown Rivalry History...

Various Viewpoints

WPVI (6ABC)'s incomparable Keith Russell on 'Nova tonight:
Villanova - in a game that should be easy as a layup - DePaul, 0-14, in the Big East....
Why should tonight be any different? Why? This is why:

Jay's team couldn't do anything right in the first half... [DePaul's] Will Walker says 'three is all I give, three is all I got,' 'Nova down eight at the break...

A different half, a different story...

Dante Cunningham, throwing down [shot of dunk], 'Cats shoot over 60% for most of the second half... They survive a second straight scare, 74-72 - your final... 'Nova avoids the upset...
Also, go get the full roundup on the narrow escape from Chicagoland, from the other Villanova sites:

Pete at Let's Go 'Nova accurately sums up the game with this headline: "Villanova sputters to DePaul win"...

I Bleed Blue and White has a summary in "postGame: Villanova 74, DePaul 72"... and also furnishes video in "Highlights from Villanova/DePaul"...

greyCat at
Villanova By the Numbers chimes in with "DePaul Post Game: Old Reliables"... states it concisely: "Villanova 74: :72 DePaul"...

Tim at
Nova News has it this way: "Nova Escapes DePaul With Win"... and note the photos of Scottie Reynolds laying it in and an indignant Jay Wright protesting a call...

Go Wildcats!

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