Saturday, February 28, 2009

Georgetown Preserves Flickering NCAA Hopes with 56-54 upset of #10 Villanova @ the Wachovia Center

On Saturday, February 28, at the Wachovia Center, #10 Villanova missed a golden opportunity to improve its Big East (and NCAA) tournament seeding - and thus the very real possibility of having de facto home games at the same venue come March, as Philadelphia will be one of the eight first/second round sites... The Wildcats were upset, 56-54, by the Georgetown Hoyas, despite Villanova collecting 13 offensive rebounds and forcing a season-high 23 Georgetown turnovers.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the Hoyas would have lost any hope of an at-large bid, had they lost this afternoon. But with the big road upset, they revived flickering NCAA tournament hopes with the victory, with another signature win to point to over an elite opponent. Moreover, as the team with the #1 strength-of-schedule nationally, they can benefit from some lesser opponents down the stretch. Georgetown is now 6-10 Big East, and 15-12 overall, and remain very much on the bubble with a RPI of 47 (that will rise with another quality opponent added).

The Wildcats fell to 11-5 Big East, 23-6 overall, and lost ground in the race to secure one of the four precious double-bye spots for the Big East tournament in March. However, the Wildcats might have been due for a loss; it was only their second loss in their last 11 games. (They certainly could have lost to DePaul earlier in the week, and that would have been a lot worse...)

Villanova has now dropped five in a row to Georgetown, extending back to the 2006-07 season. The last Villanova victory in the series was on January 8, 2007, at the Verizon Center, when the Wildcats eked out a 56-52 victory. The Wildcats have not won a home game against the Hoyas since Feb. 19, 2006, at the Pavilion; the last South Philadelphia win in the series was back in 2002, Jay Wright's first year at the helm. Georgetown now leads the all-time series 39-27, a commanding lead; in Big East regular-season play, the Hoyas lead 28-19, and in Big East tournament play, the Hoyas have won all five meetings, including last season's 82-63 game at Madison Square Garden.

Jay Wright won five of the first seven meetings with the Hoyas, but is now 5-7 against them while at Villanova. His first game against them, in fact, was the last South Philadelphia victory, an overtime triumph over Craig Esherick's Georgetown team, 83-72, on Feb. 16, 2002.

What does this mean for the polls?

Villanova would deserve to drop a couple of spots, as this week has not been kind. A two-point victory at winless-in-the-Big-East DePaul and a home loss to Georgetown (a good team, but one that Villanova should have beaten on paper) will mean a drop out of the top 10 on the AP side. The Wildcats are #12 in the less prestigious ESPN/USA Today poll, but we'll drop in that as well.

Looking at the box score-

Of the eight Wildcats who saw action, let's look at the two big guns first:

Dante Cunningham had a decent game: 13 points, nine boards, just missing a double-double, two blocks, 37 minutes of action - and stayed out of foul trouble, something to which he has been prone. In the first half, he also had a spectacular block of a shot in transition, with precision timing; he rejected a Hoya's shot, while in full pursuit from behind, in one of the best plays for any Wildcat this season.

Scottie Reynolds also had a decent game: a dozen points, but with most coming from the line (7-9). From the floor, he was 2-10, missed five out of his half-dozen three-point attempts, and also committed half a dozen turnovers (against four assists). He did have a fine defensive game, and was one reason why Georgetown was held to 56 points - he had four steals.

The rest of the team:

Reggie Redding continued to make solid contributions, finishing with eight points (3-4 from the floor), four boards, two assists, and a steal, against three turnovers, and did his usual fine duty on the defensive end.

Dwayne Anderson chipped in with seven points, seven boards, and a pair of steals.

Shane Clark, regrettable, did not make an impact. Playing only 19 minutes, Clark had two points and no rebounds, although he did have two steals and a block.

Wright used, in practicality, just seven players today. Off the bench, each playing 21 minutes, the Coreys did not pack the usual offensive punch, that Villanova sorely needed today. Fisher ended up scoring six points on 2-8 shooting, two rebounds, no assists, and three turnovers. Stokes had a worse game from the floor, with his six points on 1-7 shooting, but he committed just one turnover, collected three rebounds and had a pair of steals and assists. Antonio Pena had just a cameo appearance, playing two minutes, committing two fouls, and had no points or rebounds.

As a team, the most damning statistic were the turnovers (20!?!) against just nine assists. Or to look at it another way, the Wildcats had significantly more turnovers (20) than field goals (15). This was on top of the 33.3% shooting percentage from the floor, and the 18.8% accuracy from beyond the arc. Only at the line, where they made 21 of their 27 free throws, did the Wildcats excel, shooting 77.8%.

In light of all of the grim numbers above, it can be fairly asked, "how did Villanova stay in the game?" Georgetown was even worse when it came to, as Ryan Fannon often puts it, "taking care of the basketball". The Hoyas committed a season-high 23 turnovers, diluting their greater success from the floor - they shot very well (48.9%) but, like Villanova, also had more turnovers than field goals (25-22). From beyond the arc, the Hoyas also struggled, shooting just 4-16 (25%). And unlike the Wildcats, who got to the line frequently, Georgetown took just ten free throws, making eight of them for an 80% clip.

For the Hoyas, DaJuan Summers had a game-high 16 points, although he did not have a particularly good day outside of that. He finished with two rebounds, one assist, and eight turnovers, more than a third of Georgetown's turnover total. Chris Wright finished with 13 points on 5-10 shooting, hauled in
four rebounds, along with five assists and a steal, while committing three turnovers. The final of the three Hoyas in double figures was the one who had the best game for Georgetown: Nikita Mescheriakov, who finished with 11 points on 4-5 shooting and had three rebounds in his 21 minutes.

This was a game that Villanova certainly did not deserve to win, looking at the numbers above and the enormous difficulty that they had getting on track offensively, and particularly in light of the fact that they had home-court advantage (a sellout Wachovia Center crowd was on hand). But I believe that over the course of a season, that winning games that the opponent actually deserved to win is part of the magic of a great run, and the Wildcats unfortunately weren't able to steal this one.

The overall elegance of Georgetown's play under John Thompson III is really something to see, and is in such marked (and favorable contrast) to the painful, bricklaying process used by his father and by Esherick. Even when they are having an off-day (and when you have 23 turnovers, you're certainly having an off-day), the Hoyas move the ball with great precision, using the beautiful, hard-to-foresee backdoor cuts; there was also great curling, swinging the ball to the outside, and great ball movement around the perimeter. There were about seven or eight instances today of Georgetown plays that were simply magnificent to watch, and that's a very substantial compliment to a team that scored only 56 points (including just 24 in the second half).

For lack of a better phrase, Villanova simply could not get anything going today. The teams traded baskets for the most part in the first half, with the Hoyas developing some momentum near the end, enough to get JT III into the locker room with a 32-27 advantage. The stretch where they took control was early in the second half, after Fisher nailed a three to get 'Nova within 42-39 at the 15:16 mark. The crowd started to get engaged at that point. And the Wildcats simply could not make baskets, for a long time: the next VU field goal came over seven minutes later, when Redding hit a jump shot at the 8:02 mark. During that 7:09 span, Georgetown increased its lead from 42-39 to 50-41; Redding's field goal cut it to 50-43 (VU's only other points in that span were from the line.)

Redding's shot keyed a rally, with the Wildcats clawing back to 52-50 when Redding ably dished it back to Cunningham for a jumper at the 5:10 mark. The crowd was once again fully engaged, and it appeared that 'Nova was going to surge ahead for the first time since the first half. And then the scoring abruptly died - for both teams. The scoreboard was stuck on 52-50, Georgetown, for what seemed to be an eternity; neither team scored any points for the next four minutes down the stretch.

Perhaps the most agonizing episode, for a Villanova fan, was when the Wildcats caught a break; they had possession under the Georgetown basket as a result of a ball tapped out of bounds with 14 seconds on the shot clock - and as luck would have it, the under-4 timeout was whistled at that juncture, with 3:18 to play. So Wright and the Wildcats had the benefit of a free, long TV timeout to discuss what to do with those 14 seconds while trailing 52-50. But they were not able to exploit the unexpected bounty from the basketball gods. Reynolds was forced to take an absurdly long three from well beyond the NBA three-point line as the shot clock expired, with Georgetown's Austin Freeman gathering in the miss. Henry Sims turned the ball back over to 'Nova on the next possession, but it was a missed opportunity that 'Nova would not receive again. Much the same could be said of this game as a whole.

It finally changed, when Fisher made one of two free throws with 1:10 remaining to make it 52-51. But there wasn't another basket until just 48 seconds remained, when Wright drove for a layup to increase the Hoya advantage to 54-51. He made two free throws to all but seal the game with 10 seconds to play, making it 56-51; Stokes' triple with six seconds left was too late; Villanova was not able to execute a foul in the remaining time, and Georgetown triumphed, 56-54.

Also, the Hoyas deserve a great deal of credit for winning a very difficult road game in a challenging environment, particularly with their season hanging effectively in the balance. This was a game that Georgetown won, more so than Villanova lost...

Various Viewpoints

Also, go get the reactions from the disappointing loss to Georgetown, from the other Villanova sites:

Pete at Let's Go 'Nova

I Bleed Blue and White

greyCat at
Villanova By the Numbers

Nova News

And for a valuable Georgetown perspective - there's no place for Hoya hoops better than

Go Wildcats!

There are two ways you can contact Villanova Viewpoint. One is by commenting on this blog. Comments are encouraged, welcomed, and will always be answered.

Also, you can e-mail (Important note: This is a different e-mail address than before. Please use this new one.)

No comments: