Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Letters "V", "N", and "D", Are Sponsoring Tonight's Game Story, As #3 Villanova - Cheered on by Cookie Monster, Big Bird, the Count, and Oscar the Grouch - Gets Past Notre Dame, 90-72

Above - Google graphic commemorating the 40th anniversary of PBS's Sesame Street

Above - Our sponsors this evening.

To the Wildcat faithful-

I am pleased to announce that tonight's game story, has been sponsored by the letters "V", "N", and "D".

The reason - Cookie Monster, Big Bird, The Count, and Oscar the Grouch made an impromptu appearance, in the student section, at the Wachovia Center this evening.  For some reason, only Cookie Monster - sporting a navy Block "V" shirt - made it into the front row, directly behind the basket Villanova shot at in the second half.  Meanwhile, his fellow Sesame Streeters were relegated to the top of the student section, and thus were only slightly discernible to ESPN's cameras...

In contrast, Cookie Monster, due to his premier seating location, was very visible to the cameras all evening, including one time when the camera zeroed in on him.  He was also highly conspicuous, even in distant shots, as the only mass of royal blue, in the front row of a sea of navy blue - along with a pair of gigantic, exophthalmic, white eyeballs, of course.

Moreover, since Cookie Monster was unable to do the traditional finger-hoisting and waving, when a Wildcat was at the foul line - would instead cover his giant eyes in trepidation of the outcome, and wait for the crowd reaction of "Whoosh!" to a made free throw, to "restore" his vision. 

And it was very fitting, as it was - in fact - all "sunny days" for Jay Wright and his Wildcats tonight.  #3 Villanova has now rocketed off to the best start in its illustrious history, at 19-1.  They did so by downing a valiant, but overmatched and outmanned Notre Dame squad, 90-72, at the Wachovia Center...  It also marked the continuation of the best start in the school's Big East history, at a perfect 8-0...

When asked for comment, at his press conference after the game, Cookie Monster's reply - the latter part, through a mouthful of chocolate chip cookies - was:
"V is for Villanova, that's good enough for me!
Me Love Wildcats!  Me Want Top Spot in Next Week's AP Poll!  Om Nom Nom Nom..."
Inside the Box Score

When it came to scoring, Scottie Reynolds shared leadership honors with Corey Fisher this evening, both scoring 17 points.   Which is remarkable, given that Reynolds played only four minutes in the first half, due to picking up two quick fouls.  He did so on 6-13 shooting, in just 23 minutes of action.

He entered the game, needing just 24 points to join the elite of the elite - Villanova's exclusive 2,000 Point Club.  Accordingly, at 1,993 points, he should surpass the mark - fittingly - at the Pavilion, against Seton Hall on Tuesday, Groundhog Day.  (It's a prodigious scoring output, one that might even stymie The Count himself.)

Of the pair, Fisher had the better all-around game, though.  He was 5-7 from the floor, 2-3 from three-point range, and 5-5 from the line, while dealing half a dozen assists.

There was also a superb performance by Antonio Pena, underneath.  Despite having to contend with Luke Harangody, Pena contributed a double-double: 14 points on 5-8 shooting, 10 rebounds, and three assists.

The fourth Wildcat in double figures was Maalik Wayns.  Seeing some extra playing time, due to Reynolds' foul trouble, the freshman point guard played 21 minutes, scoring 10 points, with four assists against three turnovers.

Finally, Reggie Redding was not merely a vital defender against Harangody, but added nine points on 3-4 shooting, with four rebounds, three assists, no turnovers, and three steals, in just 20 minutes of action.

For Notre Dame, Harangody, as expected, led the Irish in scoring (21 points on 8-14 shooting) and rebounding (nine boards), while playing 37 minutes.  The perimeter marksman Tim Abromaitis never got rolling, though, and that was an important aspect of the Villanova victory.  While he scored 16 points, he did so on just 3-13 shooting overall, 2-8 from beyond the arc, with half of his total coming from his 8-10 from the line.  Tyrone Nash added a dozen points on 4-5 shooting, and half a dozen rebounds in just 23 minutes.

Notre Dame also failed to convert on too many of their abundant free throw opportunities, as the Irish shot only 19-30 (63.3%).  Their inability to turn them into points, was a significant factor in permitting Villanova to blow open the game, in the second half.

The Game Action

The 90-72 final score is very misleading, as the game was mostly competitive, as the Wildcats led by just a 41-40 margin at halftime.   The Irish actually took an early 8-2 lead, but their final lead came shortly after, 10-9, with 17:35 to play, and although they stayed in it for the entire first half and part of the second half, Notre Dame simply did not recapture the lead, at any point.

Villanova's largest first-half lead was eight, after a layup by Fisher made it 36-28 at the 5:34 mark, but the Irish responded with a 9-2 run to pull within one, 38-37, on a free throw from Abromaitis with 2:54 to go in the half, and each team scored three points before the buzzer to wind up at 41-40.  So Notre Dame certainly brought their game with them.

What doomed Notre Dame was its lack of depth.  Mike Brey generally uses just a seven-man rotation, and the first half was marred by 24 fouls, 15 by Villanova and nine by Notre Dame.  At halftime, Villanova's bench had scored 16 points; Notre Dame's had scored zero.

Harangody scored 16 of his 21 by the break, but more effective defense meant that he did not have a similar impact after intermission.  Guard Ben Hansbrough took himself out of the game with foul trouble, as he played only three minutes in the second half.  For inexplicable reasons, despite picking up two fouls in the first half, Hansbrough committed his third and fourth fouls, in the first 62 seconds of the second half.  He then fouled out with 12:48 to play, a loss that Notre Dame couldn't afford.

Before Villanova blew the game open with 50 second-half points, Notre Dame had played a reasonably effective zone defense, one designed to cut down on Villanova's ball screens, and the added benefit of trying to preserve their finite number of players.

However, the Wildcats permanently moved their lead into double-digits, on a layup by Redding with 8:17 to play, and it widened from there.  Villanova's ability to score in transition helped enormously; they outscored Notre Dame 11-0 in fast-break points in the second half, and 16-5 for the game as a whole.

The dagger shot came after Harangody dunked with authority at the 6:34 mark, making it 72-60.  Villanova responded with a triple from Corey Stokes at the top of the key, pushing the lead to 15 points with 6:16 remaining, triggering a huge cheer from the crowd, and ending any hope of a miraculous Notre Dame rally.

Villanova used 11 players, but for some reason, walk-on Russell Wooten did not see action, despite the Wildcats holding a 21-point lead with 2:38 to play.  (Give Wooten some minutes!)

Villanova / Notre Dame Series Update

Villanova improved to 18-14 against Notre Dame all-time, and 13-4 as members of the Big East.  It was the Wildcats' second straight victory and their fifth in the last seven contests.  The 90 points represented Villanova's third-highest scoring total at the Wachovia Center, in the 13-plus seasons in which the Wildcats have played games at the oft-renamed venue.  Notre Dame had won the last previous contest there, on January 26, 2008, prevailing, 90-80. 

Sights and Sounds

Due to ESPN's promotion of Campus Connection Week, they showed many clips of Villanova students; they filmed them painting themselves cobalt blue; boarding the R5 SEPTA train at the Villanova station, en masse, to head for the Broad Street Subway to the Wachovia Center, and the like.  They also aired a radio clip from the campus radio station broadcast of the game...

Sign observed: "E"very "S"uit "P"ressed "N"eatly...

Go Wildcats!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Interview with ND Blogger Black and Green of Black and Green Irish Men's Basketball Report

Finally, I am pleased to present an interview with BlackandGreen, the publisher of the Notre Dame-centric Black and Green Irish Men's Basketball Report, on the upcoming battle between the now-#3 Wildcats and the Golden Domers...

BlackandGreen graciously agreed to answer in detail, the following questions which I e-mailed him, about what we can anticipate from Notre Dame on Wednesday evening...

VV: 1) What's the biggest difference between last year's ND team and this year's?

BlackandGreen: This year's team is more potent on offense.  Ben Hansbrough is pretty athletic and able to score in more ways than former Irish shooter Kyle McAlarneyTim Abromaitis has made a big impact and is a huge improvement over Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland.  Defense, however, has been a huge problem this season.  Always overlooked in the Mike Brey era, a strong effort on D has been completely lacking.

VV: 2) What's been the biggest surprise for ND this season?

BlackandGreen: Abromaitis redshirted last year and was expected to make an impact this season, but no one expected his 16.7 points per game.  Averaging 28 in the last two contests, Abro has a great shot from the perimeter (almost 50% from three), can take the ball to the rim, and gets enough rebounds to help out what is otherwise a weak Irish effort on the glass.

VV: 3) Villanova lacks a lot of size and depth in the frontcourt.  Our only true center is a freshman who plays about 15 minutes per contest, while our "four", Antonio Pena, is often subject to foul trouble.  What does mean for Luke Harangody and what can we expect?

If Harangody stays inside, he'll have a lot of success against the Nova defense.  However, he consistently falls in love his mid-range jumper and three-point shot.  If we see the kind of Gody that has taken 26 or 27 attempts in losses to Syracuse and UCONN (including a combined 2-9 from three), Villanova will roll.

VV: 4) What exactly happened between Carleton Scott and Mike Brey, with the leave of absence?

BlackandGreen: Brey has kept a really short leash on his bench this season and Scott has seen a pretty big limit on his playing time.  His dad made some disparaging comments about this to the press, a big no-no, which led to Scott's being suspended by the athletic department for a game.  Things seem to have been smoothed over, but Scott will continue to ride the pine in important moments until he learns how to score (the #1 quality for a Mike Brey player).

VV: 5) Villanova has a much deeper rotation than ND; how will that affect Brey's decision making?  We go 10 deep- sometimes 11...

BlackandGreen: It won't.  The Irish will still go 7-deep at best, with the starters playing just about every minute in the second half if the game is close.  Freshman Joey Brooks has seen a little playing time here and there, but Brey is going to play the guys he is comfortable with and face the consequences.

Thanks for your input and good luck on Wednesday!

My thanks to BlackandGreen for his time and insights into Notre Dame..  I am drafting a reply to his questions on Villanova...

Go Wildcats!


Monday, January 25, 2010

Villanova / Notre Dame Rivalry History, Since ND Joined the Big East in 1995-96

To the Wildcat faithful-

As the #4 Wildcats prepare to take on Notre Dame at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday at 7 PM, I thought it might be a good idea to take a detailed look at the Rivalry History, since Notre Dame joined the Big East for non-football sports, back in 1995-96...

Villanova and Notre Dame, of course, had met many times prior to that season, when coach Digger Phelps (now, of course, far better known as the ESPN analyst), was at the helm.  Notre Dame led the all-time series, 10-5, prior to Notre Dame joining the conference.  However, Villanova currently leads all-time, 17-14.

Surprisingly, the schools did not meet for the first time, until 1970.  On January 10 of that year, the host Irish won a thriller in overtime, 94-92.  The teams would meet every year for the next 14 seasons.  Eight of those games were at the historic Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, with Villanova winning just three of those contests, against five defeats.  Notre Dame's final Palestra visit was on January 7, 1983, with the host Wildcats triumphing, 61-55.

The 15th annual (and final) non-Big East regular-season meeting was at Notre Dame on January 21, 1984, with the Irish winning 81-68 (the year before Villanova won the national championship).  It is not clear, however, why the series (which had been an annual game since 1970) suddenly abruptly ended.

(Update: A commenter below offers this theory, as to why the series suddenly ended:
"If memory serves me correct the Villanova-Notre Dame series ended in 1984, because VU coach Rolllie Massimino was not happy that ND coach Digger Phelps offered to have his team replace Villanova in a scheduled Sunday afternoon national tv game in Chapel Hill when a blizzard the Philadelphia area, almost prevented the Villanova team from getting down to North Carolina to meet the Heels."
I believe that his theory is likely to be correct, as I explain in a comment below...)

After that contest, the teams did not meet for another dozen years, until Notre Dame joined the Big East for the 1995-96 season.

So, looking back:

January 2, 1996 - The Pavilion - Villanova 76, Notre Dame 57

Alvin Williams sets a career-high with 22 points on 8-11 shooting, while Kerry Kittles adds 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and Jason Lawson contributed 16 points and eight rebounds, as the Wildcats improve to 12-1 on the year.  Steve Lappas was on the sideline for Villanova, and John McLeod for Notre Dame. 

January 14, 1997 - Joyce Center - #16 Villanova 68, Notre Dame 57

During the "Tim Thomas Year", the freshman had 18 points and 14 rebounds for Villanova.  Players for Notre Dame included Pat Garrity (the top scorer in the conference), Jimmy Dillon, Pete Miller, and Admore White. 

February 16, 1997 - Then-CoreStates Center - Villanova 75, Notre Dame 70

This was Villanova's first-ever victory at this venue, after dropping the first two contests to Duke in December, and Syracuse in January.  Garrity led Notre Dame with 22 points, while Antoni Wyche nearly stole it for the Golden Domers at the end.

Williams led Villanova, with a game-high 25 points and seven assists, with Thomas adding 22 points.

January 28, 1998 - Joyce Center - Villanova 81, Notre Dame 61

In what has been Villanova's only losing season since 1993, up to the present year, a bright spot was a lopsided road win at Notre Dame.  It was even more shocking, as Notre Dame had defeated a ranked Syracuse team by 20 points, the previous week.  Brian Lynch had 16 points on 7-12 shooting, John Celestand (now a frequent analyst for Villanova games on ESPN+ syndication), came off the bench for 15 points and issued seven assists.  Rafal Bigus added 10 points and nine rebounds.

Garrity struggled for Notre Dame, scoring 14 points on only 4-13 shooting, one of his worst games of that season.  Key players in defending him were Howard Brown, Zeffy Penn, Malik Allen, and T. J. Caouette.

For Notre Dame, Martin Ingelsby (the son of Wildcats legend Tom Ingelsby), scored 10 points, while Keith Friel added 14 points. 

January 7, 1999 - Joyce Center - Villanova 93, Notre Dame 62

This was a regular-season contest played on a Thursday afternoon - because of a massive blizzard which hit the eastern U.S.  The clash had originally been scheduled for the preceding Saturday, January 2.

This was a bad break for Notre Dame, as attendance at the Joyce Center was low.  And Villanova made the most of the opportunity, crushing the Irish by 31 points on the road.

Villanova hit 16 triples, a Joyce Center record for a Notre Dame opponent.  Celestand had five of them, making all of his three-point attempts, and finished with a game-high 18 points.

The Wildcats improved to 11-4, 2-3 Big East, and the game was a major turning point for that team, which eventually reached the NCAA tournament as a #8 seed, with a stunning upset over #8 St. John's at the Pavilion.  The loss to #9 Mississippi would turn out to be Lappas's final NCAA tournament game as a coach; he finished with a record of 2-4 in four appearances.

Troy Murphy had 17 points to lead the Irish.  For Villanova, Brown had 15 points, Lynch 14 points, and Jermaine Medley, 13 points. 

January 16, 1999 - The-then First Union Center - Villanova 86, Notre Dame 65

Villanova once more swept the two-game season series.  The most notable aspect of this contest was the fact that the Wildcats opened the game with a 18-0 run and never looked back.  On its initial dozen possessions, Notre Dame missed eight field goal attempts while committing five miscues (they would eventually commit 21 turnovers).  Brown led the Wildcats with 19 points.  Celestand had 16 points, five assists, and no turnovers.  Allen, having recently shifted from the "four" to the "five" spot, had a career-high eight blocks to go with 14 points. 

Notre Dame was hampered by the unavailability of Murphy, who did not make the trip to Philadelphia, due to a sprained ankle.  David Graves, Notre Dame's second-leading scorer, was also struggling with a shoulder injury, and missed 10 of 11 shots, finishing with just four points.  Freshman Harold Swanagan set career-highs with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

February 8, 2000 - Then-First Union Center - Villanova 86, Notre Dame 69

This was Matt Doherty's only time facing Villanova as the mentor at Notre Dame.  And although nobody knew it at the time, this was the final time that Lappas would face Notre Dame; he won all seven of his meetings with them.

Sophomore Brooks Sales effectively contained Murphy, holding him to a season-low 14 points on 5-15 shooting, including no second-half field goals, and forcing Murphy to commit half a dozen turnovers.  (He had averaged a conference-best 23.6 points heading into the contest.)  Murphy did have a superb game on the glass, finishing with 16 rebounds.

Sales also had a double-double with 11 points and a dozen rebounds.  Notre Dame permitted 11 Villanova triples, and committed 26 turnovers.  Freshman Gary Buchanan had 16 points and half a dozen assists, with Lynch adding a dozen points of his own.

Doherty, for some reason, opted to prolong the game needlessly by ordering fouls on 11 consecutive Wildcats possessions during garbage time.  The three Philadelphia players for ND: freshman Matt Carroll (from the Philadelphia suburbs) had 17 points to lead the Irish, with Ingelsby scoring four points and Dillon (from Holy Ghost Prep in Bensalem), two points.
January 6, 2002 - Joyce Center - Villanova 74, Notre Dame 72

Jay Wright, facing Notre Dame for the first time, picked up where Lappas left off.  Derrick Snowden hit the game-winning basket for the Wildcats with 26.5 seconds to play, then successfully defended Notre Dame's Chris Thomas, who missed ND's final shot with four seconds remaining.

With 8:17 to play, Villanova had led 63-49, before the Irish rallied to take a brief 72-71 lead, before Snowden's heroics.  Snowden scored 17 points on 7-11 shooting, but committed seven turnovers against one assist.  Ricky Wright, a native of East Chicago, scored 17 points as well, on 7-12 shooting, and garnered 11 rebounds for a double-double.

For Notre Dame, Graves led with a game-high 22 points, while Ryan Humphrey had 18 points, but shot only 6-15 from the free throw line; Humphrey's heave at the buzzer did not go in.

Villanova had now won all eight Big East meetings, and seemed invincible against Notre Dame.  The Wildcats now owned a 13-10 advantage all time, after being down 10-5 prior to Big East competition against the Golden Domers.

The series took a one-year hiatus during the 2002-03 season, due to the Big East's fluctuating membership and divisional alignment.  With Villanova and Notre Dame in opposite divisions, not every team played every other, and so the teams didn't meet. 

January 10, 2004 - Wachovia Center - Notre Dame 82, Villanova 78

Notre Dame finally won one, in front of a soulless Center with just 14,000 people, in Wright's third season.  The Wildcats were unable to hold a 70-64 lead down the stretch, and Thomas hit a huge three-pointer with just over two minutes to play to tie the contest. He would finish with a game-high 26 points, with 21 coming after intermission.  Torrian Jones, who attended nearby Pennsbury High in Bucks County, had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Allan Ray and Randy Foye scored 18 points apiece to lead the Wildcats, while Jason Fraser grabbed an incredible, career-high 17 rebounds, to go with three blocks.  Mike Nardi had 15 points, and Curtis Sumpter chipped in 14 points.

January 8, 2005 - Joyce Center - Notre Dame 78, Villanova 72

This was Wright's first strong year at the helm of the Wildcats.  After reaching the NIT in his first three years, this team would be the first Wildcat squad he took to the NCAA tournament, where they reached the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual winner North Carolina in the Sweet 16, in Syracuse.

Villanova entered South Bend with a seven-game winning streak, but Notre Dame had also won four in a row.  And with Sumpter out, due to a knee injury he sustained at a Joyce Center practice, Notre Dame's chances were improved.  And the Irish capitalized, delighting the Joyce Center crowd, which had never seen the Irish defeat Villanova there (the Wildcats had won all four previous meetings in the venue).

Thomas had 25 points, and delivered the decisive blow in the final minute.  With the shot clock about to expire, and defended by Nardi, Thomas sank a basket to boost Notre Dame's lead to 74-70 with 57 seconds to play.  The key to ND's victory?  Going a perfect 19-19 from the line. 

Chris Quinn and Colin Falls each added 16 points for Notre Dame.  Foye finished with 26 points to lead the Wildcats; Fraser had five points, six blocks, and ten rebounds, filling in for Sumpter.

January 26, 2005 - Wachovia Center - Villanova 65, Notre Dame 60

The Wildcats avenged their defeat in South Bend 18 days earlier, triumphing in South Philadelphia once more.  They had a great deal of momentum, having clobbered then-#2 Kansas in their previous game, the turning point in the Wright era - and it carried over against the Irish.  Notre Dame led 37-30 at halftime, but Villanova took control in the final dozen minutes (despite once more not having Sumpter, due to the flu). 

Ray had a game-high 23 points, but Foye scored his 1,000th point, en route to finishing with 20 points - notably, Villanova committed just five turnovers.  Torin Francis led Notre Dame with 19 points.

January 28, 2006 - Joyce Center - #6 Villanova 72, Notre Dame 70

With 1.7 seconds remaining, Kyle Lowry tipped in a missed layup by Foye (who had 18 points on just 5-18 shooting) to foil an upset bid by Notre Dame - after Francis had just tied the game on a layup on the previous possession.  The Irish had a 24-4 run in the second half, to overcome a 17-point Villanova lead, and led by three with a single minute remaining - but it wasn't enough to pull off the upset.

Ray was incredible, with a game-high 23 points on 9-16 shooting, 10 rebounds, and four assists.  Nardi was almost as good, scoring 22 points on 7-17 shooting.  For Notre Dame, Quinn had a team-high 18 points on 6-11 shooting, with Russell Carter scoring 14 points (including 8-11 from the line), Kyle McAlarney coming off the bench for 13 points in just 22 minutes, and Francis with 11 points.

January 17, 2007 - The Pavilion - Villanova 102, #20 Notre Dame 87

In Notre Dame's only visit to the Pavilion - before or since - the intimidating 'Nova Nation fans helped power the Wildcats to an upset of #20 Notre Dame, clearing the century mark for the first time against the Irish, Big East or otherwise.  It also marked Villanova's 11th victory in 13 Big East games against Notre Dame.

Freshman Scottie Reynolds exploded for 27 points on 8-12 shooting, including 9-10 from the line.  Sumpter had 21 points and half a dozen rebounds, Dante Cunningham had 19 points and nine rebounds, while Nardi had 18 points and seven assists.

For Notre Dame, Carter led with 26 points, Falls added 17, freshman Luke Harangody had 13 points on 5-8 shooting, and Rob Kurz chipped in 11 points and half a dozen rebounds.

January 27, 2007 - Joyce Center - #21 Notre Dame 66, Villanova 63

Ten days later, Notre Dame avenged the Pavilion defeat with a narrow three-point victory, to stave off a second upset.

Villanova led, 60-57, after a triple by Shane Clark with 3:47 to play - but the Irish defense stiffened, and did not permit another Wildcat field goal for the remainder of the contest.  Ryan Ayers responded with a triple, and with two subsequent free throws, gave Notre Dame the lead for good; Falls scored the final four ND points, one on a basket in transition, and two at the line.

Falls eventually had 23 points, Carter 14 points, and Kurz 10.  Harangody was effectively contained, scoring just four points on 1-6 shooting.

Reynolds had 19 points to lead Villanova, but on just 5-14 shooting (as a team, Villanova shot just 33%).  Sumpter, Nardi, and Cunningham each had 11 points for the Wildcats. 

January 26, 2008 - Wachovia Center - Notre Dame 90, #18 Villanova 80

Notre Dame led 39-29 at halftime, en route to only its second-ever victory at the Wachovia Center, upsetting the #18 Wildcats.  McAlarney detonated for 30 points on 10-15 shooting, Harangody had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Kurz had a dozen points, and Ayers 10 points off the bench.

For Villanova, Antonio Pena led the way with 17 points on 8-9 shooting, plus nine rebounds and three assists.  Reynolds and Corey Fisher scored 13 points apiece, with Corey Stokes adding 11 off the bench.

March 2, 2009 - Joyce Center - #16 Villanova 77, Notre Dame 60

The Wildcats committed only five turnovers in triumphing at South Bend.  Reynolds had 23 points, half a dozen rebounds, and five assists; Cunningham had 18 points and eight rebounds; Clark had 13 points on 5-7 shooting.

For Notre Dame, Ayers had a game-high 25 points on 8-12 shooting, Harangody had 18 points on 8-16 shooting, plus seven rebounds; no other Irish player had more than five points (McAlarney).

Well, I hope you enjoyed this rivalry history.  Another chapter, Wednesday night...

Go Wildcats!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Preview of Notre Dame @ Villanova, 7 PM, Wed. Jan. 27, @ the Wachovia Center

To the Wildcat faithful-

Note: If you're looking for yesterday's game story, covering Saturday's 81-71 victory over St. John's, just click on the preceding link in this sentence.

Here's a comprehensive preview of the #4 Wildcats' upcoming contest, with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, on Wednesday, January 27, at 7 PM, on ESPN...

Naturally, the first place to look, is to examine what happened in last year's game at the Joyce Center, which I titled, "23 Points From Reynolds Power #11 Villanova Past Host Notre Dame, in Second Half, 77-60"... here are two quotes from it, the full link is in the preceding sentence...

On Monday, March 2, #11 Villanova rebounded from its disappointing home loss to Georgetown by winning a significant game on the road at Notre Dame. The Wildcats entered the locker room at halftime, deadlocked with the Fighting Irish at 32 apiece, but took control in the second half to win by a surprisingly resounding margin, 77-60... 

Six of the eight Wildcats in the rotation had above-average performances. Scottie Reynolds broke out of his recent skid in a major way, with one of his best games of the season. Reynolds dropped 23 points, on an outstanding 6-7 from beyond the arc- and 8-12 shooting overall. And he wasn't just shooting the lights out. He augmented his box score line with half a dozen rebounds, two steals, and five assists - while committing just one turnover and playing all but one minute. The fantastic overall game from Reynolds bodes well for the Wildcats' fortunes later this month, in the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame: School, Coach, and Program

It's hard to believe, that it's been 10 years (!) since Mike Brey took over the reins, after Matt Doherty's single season.  (After Doherty's disastrous reign in Chapel Hill, Notre Dame fans must be even more grateful that he wasn't in South Bend, any longer.)  There is the further irony, as well, that Notre Dame went from having a Carolina product as coach one year, to having a Duke product the next, which is likely unprecedented in the annals of college basketball.

Very much unlike Notre Dame football, the Golden Domers on the hardwood are in the midst of a renaissance.  Brey was named Big East Coach of the Year in both 2007 and 2008 (our man Jay Wright brought it to the Main Line, last season).

Over his decade in South Bend, Brey has gotten the Irish to five NCAA tournaments - 2001, 2002, 2003, a three-year post-season hiatus, and then back in both 2007 and 2008.  He also has had enormous success in his pair of NIT bids, reaching Madison Square Garden on both occasions.  In 2000, Notre Dame went all the way to the final; in 2009, to the tournament semifinals.  (Interestingly, those two appearances were only the fourth and fifth NIT appearances in school history.  Prior to 2000, they hadn't gone since 1992.)  So Brey has, in ten seasons:
  • Five NCAA bids, and a 5-5 record in NCAA play
  • A Sweet 16 in 2003, and first-round victories in every appearance but 2007
  • Two NIT bids, both involving deep runs...
  • Seven postseason appearances in 10 years, despite playing in football's long shadow.
Although the sundry fiascoes of the later Charlie Weis era, have meant that basketball received more attention than it otherwise would have, among the Notre Dame faithful, it is axiomatic that basketball will always be subordinated to football and the lingering memories of Knute Rockne and his sideline successors (which have been a wildly divergent lot, both in results and reputation, as Weis has demonstrated.)  And despite that eternal shadow of the Four Horsemen, from nearly a century ago, Brey has done reasonably well, during his decade in South Bend.

That having been said, the 2008-09 Golden Domers fell well short of expectations, last season.  Notre Dame found itself in the unaccustomed position, of being in the Top 10 in both preseason polls - #9 in both the USA Today/ESPN poll (its highest ever pre-season slot) and in the AP poll (its highest pre-season ranking in nearly 30 years, since the 1980-81, when Digger Phelps was at the helm).

Other Big East coaches feared Notre Dame, as well - in the most arduous conference in the nation, Notre Dame finished fourth in the coaches' preseason poll.  Luke Harangody, the reigning Big East Player of the Year, opted to return, and although he was not the sole reason for the lofty poll rankings, he was the most important piece, certainly.

So at minimum, Notre Dame was expected to reach the NCAA tournament, for the third straight year.  And it would be even better if it could return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003, and perhaps further.  But unfortunately for Brey, Harangody, and the Irish, it didn't work out that way.

Moreover, the basketball gods tantalized the Irish and their fans with that high NCAA seeding and deep tournament run.  Up until January 12, 2009, Notre Dame's trajectory was going pretty much as expected.  How so?

In nonconference play, Notre Dame racked up a 9-2 record.  Granted, several victories were over cupcake, non-Division I opponents, but not all of them.  At Thanksgiving 2008, #8 Notre Dame (with tons of alumni in tow, no doubt) traveled to the Maui Invitational, where they crushed Indiana, edged #6 Texas by a single point, and lost in the title game to #1 North Carolina (the eventual national champions, as we Villanovans know all too painfully).

The only other loss, heading into the Big East trenches, was a neutral court loss to Ohio State.  It dropped the Notre Dame ranking from #7 to #12, but there was no cause for alarm, certainly.

And so the Irish entered Big East play on New Year's Eve, 2008-09, sporting a 9-2 record and a #7 ranking nationally.  Everything continued as normal, for the first 11 days.  Notre Dame won three of its first four games (a victory @ DePaul, a loss @ St. John's, and home victories over #10 Georgetown and Seton Hall).  Their record as of January 10, 2009 - 12-3 overall, 3-1 Big East, ranked #13 nationally.

However, they had now arrived at the most harrowing part of the schedule - five consecutive games against ranked Big East opponents.  Of course, they could expect some losses, especially on the road.  But it wasn't like they hadn't beaten ranked opponents yet (they already had Texas and Georgetown as victories).  However, the Irish went into complete free fall.

Over the next three weeks, they lost all five of those games - @ #20 Louisville, @ #8 Syracuse, #3 Connecticut and #8 Marquette at home, and @ #3 Pittsburgh.  They had gone from 12-3 overall, 3-1 Big East, #9 nationally, to 12-8, 3-6 Big East, and unranked.

More problems ensued - they lost @ unranked Cincinnati, and traveled to LA to face #15 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion - and lost.  Seven consecutive defeats left them 12-10 overall, 3-7 Big East, and now in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament completely, as of February 7, 2009.

To their inestimable credit, Brey and Notre Dame managed to right the ship.  The Top 10 team from the first half of the season returned to the court at the Joyce Center, on February 12, for a rematch with #5 Louisville.  The Irish avenged their earlier defeat by leveling Louisville, 90-57, in what must have been a huge morale boost.  Notre Dame then won three of the next four, with the only loss coming @ West Virginia - a notoriously difficult place to play - on February 18, by the respectable score of 79-68.  (Our Wildcats had been humbled by the Mountaineers five days earlier, on Friday the 13th, giving up 93 points in an embarrassing 21-point loss.  That night, it certainly didn't seem like we'd be heading to the Final Four, after giving up 43 points to Da'Shaun Butler.)

So, as March approached, Notre Dame's record stood at 16-11 overall, 7-8 Big East, with @ #2 Connecticut, and home games against #11 Villanova and St. John's remaining.  In other words, the Irish were squarely on the bubble.  It would vitally help with the Selection Committee, if the Irish could beat either of those ranked teams, not only for another good win, but to make it to at least 9-9 in conference play (a major factor for a bubble team).

Notre Dame played well in Storrs on CBS, but couldn't pull off the upset, falling 72-65.  They then faced our Wildcats on March 2 - and Villanova crushed them, 77-60.  The Irish had no trouble with St. John's in the finale, but at 17-13 overall, 8-10 Big East, Notre Dame was going to need a major run in the Big East tournament to get a NCAA bid.  And they didn't make one.  They got past Rutgers in the opening round, but lost once more to West Virginia in the quarterfinals, and that loss torpedoed any hope of an at-large bid.

Notre Dame put together a nice run in the NIT, winning three home games against UAB, New Mexico, and Kentucky.  The run ended against Penn State (the eventual champion) in the national semifinals.

Notre Dame - 2009-10 Season

Unlike last season, Notre Dame did not have to carry similar expectations into this season.  In the conference poll, the Irish were 8th, as opposed to 4th, and were not ranked in the pre-season national polls.

Notre Dame racked up a lot of wins against weak opponents to start the year, as they won nine of their first ten contests.  After their four initial victories, they reached the AP poll at #23; they reached the final of the Chicago Invitational Challenge, but were upset by host Northwestern in the final, their first loss.  After starting 9-1, they were upset by Loyola Marymount, at home, but rebounded to defeat UCLA.

They finished nonconference play with a win over Jay Wright's alma mater, Bucknell, in which they cleared the century mark, 101-69, on December 22.  Their record - 11-2 overall, heading into Big East play.

Since Big East play started, it's been a mixed bag for the Irish.  They opened with a home win over Providence, but fell @ #10 Connecticut.  They won by a single point @ South Florida, but lost narrowly @ Cincinnati (the Bearcats perhaps being motivated to avenge the loss of its football coach, Brian Kelly, who has succeeded the fired Weis at Notre Dame).  (Note: An anonymous Notre Dame accurately noted in a comment below, that in the original post, I had somehow omitted Notre Dame's signature win this season - their impressive triumph over then-#8 West Virginia, 70-68, on January 9 at the Joyce Center.  I regret the omission.)  Finally, the Irish had no luck against #5 Syracuse at home, falling by 13.

So the Irish enter the game against Villanova with a record of 15-5, 4-3, after they beat pitiful DePaul on Saturday.  Their RPI is only 67, despite that strong record, because of the high-calorie cupcake victories in calendar 2009.  Nine of their victories were over North Florida, the Red Flash of St. Francis (PA), Long Beach State, Liberty, Kennesaw State, Idaho State, Central Florida, IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis), and Loyola Marymount.  They also have a road win @ St. Louis.

Notre Dame does not have a deep bench; Brey generally uses only seven players in his rotation.

Of course, Harangody more than makes up for that.  Averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds a game, he is arguably the finest player in the game today, and Villanova will need to contain him.

Ben Hansbrough (11.6 pts, 3.4 rebs, 5.2 assts) and Tory Jackson (7.9 pts, 2.8 rebs, 5.8 assts) are the starting backcourt; Hansbrough is deadly from three-point range, at 44%; Jackson, less so, at 32%.

Forward Tim Abromaitis moved into the starting lineup for the first time on December 6, against Central Florida; he has now started 12 consecutive games.   He averages 16.7 points, 4.4 rebounds per contest, and is an incredibly accurate shooter: 49.6% from three-point range and 86.4% from the line.

Tyrone Nash rounds out the starting lineup, with 7.6 points, 5.4 rebounds per contest. 

Off the bench, we'll see Jonathan Peoples and Carleton Scott.  Peoples had started the first eight contests before being replaced by Abromaitis - he averages 4.7 points, 2.2 rebounds; Scott 3.6 points, 3.8 rebounds.  Scott took a brief leave of absence, by mutual consent with Brey, to evaluate whether he wanted to fully commit himself to the program; Scott apparently decided that he did, and so he's back.

Villanova Update

The Wildcats are poised to jump up to #3 in the polls after top-ranked Texas lost @ #21 Connecticut in double-digits on Saturday.  They are now 18-1 - which matches the best start in school history - and have a lofty RPI of 4, nationally.  The 7-0 Big East start is the best in school history, besting the 6-0 marks set by the 1982 and 1983 teams under Rollie Massimino - just before the magical national championship in 1985.

Comments, reactions, feedback, is always welcome, particularly from Notre Dame fans, as I learn a great deal from the fans of our opponents.

Go Wildcats!


Saturday, January 23, 2010

#4 Wildcats Match Best Start Ever, Improve to 18-1 For the First Time In 59 Years, By Dispelling Red Storm, 81-71, at Madison Square Garden

To the Wildcat faithful-

It has been 59 years since the Villanova Wildcats started a season 18-1 - since the 1950-51 squad under the legendary Al Severance did it.  That was an unequaled start in Villanova's storied annals.  Until Saturday, that is.

The 2009-10 Wildcats equaled that mark, winning their 18th game in 19 tries this season, by squelching a determined St. John's team, to roll to a 81-71 victory at Madison Square Garden, at high noon.

St. John's had a superb first half, but the Wildcats clamped down on defense after halftime, and maintained a reasonable lead down the stretch to secure the victory.  Villanova improved to 7-0 in the Big East, as well - its best start ever in conference play, since it joined the conference back in 1980-81.

St. John's turned in a valiant effort, today, despite being overmatched.  The Red Storm fell to 2-5 Big East, 12-7 overall.  Dwight Hardy's 19 points off the bench were a team-high, while Philadelphia native Sean Evans had a dozen points, and D.J. Kennedy and Anthony Mason, Jr., each had 10 points.

The Wildcats were led by a diversified offense, with four players reaching double figures.  Today, the three point guards fueled the attack.  Scottie Reynolds provided his usual firepower, with a team-high 19 points on 6-12 shooting and a perfect 6-6 from the line, four assists versus two turnovers, three rebounds, and three steals.

Corey Fisher chimed in with 18 points on 5-9 shooting, 6-7 from the line, four rebounds, three assists against four turnovers (too many, but it was the only downside for him).  The real story, though, was freshman Maalik Wayns continuing his offensive explosion: 16 points on 5-8 shooting, 6-7 from the line - all in just 20 minutes.  Despite coming off the bench, Wayns has now reached double figures for the fifth time in the last seven games (despite playing 20 minutes or less, in six of those seven contests).

The Game Action

This was not an easy victory, by any stretch of the imagination.  The Wildcats started the game on the right paw, so to speak, building a 14-5 lead in the early going, after a jumper by Wayns at the 15:26 mark.  St. John's responded, however, with a 16-0 (!) run of its own, and was soon up 21-14.  The Red Storm lead would widen, however.  St. John's would take its largest lead of the game at 29-18, after a basket by Paris Horne with 8:09 to play in the half.  That is to say, over a 7:19 span, St. John's had made a 24-4 run.

Villanova chipped away at the lead, getting to within 30-28 with 4:37 to play, after a steal and layup from Fisher.  The Red Storm scored the next half a dozen points, and still held a 36-28 advantage with 2:42 to go.  Villanova made a charge prior to the half, and trimmed the deficit to just one, 38-37, after a jumper from Reynolds with five seconds remaining in the half.    

Why did St. John's win the first half?

Turnovers and assists.  Villanova committed a dozen turnovers in the first half, against four assists; St. John's had eight of each.  However, the Wildcats shot very well from the floor (51.9%), which is why they were still in the game, despite 12 turnovers.  Reynolds already had 11 points, while Fisher had 10.  It also did not help that Antonio Pena picked up two fouls and played just five minutes (although he made those five minutes count, scoring seven points and making all three of his field goal attempts).

The Red Storm also shot very well in the first half (56.5%), including 3-5 from beyond the arc.   Hardy came off the bench to score 13 points in 13 minutes.

But the Red Storm dissipated in the second half, shooting just 28.9% from the floor - their accuracy was literally halved.  They traded baskets with the Wildcats early in the half, and its last lead was 49-48, on a jumper by Omari Lawrence, off a turnover by Wayns, with 14:50 to go.  The upset bid was still alive.

Villanova took control of the game, however, by ripping off a dozen consecutive points.
Two dunks said it all:  Reynolds, in transition, fed Isaiah Armwood for a spectacular dunk, with 11:10 to play....  and it was followed by a dunk from Maurice Sutton to make it 60-48.  The Wildcats were now back in control...

St. John's managed another charge, drawing as close at 63-57 with 6:55 to go, and the upset still seemed plausible.  But Wayns sank a pair of free throws, boosting the Villanova lead to 65-57.  And then it happened again... Reynolds to Armwood, in transition, and Armwood threw down another dunk at the 4:48 mark.  It gave Villanova a 67-57 lead and effectively torpedoed any hope of a Red Storm rally.  After Armwood's dunk made it a 10-point lead, the Wildcats' lead never fell out of double-digits, till the buzzer.

Villanova's second half defense made all of the difference.  The Johnnies missed 17 of their first 21 shots to open the second half, giving Villanova the opportunity to take control.

Series History

This was Villanova's sixth consecutive win over St. John's, and seventh victory in eight games.  All-time, however, Villanova still has some catching up to do.  St. John's leads, all-time, 58-44.  As members of the Big East, Villanova has a slight advantage in regular season contests, leading 26-23 - in Big East tournament play, the Red Storm has won four of the six meetings.

This was also the Wildcats' fourth consecutive victory over the Red Storm, at Madison Square Garden.  Their most recent loss to the Red Storm there was on January 20, 2002, when they lost by two points, 65-63. 

Next Up for the Wildcats

Notre Dame comes to the Wachovia Center on Wednesday, January 27.  I will have a comprehensive preview - and please check out the other outstanding Villanova blogs on the right sidebar...

Go Wildcats!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Preview of St. John's - Guest Blogger Pico Dulce of the East Coast Bias on the Red Storm

To the Wildcat faithful-

I am grateful to say that a specialist on St. John's, Pico Dulce of the East Coast Bias, has graciously agreed to share his observations on the Red Storm, in advance of tomorrow's high noon contest at Madison Square Garden.

At his suggestion, we arranged for a mutual exchange of questions.  He asked the initial set, which I answered, and which he's reprinted in this post on the East Coast Bias.   And so, in turn, I've adapted his questions on Villanova, to be redirected to him for St. John's...

If you go to the East Coast Bias, you'll see that Pico requested analysis from us Villanova bloggers.  The link above is only to my version.  But I'd like to recommend the East Coast Bias version from greyCat at Villanova by the Numbers, as well as my own.  As always, greyCat brings the number-crunching to the preview.

So, without further ado-  

Pico Dulce of The East Coast Bias, on St. John's:

Question - St. John's enters tomorrow's contest with a 12-6 record overall, 2-4 in the Big East (11th place)... why does the Red Storm have that record, and are they likely to improve, or deteriorate, as the season continues?

Pico Dulce:  St. John's is 12-6, and the offense has been mediocre.  The defense is pretty decent against Big East foes, but it's not translating into wins.  Being a tough out is nice, but tough outs don't get a team to the NCAA Tournament.  The team can get better, yes, but will they?  

I think some players can be better individual performers; certain players can be put in better positions; but it's late in the season to expect sudden explosions of talent and play.

Question - What will be the downfall for St. John's, if they lose?  What are their weaknesses?

Pico Dulce - St. John's bugaboos are 1) offense and 2) sustaining defensive effort for the complete game.  If one of those factors were better, the team would be closer to winning more games.  The team comes out defensively sharp, but finds themselves losing control in the second half.  Whether it's poor halftime adjustments or players who simply cannot sustain the same intensity for the whole game, it's a problem.  

And overall, the team's offense is easy to prepare for and not always effective; the team depends on DJ Kennedy and Dwight Hardy for points.  Others attempt to step into the scoring role, and may emerge as late-season threats, including Justin Burrell, Anthony Mason, Jr. and Paris Horne.  

But at this point, it's a 2-person offense coupled with occasionally sloppy defense... which is vulnerable to quick attacking guards.

Question - 3- Defensively, who is the best Red Storm player?  Who are the weak links?

Pico Dulce: Defensively, stopping opponents is a team effort; but Paris Horne often gets the other team's best perimeter defender.  

Malik Boothe is good at sticking with his man and bodying up, but can be beaten off the dribble.  The post players give good effort; the team tends to play defense based on their opponent, so prepare to see a smaller team.

Weak links:  

Sean Evans can sometimes miss his rotation assignments in the post defense, and sometimes the perimeter players fin themselves flatfooted in their attempt to make plays.

History and the odds would favor us in this one - but the bottom line remains, this is a road game for us in the Big East, and we have a big target on our backs, so we never know...

Thanks to Pico Dulce for his fine idea and for suggesting the exchange... I've learned a lot about St. John's, and I hope that this was helpful for you, as you prepare to enjoy Saturday's contest at Madison Square Garden...

Go Wildcats!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#4 Wildcats Easily Slay Scarlet Knights at the RAC at Rutgers, 94-68, Behind 17 Points From Dominic Cheek

To the Wildcat faithful-

On Wednesday night at the RAC, #4 Villanova had no trouble in slaying the Scarlet Knights, 94-68.  It was a different pair of stars for the Wildcats, as freshman Dominic Cheek had a career-high 17 points, with Corey Stokes contributing 16 points.

Villanova improved to 17-1 overall, 5-0 Big East.  Rutgers continued its free fall, sinking to 9-9 overall, 0-6 Big East.

This is the placeholder article...

Full story is now here - thanks for checking back...

This was a contest between #4 Villanova, who hadn't lost since December 13, 2009, to Temple - and Rutgers, which entered the contest 0-5 in Big East play.  Had Rutgers managed to win, it would have been one of the most stunning upsets in the long basketball history of both schools.

What factors could provide Rutgers hope for an upset?

Of course, there is the complacency of any team who is a heavy favorite.  But the one specific wild card was the RAC - Rutgers' home court, one of the most intimidating venues for a visitor, not just in the Big East, but anywhere on the East Coast.  That is, when Rutgers has a decent squad, and/or the building is jammed with students cheering on the Scarlet Knights.  If ever there was a chance for the gallant Scarlet Knights to slay the Top-5 Villanova dragon, it would have been tonight.

Unfortunately for coach Fred Hill and Rutgers, they don't have a decent squad, and the students did not show up en masse (there were plenty of Villanova fans, though). 

As a result, Villanova - which has stumbled at the RAC before, to inferior Scarlet Knights teams - did all of the slaying, tonight.  The Wildcats walloped Rutgers, a snakebitten program coached by Jay Wright's former associate head coach, the recruiter who helped to land Wright's first ballyhooed recruiting class - Curtis Sumpter, Allan Ray, Randy Foye, and Jason Fraser - all from New York and North Jersey.  That is to say, the very area Rutgers needs to recruit well, in order to wake up the "sleeping giant" - the favorite metaphor for anyone who has studied the possibility of a potential powerhouse program in Piscataway.

So how did Villanova's lopsided victory happen?

Rutgers's best hope came when the Scarlet Knights' Hamady Ndiaye dunked for the first basket of the game.  But that 2-0 lead would be one of only two leads, Rutgers would have, all evening.  Their second and final lead was 4-3, after a jumper by James Beatty.  It was all downhill for Rutgers from there.  Villanova took its first double-digit lead, 21-10, at the 11:53 mark after a layup by Stokes.

Rutgers scored five straight points to pull to within six, 21-15, after a triple by Mike Rosario.  But that was the closest they would come for the rest of the night.  Villanova responded with a 6-0 run of its own, to push the lead back to 27-15 with 7:47 to play, as Corey Fisher's pair of free throws led to the under-8 TV timeout.

At this point, Rutgers made its final foray into single-digit territory.  Ndiaye converted a traditional three-point play to cut it to nine, 27-18, with 7:21 to play, after being fouled by Taylor King.  But Fisher responded with a layup, pushing the lead back to eleven, 29-18, at the 6:48 mark.  Villanova would hold a double-digit lead, for the entire rest of the game, all 26:48 of it.

Fisher's layup sparked a 14-5 run over the next 4:28, culminating in a offensive rebound and putback of a Fisher miss from Antonio Pena.  Pena's basket at the 2:20 mark gave Villanova a 20-point lead, at 43-23.  Rutgers was never remotely in the game the rest of the way.  Villanova led 47-25 at halftime, and cruised during the entire second half.

At intermission, Stokes - the Bayonne Bomber, returning to New Jersey for this contest, already had 10 of his 15 points.  And the only Wildcats in foul trouble were Cheek and Pena, with two each.  (This had been a significant problem, in the victory over Georgetown on Sunday.)  For its part, Rutgers - in a statistical oddity - had shot 2-7 from the line and from three-point range, as well (Villanova was 10-17 from the line).  Villanova led in points in the paint, 24-14; points off turnovers, 12-3; and bench points, 23-4.

The Scarlet Knights continued to collapse, after play resumed.  The Villanova lead ballooned from 20 points at halftime to as high as 32, after play resumed.  The Wildcats embarked upon a 12-2 run to start the second half, with a triple by Stokes rendering the lead 59-27 with 16:38 to play, and forcing Hill to take a timeout.

To their credit, Rutgers was able to go on some runs of its own.  Trailing by 32, over the next eight minutes they managed to reduce the lead to 17 with 8:05 to play, after a free throw from Dane Miller made it 67-50.  But the closest they ever got in the second half was a 16-point deficit, after a tip-in from Miller made it 70-54 with 6:30 to play.  Villanova had no trouble at all, at any point in the second half (that 16-point lead was the smallest in the second half).  The Wildcats - despite having the second team on the floor for much of garbage time - won the remaining 6:30, by a score of 24-8.

Looking at the Box Score

With the game completely secured by halftime, Wright was able to provide his bench with valuable minutes.  Every player on the roster entered the game.  Ten of the eleven scholarship players saw at least a dozen minutes; the only Wildcats who didn't were Maurice Sutton, who played half a dozen minutes, and walk-on Russell Wooten, who saw one minute.  (I'll make my usual complaint about Wooten's lack of playing time; Wright could have easily put him in at the 5:00 mark, or at least at the under-4 TV timeout.)  Only three Wildcats played more than 19 minutes, in fact; and the highest total was 28, from both Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding.

It was a fitting irony, given that Cheek, Stokes and Fisher all played high school basketball in the Garden State, that they had the three best games for Villanova - and all three were exactly 6-10 from the floor, and scored 17, 16, and 15 points, respectively.

Certainly, the big story was the performance by Cheek.  His 17 points blew away his previous best of 10 - and he did it all in just 17 minutes!  His 6-10 shooting also represented career-highs for field goals and field goals attempted.

Stokes also had a superb performance with his 16 points, but his 6-10 differed from the other two, in that it included 4-7 from three-point range.  Fisher also had a great all-around game, grabbing half a dozen rebounds and dealing four assists against no turnovers.

Another standout was Mouphtaou Yarou.  Mouph logged 18 minutes, tied his career-high with half a dozen points, and set a career-high with nine rebounds.  The 18 minutes are the second-most he has played and the most since he returned from his hepatitis on January 6 against DePaul, five games ago.

Isaiah Armwood also turned in a strong performance off the bench.  Playing just 15 minutes, he scored nine points on perfect 4-4 shooting, and had four rebounds.

As a team, Villanova clobbered Rutgers on the glass, winning the rebounding battle by nearly two-to-one, 52-28.  In fact, Villanova's 23 offensive rebounds alone, compare very favorably to the Scarlet Knights' 28 total rebounds.  This factor, more than any other, explains the 26-point margin of victory.  Other factors, of course, was Villanova's 50% from the floor (33-66) and 47.1% from three-point range (8-17).

Villanova Superlatives

With Pitt's loss to Georgetown last night, the Wildcats are the only member of the 16-team Big East to remain undefeated in conference play.

Their 6-0 record also ties the school record for Big East conference starts, as it's just the third season where Villanova has started 6-0 in the Big East..  The 1982 and 1983 Wildcats also started 6-0, under Rollie Massimino; both finished the season with 24 victories and Elite Eight appearances (in the pre-64/65 team tournaments).  I wouldn't mind another Elite Eight, although another Final Four would be even better...

The Fred Hill Factor

Villanova has dominated its series against Rutgers, both historically and since Rutgers basketball joined the conference back in 1995-96.  The victory boosted Villanova's lead all-time to 25-8, all-time; 13-4 in the Big East regular season, - and a Villanova victory in the 2006 Big East tournament, in their only conference tournament meeting. 

In all, the Wildcats have gone 7-1 against the Scarlet Knights in the past eight games, since January 25, 2005.  During that span, Villanova has also won three of the four games at the RAC.  Rutgers' only victory in the last five years, was on January 23, 2008, by an 80-68 score at the RAC.

For those of you who don't remember the Fred Hill saga here, the gist of it was that he was Wright's primary recruiter from his arrival with Wright in 2001-02, through the 2004-05 season (Wright's first NCAA bid, which culminated in the heart-breaking loss to eventual champion North Carolina in the Sweet 16 up at Syracuse.)  For the 2005-06 season, in a bizarre move on Rutgers' part, they forced his struggling predecessor, Gary Waters, to hire Hill as his assistant coach, to groom him for a year to replace Waters (which he accepted, largely because he had no choice).  And Villanova permitted Hill to leave, even though it was a lateral move to another Big East school in the heart of Villanova's recruiting territory.

After the 2005-06 season, Waters was fired and replaced by Hill.  Rutgers has been struggling for a long time; its last NCAA bid was 17 years ago, in 1993, when it was still in the Atlantic 10.  It has never made it as a member of the Big East, in the last 14 seasons (and obviously, will not be going this year unless it somehow wins the conference tournament).  Bob Wenzel, who occasionally now calls Villanova games on the ESPN+ syndication TV broadcasts, was fired; he was replaced by the highly odious Kevin Bannon, who was a complete disaster and was fired; he in turn was replaced by Waters, who was fired.

After Bannon was fired at the conclusion of the 2000-01 season, Rutgers athletic director Bob Mulcahy - a Villanova graduate - was on the verge of hiring Wright (then the coach at Hofstra and a red-hot commodity) - until Villanova came up with a plan to induce a resignation from then-head coach Steve Lappas, and bring Wright to the Main Line, where he had served as an assistant to Massimino.

Rutgers undoubtedly regrets its inability to land Wright, both at the time, and now.  Hill's tenure as the head coach, after one year as an assistant, has not gone well at all.  The Scarlet Knights' last respectable season was Waters's final year with Hill at his side - Rutgers went 7-9 in conference play and got a NIT bid.

But once Hill took over as head coach in 2006-07, the seasons have been dreadful.  Hill's first season in Piscataway was 10-19 overall, 3-13 Big East, a tie for 14th place  His second season (2007-08) was even worse, finishing 11-20, 3-15 Big East (the Big East schedule had been expanded from 16 games to 18), a tie for 15th place (i.e., a tie for last place).  Last year (2008-09), represented another slide, if that could be imagined.  The Scarlet Knights managed to lose 21 games, against 11 wins, and went just 2-16 in league play, once more finishing in 15th place.  (The only team worse was DePaul, which went 0-18 before winning its first game in the Big East tournament.)

Hill's tenure has been significantly worse than Waters.  Waters struggled, but Rutgers was not permanently in the basement.  Waters' five seasons brought three NIT bids, and in three of his five years, he went 7-9 or 8-8 in the Big East. Not great, and probably enough to get him fired, but certainly better than the three-plus years under Hill.

In light of the fact that Rutgers is 9-9 overall, 0-6 in conference play in the most rugged conference in America (a fourth disastrous season) it seems that the Hill era in Piscataway, is not likely to last much longer. 

One defense cited for Hill, was that Hill didn't inherit much from Waters.  This is a valid point, but a) Hill was already recruiting for Rutgers during Waters' final season, and b) as more and more Hill recruits enter the program, the Scarlet Knights are actually regressing - from an already-very-low position.  It undoubtedly did not help matters tonight, that the three stars for Villanova were all from the North Jersey/New York territory that Hill - at least when he was an associate coach at Villanova - used very effectively in bringing players to the Main Line all those years ago.

Probably, the main bright spot was Hill's victory over Wright's Wildcats in 2008.  It was one of the three Rutgers victories that year, against 15 losses.  (That loss, ironically, was one of the reasons that Villanova was precariously perched on the NCAA bubble that year - a loss to a bottom-feeding Big East team didn't help, but Villanova managed to squeak in, possibly as the last at-large bid - and, naturally, went to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual champion Kansas.)

Next Up for the Wildcats

The Wildcats continue their visit to the New York sphere of influence, facing St. John's at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, January 23, at high noon.

Go Wildcats!

Comments, reactions, feedback are welcome (positive or negative.)


Sunday, January 17, 2010

#4 Wildcats Snap 5-Game Losing Streak to #11 Georgetown, Hold Off Hoyas' 2nd Half Rally to Prevail, 82-77, at the Wachovia Center

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #4 Wildcats held off a furious second-half rally by the #11 Georgetown Hoyas on Sunday at the Wachovia Center.  Scottie Reynolds poured in a game-high 27 points to lead Villanova, while Greg Monroe's career game - 29 points, 14 rebounds. three assists, three steals, and two blocks - wasn't enough to push a valiant comeback bid over the top, for the Hoyas.  Villanova had led 46-31 at halftime, but saw Georgetown rally to tie the score late in the second half, before clutch free throw shooting sealed the win in the waning seconds.

(This is the placeholder article - full story to come... please check back-)

Full story-

Over the years, the Villanova / Georgetown series has had its share of painful to watch, low-scoring affairs.  But such was not the case at the Wachovia Center on Sunday.

In a game which was marvellously entertaining, full of surprises and an unpleasantly suspenseful ending, the #4 Wildcats dominated play in the first half, coughed up a 15-point halftime lead, but held on by their claws for a thrilling 82-77 victory over #11 Georgetown.  Down the stretch, there were heroics at the foul line from Reynolds and freshman Maalik Wayns; the two point guards combined to go a perfect 8-8 from the line, during the last 36 seconds, securing the victory.

It was Villanova's first victory over the Hoyas since January 2007, snapping a five-game losing streak.

Villanova improved to 5-0 Big East, 15-1 overall; Georgetown fell to 4-2 Big East, 13-3 overall.  The two teams will meet once more this season, in a rare throwback to the pre-football-expansion Big East, at the Verizon Center on Saturday, February 6, at high noon.

Reynolds's 27 points made him - far and away - the offensive star for Villanova; he more than doubled the scoring total of any of his Wildcat teammates, and he did it in only 29 minutes.  But he wasn't the only hero.

The best overall day, apart from Reynolds, was from fellow senior Reggie Redding.  Redding scored 11 points on just 5-13 shooting, but he added six rebounds and five assists.  Wayns also scored 11 points, adding two rebounds and two assists, in addition to his 4-5 from the line.  Corey Fisher also struggled with his shot, going just 2-7 from the floor, but reached double figures with 10 points - plus two rebounds, three assists and three steals.

For Georgetown, Monroe's game was simply unbelievable.  Playing all but two minutes, Monroe's 29 points came on 9-13 shooting from the floor, 10-15 from the line, and making his only three-point attempt.  Austin Freeman was nearly as good, however.  Freeman played all but one minute, adding 22 points on 8-15 shooting, plus half a dozen assists, four rebounds and a pair of steals.  Jason Clark also played 39 minutes, scoring 16 points on 5-11 shooting, including 4-8 from three-point range, and grabbed five rebounds.

What was the key to victory for Villanova?


Jay Wright had an advantage that John Thompson III did not - namely, the ability to constantly substitute fresh players.  Eleven Wildcats saw action, with ten of them playing at least ten minutes.  In contrast, JT III had essentially a seven-man rotation.  Both teams became mired in foul trouble - a reason why the game took two and a half hours to complete.  But Villanova was better able to win the war of attrition, with its deeper and higher-scoring bench.

This is even more pronounced, when you consider how the team statistics were remarkably balanced - virtually identical, in fact.  Both teams were 33.3% from beyond the arc (9-27 for the Hoyas, 7-21 for the Wildcats).  They both took 61 field goal attempts - Villanova hitting 26 (42.6%) and Georgetown 24 (39.3%).  From the foul line, Villanova was 23-30 (76.7%), Georgetown was 20-27 (74.1%).  Villanova committed 27 fouls; Georgetown 25; both teams had 10 steals.  Villanova had an advantage in rebounding (44-38) and forced more turnovers (15-11), but they were the only real gaps statistically.

The game was particularly surprising, given that entering the game, all signs pointed to a close game throughout.  Villanova crushed Georgetown during the first half, opening up a wide, 46-31 lead at intermission, surprising even the most optimistic Wildcats partisans.  Clearly, Thompson made some adjustments at halftime, as the #11 Hoyas were the team that returned to the floor.  Georgetown managed to tie the game twice, although it never took the lead, and ultimately won the second half by ten points.

 The 20,000-strong crowd was very vocal in the first half, and provided some strong support as Villanova repelled the Georgetown counterattacks   Nonetheless, the game had the kind of feel to it, that the Hoyas might be able to deftly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat down the stretch, as Villanova had proven unable to decisively end the contest.

(I have to say that I did not like the black jerseys Georgetown was wearing, particularly since the school colors are blue and gray....  the ESPN+ broadcast identified them as blue, but they were black.  They'd be better off with dark navy, similar to Villanova's road color.)

Next Up for the Wildcats

The Wildcats head up the New Jersey Turnpike to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Wednesday, January 20.

And, of course, please check out the other fine Villanova blogs on the sidebar, for their respective takes on the victory...

Go Wildcats!


Saturday, January 16, 2010

#4 Wildcats / #11 Georgetown Hoyas - A Detailed Summary of Recent Games in the Rivalry

To the Wildcat faithful-

We all know, of course, about 1985, the mirabile annu (Latin, "year of miracles") for Villanova against Georgetown.  But there have been many other more recent, great games between Villanova and Georgetown, schools separated by just 139 miles on I-476 and I-95 - an easy under-three-hour trip, without traffic, most of it highway...  and unfortunately, Villanova has lost the last five of them... the last Villanova victory is at the bottom of this post...

If you'd like to see a concise history of the entire rivalry, with a focus on the classic 1985 national championship in Lexington, Kentucky, I'd like to recommend my previous post - #4 Wildcats Host #11 Georgetown Hoyas on Sunday - A Concise Rivalry History...

Going in reverse chronological order:

January 17, 2010 - Wachovia Center - #4 Villanova 82, #11 Georgetown 77

My full story on the game can be found here...

February 28, 2009 - Wachovia Center - Georgetown 56, #10 Villanova 54

In the teams' sole meeting last season - here is my full story - "Georgetown Preserves Flickering NCAA Hopes with 56-54 upset of #10 Villanova @ the Wachovia Center"...

Georgetown overcame 23 turnovers to do so, stunning the large crowd at the Wachovia Center.  It was Georgetown's fifth straight win over Villanova.

As it turned out, the Hoyas' upset did not slip them into the field of 65, as they finished the regular season in 12th place and a 7-11 record in conference play.  They were eliminated in the first round of the Big East tournament, in which they probably needed to (at minimum) reach the championship round, in order to have any hope for an at-large bid.  Their high RPI had kept them on the bubble, but after an early loss in New York, they went to the NIT and fell in the first round to Baylor, by two points.

March 13, 2008 - Madison Square Garden - Big East tournament quarterfinal - #9 Georgetown 82, Villanova 63

The top-seeded Hoyas turned away Villanova's bid for an upset in New York.  Jessie Sapp led Georgetown with 23 points, and the team tied a Big East tournament record for triples in one contest with 17, and Jonathan Wallace added 20 points.  The Wildcats fell to 0-5 against Georgetown in the Big East tournament.  Scottie Reynolds led Villanova with 13 points, while Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, and Dwayne Anderson each had a dozen.  

February 11, 2008 - Verizon Center - #8 Georgetown 55, Villanova 53

The Wildcats lost at the MCI/Verizon Center for the first time ever - given that they had opened the building, as Georgetown's first opponent, with a victory, back in December 1997.  It was the first time they had lost to the Hoyas on the road since January 1997, when Georgetown was still playing home games in the Capital Centre/US Air Arena, in distant Landover, Maryland.

It was high drama, as Wallace was fouled by Villanova's Corey Stokes with one-tenth of one second to play and the score tied at 55.  Villanova had been holding for the final shot, but Reynolds turned over the ball in traffic, and in the ensuing commotion, Wallace got to the ball and was fouled by Stokes, 70 feet from the Villanova basket..  Wallace hit both free throws to give Georgetown the victory.

Reynolds scored 24 points, and it was also noteworthy that Corey Fisher went 1-16 from the floor.

March 8, 2007 Madison Square Garden - Big East tournament quarterfinal - #9 Georgetown 62, Villanova 57

My full story -

#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

In one of the most bizarre games in the series history, ninth-ranked (and top-seeded) Georgetown led by scores of 14-0 and 26-2 to start the contest - yet ultimately won only by only five points.  The Wildcats had a furious charge, to trail by just five with 27.9 seconds remaining, but could draw no closer.  For the Hoyas, Roy Hibbert (14 points), Jeff Green (12 points, nine rebounds), DaJuan Summers and Wallace (10 points, four rebounds each) powered the victory.

For the Wildcats, Curtis Sumpter (18 points, six rebounds), Reynolds and Reggie Redding (11 points each), and Will Sheridan (10 points, nine rebound), provided the rally. 

February 17, 2007 - Wachovia Center - #14 Georgetown 58, Villanova 55

My full story:

#14 Hoyas Rally, Scoring Final 7 Pts Of Game To Top Villanova at Wachovia Center, 58-55

This was the beginning of Georgetown's current five-game winning streak over Villanova.  In a game where Hibbert was on the bench much of the time in foul trouble, the Wildcats failed to hold a 55-51 lead down the stretch, permitting the Hoyas to score the final seven points of the contest and foil an upset bid, 58-55.

The big star for Georgetown was Green, who ended up with 19 points and a career-high eight blocks. Sapp had 16 points, including a desperation heave at the buzzer of the first half that went in.  Reynolds had 18 points for Villanova, while Sumpter added 15.

The Hoyas' victory meant a season split of the series, with the increasingly rare phenomenon of two regular-season meetings...

January 8, 2007 - Verizon Center - Villanova 56, Georgetown 52

My full story-

Villanova Garners Ugly Win @ Georgetown, 56-52 - Remains Unbeaten (6-0!) @ Verizon Center!

It was yet another victory for Villanova there - and it remains Villanova's most recent victory over the Hoyas.
Reynolds had 16 points, and Shane Clark 14 points, to lead Villanova.  For Georgetown, Hibbert struggled, scoring only two points and not attempting a field goal.  Summers led the Hoyas with 14 points.

February 19, 2006 - The Pavilion - Villanova 75, Georgetown 65

Making only their second-ever (and most recent) appearance in Villanova's on-campus venue, the Hoyas fell to a superior Wildcats squad.

Another chapter written Sunday...

Go Wildcats!