Wednesday, March 03, 2010

#9 Wildcats Survive Senior Night in Cincinnati, Block Bearcats' Late Rally, 77-73

To the Wildcat faithful-

The Wildcats - demoted to #9 nationally, in Monday's AP poll - were able to hold off a late rally from Cincinnati, on the Bearcats' observation of Senior Night, and (fortunately) emerge with a victory.  Although it was unpleasantly exciting down the stretch, Villanova held a modest lead throughout, and the four-point final margin is somewhat misleading...

The Wildcats were able to bounce back from the disastrous loss at now-#1 Syracuse, on Saturday night (the Orange, by the way, officially clinched the regular-season title, and the top seed in Madison Square Garden that accompanies it).  Villanova -which had lost three of its last four, entering last night's game - improved its record to 13-4 Big East, 22-5 overall; Cincinnati fell to 7-10 Big East, 16-13 overall.  It was the Wildcats' penultimate regular-season contest, as the season finale is against West Virginia at the Wachovia Center, at high noon on Saturday.

The Bearcats are almost certain to miss the NCAA tournament, for the fifth straight season, as coach Mick Cronin gallantly rebuilds the program after the disastrous end of the regime of Bob Huggins, his predecessor (now the coach at his alma mater, West Virginia.)  They have to win the Big East tournament, which will be a tall order, since the Bearcats have yet to win a Big East tournament game, since they joined the conference.

Another puzzling aspect of last night's game, was the fact that Cincinnati was wearing red jerseys, even though they were the home team and the Wildcats were wearing the dark blue road jerseys.  I speculate that they must keep white ones to use, in case an opponent has red or some variation (burgundy, crimson, etc.) on it, but it only seems logical to wear white (or in Georgetown's case, gray), when you're at home.  Perhaps it was a Senior Night decision...

The Wildcats relied on a highly diversified scoring attack last night, as half a dozen Wildcats reached double figures.  Scottie Reynolds, playing in his final regular-season road game, led the way with 17 points.  In an extreme variation of his usual pattern, he had no points at halftime, racking up all 17 after intermission.  Reggie Redding, likewise, in his final game on the road, led the team in minutes with 33, throwing in 11 points and four rebounds.

The most pleasant surprise was the return to form of the Bayonne Bomber, Corey Stokes.  Stokes, who had been struggling with his marksmanship, dropped 14 points in 25 minutes, coming off the bench.  He was 5-9 overall, 3-6 from beyond the arc.  

Three Wildcats added 10 points apiece - Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena, and most impressively, Mouphtaou Yarou.  Fisher only played 21 minutes, less than usual.  Pena also added seven rebounds, continuing to deliver in the paint.

Yarou, who has been thriving over the last two games, looks better and better as an additional post option, on a team that sorely needs one, particularly if Pena sinks into foul trouble.  Mouph logged 25 minutes, and his playing time has significantly increased.  And he had a high-impact 25: 4-5 shooting, plus 2-4 from the line.  As his offense develops, he could be our secret weapon in the NCAA Tournament.

Looking at the team statistics, two numbers leap out.  One is Villanova's perimeter accuracy: 10-21, a superb 47.1%.  When the threes are dropping, the Wildcats' offense is hard to shut down, and in a four-point victory, that was one of major reasons for the triumph.

However, there was also another factor - Villanova drastically cut down on its opponent's opportunities for free points at the line.  Cincinnati shot only 21 free throws, making 14; the Wildcats, in contrast, took 35 free throws, converting 25.  In the recent skid, the Wildcats had provided too many uncontested points for their opponents.  And so, shooting significantly more free throws than the opponent is a highly auspicious sign for the rest of March...

Cincinnati kept the game a battle for a while, and the score was knotted at 31 at intermission.  The Wildcats began to pull away, probably due to the fresh waves coming off the bench, and had built a commanding 16-point lead, 64-48, with less than seven minutes to play.  The Bearcats launched a furious counterattack, and the last four minutes were interminable for a Villanova fan who wanted to see a victory secured.  Cincinnati crawled all the way back to 75-73 with 3.7 seconds to play.  (The most egregious problem at crunch time, was a turnover by Stokes on an inbounds play, where the pass simply went through his hands, akin to an NFL wide receiver taking his eye off a pass a moment too soon.)

Big East Tournament Seeding Implications

We also now have assured ourselves of one of the four precious "double byes" - meaning that we go straight to the Thursday night quarterfinal.  Since the #2 seed plays at 7 PM and the #3 seed at 9 PM (although, de facto, around 9:30 PM), and we by definition will end up no better than second, and no worse than third, our first Big East tournament game will be Thursday night.

Unfortunately, the victory may not have cemented Villanova's grip on the regular-season runner-up spot, and the #2 seed that goes with it.  Villanova is at 13-4, alone in second place, with a rematch with 12-5 West Virginia in the season finale on Saturday.  If the Wildcats win, they are assured of second place, obviously.  If the Wildcats lose, however, we may still be assured of second place...

If I'm reading the Big East tiebreaker rules correctly (and I may not), we would win a tiebreaker against West Virginia, under the following criteria: 

Head-to-head - split (since we're assuming a loss to them on Saturday); 

Head-to-head against all other teams, beginning with Syracuse, and going down the standings, until one team gains an advantage.

 That having been said, West Virginia's split with 4th-place Pitt - against our lone loss to the Panthers - does not give the Mountaineers the higher seed.  The rule stipulates that if one team or the other could match the total, if there is an uneven number, it doesn't count.  So if West Virginia had swept Pitt, against our loss, the Mountaineers would get the tiebreaker.  

Likewise, we have two wins over Marquette, they have only one - but since West Virginia could have matched it with another win, it doesn't count.

So you have to go all the way down to Notre Dame, which both teams played only once - and we won; West Virginia lost. 

Go Wildcats!

E-mail: villanova.viewpoint-at-yahoo-dot-com  (I present it this way, to cut down on spam; it's the same e-mail address you've been using...)


Anonymous said...

A win's a win and I'll take it. Thought we looked ragged; every time we seemed to have the game in hand, we'd let Cincinnati right back into it.

On the red jerseys. I heard the play-by-play guy say something about "the traditional red" and there was an implication that it dated back to the time of their national championship days, right after the Big O left.

Not entirely clear, but that was how I understood it. So, it may have been Cronin's attempt to squeeze every last little ounce of mojo out of his team and its tradition as he scrambles for the post-season.

That's the first time I've seen Cronin. I thought he had an impressive style about him most of the time on the sideline, but when he loses his temper it's a horror show. Needs to learn to control that. Of course, none of us are under his stress, but still he needs to work on that. Lucky he wasn't tossed.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the comment. I concur that a win's a win, and although it was pretty ugly near the end, it's still a road win in the Big East, and when you rack up enough of them, you've had a great season...

Per Cronin - my understanding is that he's increasingly beleaguered, as apparently he made a public pledge to get to the NCAA tournament this year (it's his fifth season, and they've never been to one). He inherited a very troubled program from Bob Huggins, but apparently their fan base is getting restless...

Go Wildcats!