Saturday, March 20, 2010

Gael and Farewell: #10 Saint Mary's Stuns #2 Wildcats in NCAA 2nd Round, 75-68

To the Wildcat faithful-

Gael and Farewell, to the 2009-10 Season.

The Gaels of Saint Mary's ended the 90th season of Villanova basketball on Saturday afternoon, as the #10 seed shocked the second-seeded Wildcats, 75-68, in the first game of the second round of the NCAA tournament, in Providence, Rhode Island.

For Villanova, which started the season 20-1, the loss was the culmination of a series of setbacks, which began in February.  The Wildcats, residents of the Top 5 nationally for most of the season, lost in their opening game of the Big East tournament, and required overtime to defeat a gallant, #15 Robert Morris squad on Thursday.  The subpar play continued today, as the listless Wildcats fell, in a stunning upset.  After winning all but one of their first 21 games, Villanova ended the season by dropping seven of their 11 last contests.  The Wildcats wound up with a record of 25-8, far lower than what would have been anticipated at the 20-1 mark.

For the Wildcats, accustomed to making deep NCAA runs under Jay Wright, it was an unsettling ending, to what once seemed such a promising season.

Obviously, we'll have many opportunities, to figure out just what went wrong down the stretch.  But in the meantime, congratulations to both Robert Morris, who came up just a little short, and to Saint Mary's, which did not.  And good luck to the Gaels, the rest of the way.  They were the better team today, facing a team far more talent-laden and deeper than their own...


So, just what went wrong? 

Looking at the numbers:

Certainly, Scottie Reynolds's final game as a Wildcat, turned out to be one that - as much as both we and he will remember his career - both we and he will like to forget.  His shot simply didn't make the trip up to Providence, in either the win over Robert Morris and this loss to Saint Mary's.

Against Saint Mary's, Reynolds finished with just eight points, on 2-11 shooting from the floor, and 1-3 from three-point range.  The eight points represented his lowest total since January 20 - it was the first time he hadn't reached double figures, since that victory against Rutgers.  Against Robert Morris, Reynolds still managed to score 20 points, because he got to the foul line often, and made those trips count - he was 15-16 from the line.  On Saturday, in contrast, he was just 3-3, from the line.

What proved fatal to the Wildcats' tournament dreams, was the fact that Corey Fisher also had an atrocious scoring game: 3-13 from the floor, 1-3 from beyond the arc, 2-2 from the line - and just nine points.  Villanova could absorb simultaneous bad games from Reynolds and Fisher on Thursday, and still escape in overtime; however, they couldn't pull it off for the second time, in three games.

In Villanova's 33 games this season, there were only six occasions, when Fisher had not scored in double figures.  And before the NCAA tournament, it had happened only once, since January 2.  But two of the six were over the last three days.  The Wildcats couldn't overcome the deficit of offensive firepower, from its two most reliable scorers.

Corey Stokes tried to carry the standard for the Villanova cause.  The Bayonne Bomber, playing his final game as a junior, led the team with 15 points on 5-9 shooting, including 3-6 from three-point range, and also added five rebounds, three of them on the offensive end.  It was one of his finest games of the season.  Down the stretch, with the exception of the Robert Morris game, Stokes had been firing well, a rare bright spot during the team's swoon in its final five games...

Off the bench, freshman Maalik Wayns provided a huge offensive spark.  Other than Stokes, Wayns was the only Wildcat to reach double figures, with 10 points on 5-9 shooting, plus three rebounds and three assists, in just 18 minutes of action.  It was the first time Wayns had reached double figures, since the victory over Notre Dame on January 27.  With the loss of two guards in Reynolds and Reggie Redding, Wayns will likely see a great deal more playing time, next season.

Speaking of Redding, his final game as a Wildcat was characteristic of his four years at Villanova - modest scoring, decent all-around numbers and effective defense.  While he shot just 2-7 from the floor and scored just five points, he collected four rebounds, two steals, and two blocks, in 26 minutes.

One mystery was what happened to Antonio Pena, in the NCAA tournament.   No injury or disciplinary issue was made public, and he was not in foul trouble in either game.  But he played a total of 21 minutes in both games, after serving as Villanova's most reliable inside option all season.  He didn't even start, against Saint Mary's.

Against Robert Morris, Pena did not score in nine minutes; on Saturday against Saint Mary's, he played a dozen minutes, and was effective, coming off the bench.  The redshirt junior was 4-6 from the floor, scoring nine points and garnering two rebounds.

Pena's playing time, instead, went to Mouphtaou Yarou, who really emerged as a vital inside force down the stretch.  After being the lead Wildcat scorer against Robert Morris, Mouph was inserted into the starting lineup against Saint Mary's.  He logged 17 minutes, but was just 1-4 from the floor and 2-2 from the line, scoring four points.  He did pull down four rebounds, three on the offensive end.

Isaiah Armwood did not play against Marquette in the Big East tournament, or in either game during the NCAA tournament.  This key freshman defender, who had been a key cog in the rotation, throughout the season, did not see the floor at all.

Dominic Cheek saw some of Armwood's time, playing 19 minutes.  The freshman really brought it on the glass, with seven rebounds, to go with five points.

Taylor King, after an offensive outburst against Robert Morris (10 points), did not have the same impact: in his nine minutes: three points, one rebound, and one steal.

Finally, rounding out the rotation, Maurice Sutton saw eight minutes, in which he did not score, had one rebound, and one turnover.

One of the great ironies was that despite the fact that the individual Wildcats' numbers were so undistinguished, was the fact that a couple of the team statistics actually looked pretty good.  The Wildcats were a perfect 11-11 from the foul line.  They committed just seven turnovers.  Both teams, coincidentally, were 7-19 (32.8%) from beyond the arc.  Saint Mary's won the rebounding battle by just one board, 32-31.

For Saint Mary's, of course, the big gun was Omar Samhan.  Villanova simply had no answer for him in the paint.  Simply put, Samhan had one of the best games that any Villanova opponent has ever had in the NCAA tournament: 32 points in 32 minutes, on 13-16 shooting, seven rebounds, and a pair of blocks.  (If he hadn't picked up three fouls, he might have done even better.)

There were two other standouts for the Gaels, both of whom played all 40 minutes.  One was Mickey McConnell, who scored 15 points on 3-6 shooting, including 3-6 from beyond the arc, had three assists and no turnovers.  The other was Matthew Dellavedova, who scored 14 points on 4-11 shooting, was 2-5 from three-point range, 4-4 from the line, and had four rebounds and two assists.

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Go Wildcats!

E-mail: villanova.viewpoint-at-yahoo-dot-com

12 comments: said...

Villanova played like garbage in Thursday's game against Robert Morris and played horribly again today. I'm disappointed that they hurt my bracket, but really they do not deserve to be in the tournament any longer. Congrats to the Gaels!

Anonymous said...

My valedictory on the season. The headline in Joe Juliano’s story in the Inquirer is that Villanova was “upset” by St. Mary’s. I’m not sure how much of an upset this was to most of us who follow the team closely. It would have been an upset in December, but I’m not sure it really was by March. You could almost see it coming, especially after the Robert Morris game.

I almost don’t know what to say, so I’ll start with numbers:

25-8 – a terrific season by any reasonable standard. Anytime a Big East team wins 20 games, you’ve had an excellent season.

2,222 – the number of points scored by Scotty Reynolds in his outstanding career at Villanova. It’s huge. Second leading scorer in Villanova history.

21 – the number of points Scotty fell shy of beating the all-time scoring mark, held by Villanova great Kerry Kittles. It’s too bad. An extra game might have let Scotty reach the record; another game in the BET would have helped; better shooting on his part in each of the last two games would have done it too. Disappointing way to end a fabulous career on the Main Line.

20-1 – the greatest start ever in Villanova history. Remarkable accomplishment. How long have we been playing? Maybe 90 years and this is the first team to reach 20 victories against only one loss.

5-7 – one of the worst finishes in Villanova history. I don’t really know it’s the worst (perhaps other teams finished the last 12 games with more losses), but I’m confident it ranks up there. There’s no denying that after the great start, we really slipped on a banana peel.

Well, to sum up: A great season, albeit made up of a fabulous start combined with a finish that has me scratching my head.

Limited to 5,000 characters. I'll offer some other thoughts in another post.


Anonymous said...

Part II:

What to say about the numbers and the season. It’s hard to know from outside, but the following strikes me (and may be inter-related):

1. There are hints of problems inside the locker room. Leaving aside Reggie Redding’s pre-season misadventure, three separate disciplinary issues down the stretch aren’t good, no matter how minor (Taylor benched; Stokes' disorderly behavior; Fisher and Reynolds don’t start in first-round NCAA game.) Would Jay publicly embarrass Reynolds for a minor infraction? I don’t think so.

2. It was hard to make heads or tails out of who started or who received minutes in the last month. Pena and King’s time seemed diminished. More time for Mouph and Cheek and apparently less for Wayns and Armwood. Not sure Jay handled the whole 11-man rotation issue as well as it might have been handled. What would I have done differently? God only knows, but the lineup & minutes changes late in the season seemed odd from afar.

3. What happened to our great outside shooting? At beginning of season, I expected great three-point performance, but in different games one or more of the bombers would be off – Corey, Scotty, Stokes, or King.

4. Defense? When we were winning, who cared about defense? But toward the end, defensive shortcomings were glaring against teams like Syracuse, West Virginia, Marquette and St. Mary’s. Teams seemed able to score at will, if not outside, then inside and our offense was not able to make it up.

5. Ah, the offense. We’ve relied so long on the “take-em” offense with 3-4 guards that I wonder if we knew what to do toward the end of the season as Jay moved more toward a traditional line-up with Mouph in the paint. Watching us try to score in the last month was sometimes painful.

Finally, Jay’s observations. I thought Jay made two very interesting comments after the Robert Morris game. He said (you can find this on the official website under post-game interviews) that during one time out he found himself thinking about next year. Was he looking forward to Mouph’s development? It struck me as a strange thing to be worrying about in the middle of a dogfight in the tournament that we seemed to be losing. He also said that early on the guards had trouble trusting the interior guys (like Mouph). The implication was that he wanted to run the offense a certain way and the players, if not resisting, were not comfortable.

Am I reading more into both those comments than they deserve? Not sure, but, to get back to an earlier point, there does seem to be some tension within the team that needs attention. Is it safe to say that Jay has never had so much talent on a team? I think so. Earlier in the season, he indicated that teammates were happy with their minutes. But as the schedule got rougher and losses started to appear, that happiness might have evaporated as people looked for scapegoats. Reggie and Scotty moving on obviously opens up playing time, but rumor has it that we have another great freshman class arriving. Keeping another team loaded with talent happy could be Jay’s biggest challenge next year.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, commenters-

I wanted to answer these comments:

With respect to the first commenter, whom I haven't previously seen here, thanks for visiting, and leaving a comment.

I do agree with you that Villanova did not deserve to continue in the tournament, after either performance. The Wildcats deserved to lose to Robert Morris, and although reprieved, also deserved to lose on Saturday.

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for such detailed comments. I've decided, for ease of organization and the 5,000 character limit, to address each comment in separate comments of my own...

1. I agree w/ Juliano that it was an upset. It was a #10 seed against a #2 seed, and if the #10 wins, by definition, that's surprising.

However, I acknowledge your point that given how poorly the team had played down the stretch, it was a lot less shocking, than it would have been, if it had happened at the beginning of February, when Villanova was 20-1.

2. Looking just at the won-lost records, it was a great season. The Wildcats were 25-8, despite playing in the most rugged conference in college basketball.

They went 13-5 in conference play, finishing in a three-way tie for second place in a 16-team conference.

They went 3-1 in the City Series, with the only loss being @ Temple, a team that ended up with a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament.

For those accomplishments, the Wildcats were granted a #2 seed, and those aren't just thrown around lightly. Those are great numbers.

During this Golden Age - which I define as the Wright Era, starting in 2004-05, his fourth season - the numbers are comparable:

2005 - 24-8 (Sweet 16)
2006 - 28-5 (Elite Eight)
2007 - 22-11 (First round)
2008 - 22-13 (Sweet 16)
2009 - 30-8 (Final Four)
2010 - 25-8 (Second round)

The really frustrating part, though, is that nobody would have been happy with 25-8 six weeks ago...

3. That's a remarkable statistic, that Scottie Reynolds ended up with exactly 2,222 points for his career. One of the legends. He would, of course, be remembered, even without The Shot, but with it he's in the inner ring of Villanova immortals...

4. It is a shame, that Reynolds ended up only 21 short of the record. It's just that nobody anticipated that our postseason run would consist of a single Big East tournament game and two NCAA tournament games against double-digit seeds. (And as you accurately point out, even with fewer games, he could still have reached the record, anyway, with better shooting..)

5. You're correct, this was the 90th season of official Villanova basketball - and it was the first time that any Wildcats squad had started 20-1. That can never be taken away from this team...

OK - time to keep going...

Go Wildcats!

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

I resume...

The 4-7 finish (or 3-6 finish, depending on how you look at it)... I'd have to look through the media guide, to figure out where this ranks when it comes to slides. I agree with you - certainly, relative to the start, it's probably the worst in modern Villanova history, at least over a series of games. I say a "series", in order to contrast it to the 1995 Old Dominion fiasco. That "slide" was only a single game, but it had devastating consequences.

(At least this year, we had some warning from the basketball gods that something was seriously amiss. There wasn't any warning, that year.)

Part II

1. On the specific issues that you cited, w/ the various players - I only know what's been made public, and so I can't speculate, beyond that.

2. On the erratic rotation - I absolutely agree with you, that it was almost impossible - especially in the tournament - to figure out who was coming and going in the rotation. You'd really hope that by now, everyone would have a certain role defined, that they'd expect to be playing. If you had injuries, suspensions, or the like, it would be different.

With Mouph - I really like Mouph, and we needed another big man inside, in case Pena got into foul trouble. I think that Wright recognized that if anything happened to Pena, we were extremely vulnerable. So I agree w/ that decision on his part. (Ironically, of course, the problem ultimately came not with the frontcourt, but the fact that the backcourt scorers stopped scoring.)

3. I concur with the bewilderment, as to what happened to the perimeter shooters.

4. On the defensive lapses - absolutely, while Villanova still had the high-octane offense, we could afford to give up a lot of points, concede the opponent a lot of free points at the line, etc., and not get burned. Then the offense cooled down, and once that happened, it may have been too late, to fix the defensive problems.

5. On the offense - Wright clearly wants the guards to penetrate and kick, and/or create their own shots, but there's a real adjustment from playing that way, to playing more conventionally with a true center, like Mouph. The team might not have been able to handle this fundamental transition, that late in the season.

Continued in the next comment...

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

The conclusion of my thoughts, on your comments:

The quotes: Thanks for calling those quotes from Wright to my attention. I found the quote about the other Wildcats' reluctance to give the ball to Mouph to be illuminating.

However, I couldn't find the quote that you referred to, where Wright said that he was thinking about next year during a timeout (and I dug pretty hard). Do you remember exactly where you saw it?

But, for the purposes of this discussion, if he said it - my two cents- I speculate that he might have been thinking about next year, because the Robert Morris game was not going well.

Of course, I am surprised that he would publicly acknowledge doing so, for precisely the reasons you described (which is why I was trying to find the exact quote, in context). I can comment more specifically, if I see the exact quote.

In terms of discontent within the team, itself (and my not having any knowledge, beyond what's already been made public...):

Certainly, we have a lot of talented players - and it's fair to say that this team had more talent than any of Wright's other teams here.

With only 200 minutes to go around, I think that Wright did amazingly well at keeping everyone happy (at least until the skid).

(One point I should mention, also - as we remember, both Redding and Mouph missed enormous pieces of the early part of the season. By definition, all of their minutes were being used for other players, and the fact that some of the bench players had the opportunity to play a lot in the beginning of the season, may have contributed to the cohesion that we saw for so long. Even if they weren't playing much, after those two Wildcats returned, they were still glad that they had a chance to play significantly, earlier in the season.

I think there were a couple of factors, that changed. One, as you noted, was winning. If a player really wants to play more than 8 minutes a game, it's a lot easier to keep him happy when you're 20-1 and he has the chance to go to the Final Four.

However, when you start to lose, he starts to think (even more so) that he deserves to play more, the team needs him, that the team would do better with him on the floor.

And to go back to the earlier point- I think that the constant rotation tinkering, tactical substitutions (offense/defense) was a method that Wright used to keep everyone happy. There weren't any players, who didn't play at all, and it probably forged a genuine camaraderie among all of them.

And I concur, that this issue won't just go away. We're only losing two players (granted, one is our best player), in Reynolds and Redding. Certainly, Wayns will be the immediate beneficiary of their graduation, and the wing players will get some of Redding's time. But the frontcourt will be just as crowded, and we're obviously adding some more players next season. How do you keep everyone happy?

Well, that's the best analysis/speculation that I can offer... As previously noted, thanks for such detailed observations on the state of the team, as we try to determine what happened at the end of this season...


Go Wildcats!

Anonymous said...

Greatly appreciate your thoughtful and detailed comments on my musings!

Very good point about the redistribution of minutes once Mouph and Reggie came back on line. Probably something to that.

I can't find the exact quote from Wright about next season, but you can find a reference to it in Bob Ford's Inquirer story (Wright takes big risk with discipline) following the Robert Morris game.

I recall seeing it somewhere else too (and I thought the "somewhere else" was a direct quote), but I can't find that now. But the Ford piece has the general idea.

Well, I'm now looking forward to next year and hoping that the kids returning from this year's team can use this experience to build on for next year. It's not easy playing basketball under the high pressure, bright lights and intense scrutiny of the Big East and it's not an easy job to coach and shape a program in that environment. I'm optimistic that Jay Wright will do what is best.


Anonymous said...

Would like to see us play a tougher non-conference schedule in December. So what if we lose some games early. No better way to find out what weaknesses exist and need to be worked on. Tom Izzo has been very successful at tournament time and I think his tough schedule helps out in the end. It would also have proven to this year's team that they WEREN'T as good as they were ranked. Apparently they didn't believe Jay when he tried to tell that to them during their 20-1 run.

Anonymous said...

Nice point, anonymous -- about tougher out of conference, early-season games. George Mason almost taught us that lesson at Thanksgiving, but Armwood bailed us out.


Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, Seamus-

Thanks for the detailed recall of where you saw the quote. I regret that it took me so long to reply... To the anonymous commenter - thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I have a response for you, in the comment below this one...

Here's the Inquirer link:

The relevant quote:

"So, it's no wonder that Wright said he found himself thinking about next season at times yesterday, taking it all in on a day in which the veterans made rookie mistakes and the rookies played occasionally like veterans.

Two of the veterans made a rookie mistake that took them out of the starting lineup and Wright made them pay the price. Some other coaches might have looked the other way but Wright chose to make the point. It isn't about one player or one game or one season, he said."

I agree with you that you accurately described the central element of the story, and I appreciate your calling it to my attention.

As it turned out, he didn't specifically say that he had these thoughts on next season, during a timeout, which is the aspect of the quote that had struck me, when I hadn't yet read the original article.

But that was an early afternoon game, and the press conference was in the middle of the afternoon, and so by definition, Wright was having these thoughts on next year at some point during the Robert Morris game, which is understandable, when we weren't doing well...

And I concur that we have to trust his expertise with the program, since it has really been a Golden Age. Watching Duke and Baylor yesterday, I was thinking that it would have been really cool, if that had been us, but it just wasn't in the cards, this year. (But we have last year, and nobody will ever forget the Pitt game.)

Go Wildcats!

Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

Hello, anonymous-

You made an insightful comment on the Wildcats' early, nonconference schedule. My thoughts, after your comment:

Would like to see us play a tougher non-conference schedule in December. So what if we lose some games early. No better way to find out what weaknesses exist and need to be worked on. Tom Izzo has been very successful at tournament time and I think his tough schedule helps out in the end. It would also have proven to this year's team that they WEREN'T as good as they were ranked. Apparently they didn't believe Jay when he tried to tell that to them during their 20-1 run.

Let's see...

Having read your comment, I decided to take a look at our SOS, relative to Michigan State. According to Jerry Palm at the superb site, our strength of schedule ended up ranking #22 nationally.

Ironically, since you mentioned Michigan State, the Spartans' SOS was actually considerably lower than ours - they were #51.

You're right in noting that our nonconference schedule may have been weaker than theirs. Our lofty SOS was probably due to the Big East and Big Five games, which remain constant from year to year.

But I think we actually had a pretty rugged nonconference schedule. We played @ Maryland (a #4) and @ Temple (a #5), neutral court against Dayton (54 RPI). We couldn't control our Puerto Rico opponents, obviously, but they were fine.

Obviously, the fact that it happened that Penn, La Salle, and St. Joseph's all had terrible seasons at the same time, pulled down our SOS. We had three cupcakes: Fairleigh Dickinson, @ Fordham, Delaware. But that was it...

Anyhow, just my thoughts on that. Certainly, Izzo's had a lot of success - I would be happy with a lot less than six Final Fours and a title over an 11 year period. I just don't think I agree that the problem this year was the schedule...

What are your thoughts?

Go Wildcats