Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reeling #4 Wildcats Upset By #5 Marquette in Big East Tournament Quarterfinals, 80-76 - The Disaster Scenario Has Now Taken Place

To the Wildcat faithful-

The basketball gods had cursed Marquette, with the Golden Eagles dropping their last three games to Villanova, by a total of five points, including in the quarterfinal of last year's Big East tournament, on Dwayne Anderson's heroic, just-rolling-in, lay-up...

Well, those gods finally decided to even things out a bit - and gave Marquette a chance to settle the score.  The Golden Eagles won a nailbiter, 80-76, to advance to the semifinals of the Big East tournament on Friday night, against eighth-seeded Georgetown.  While Marquette probably was assured of an NCAA bid, even before today, the victory over Villanova (the #10 team, nationally), extinguished any doubts.

But there are now plenty of doubts, for Villanova and Jay Wright.  The question is how to pick up the pieces of a once-promising season, that is disintegrating before the horrified eyes of the Villanova community.  As difficult as it is to believe today, the Wildcats were 20-1, at one point.  However, they are now 24-7, having lost six of their last 10.  It also marks the fourth defeat for the Wildcats, in their last six games.

This was the first time in seven years, that Villanova had lost its first game in the Big East tournament.  All-time, the Wildcats are now 31-29 in Big East tournament play.

Looking at the Box Score

Corey Stokes finished with a team-high 22 points.  The Bayonne Bomber really brought his game to new heights, shooting out the lights at Madison Square Garden.  Stokes was 8-9 from the floor, including an unconscious 6-7 from three-point range, turning in his finest game of the season.

He matched career-highs in three categories - the 22 points, six triples, and eight field goals. 

Corey Fisher also played well, finishing with 16 points on 5-10 shooting, and six assists, despite playing in foul trouble.

Antonio Pena did his usual strong job in the paint, as the redshirt junior ended up with 14 points on 6-7 shooting, plus half a dozen rebounds, in just 27 minutes of action.

Mouphtaou Yarou continues to develop into a great post option.  Starting once more, Mouph brought quality defense to the floor today, and added four points and four rebounds in just 15 minutes.

Scottie Reynolds - playing in Madison Square Garden for the last time, in Villanova blue and white - had a rough day.  He wound up with only 10 points, on 4-10 shooting.

Taylor King returned to action today, after a one-game hiatus against West Virginia on Saturday.  However, he made only a cameo appearance, as he played just two minutes, committing one turnover and one foul.

Missing in action today was freshman Isaiah Armwood, the outstanding freshman defender, and I can't help thinking that we could have used his defensive skills out on the perimeter today.  But he never reached the floor.  There was no mention of an injury, or if he is in Wright's doghouse.  So that will remain a mystery, for the time being.

So why did Villanova lose today?

Two number leap out - perimeter defense, and turnovers.  Villanova did very well at avoiding the persistent foul trouble that so plagues the team.  However, the Wildcats forced only eight Marquette turnovers today, while committing 14 miscues.

The other was the porous defense around the arc.  Villanova did quite well today from three-point range (9-17 - 52.9%).  But Marquette was unbelievable (11-18, 61.1%).  And in a game decided by four points, that was the difference.

It was particularly galling because although the game was tied at halftime, 30-30, Villanova had opened a seven-point lead at one point in the second half.  But the lead kept changing, and despite a triple from Stokes to knot the score at 70-70 with under two minutes to play, Lazar Hayward answered with a triple of his own, making the Marquette lead 73-70 - and in retrospect, that was the play that decided the game...

Among the many potential ramifications of today's defeat, is that the legendary Kerry Kittles (1992-1996) is likely to remain Villanova's all-time leading scorer, with 2,243 points.  Reynolds - the school's all-time second-leading scorer -entered play today with 2,184 points, 59 behind Kittles.

However, there were two setbacks today, to his quest to overturn the record.  One was the fact that he finished below his daily average, with just 10 points.  The other, was that in order to score the 60 points he needs to pass Kittles, it would have helped enormously to have had three Big East tournament games.  Instead of having potentially three games in which he could have scored 50 points, total, his grand total for the entire Big East tournament was 10.

So, for Reynolds to get the record, he would need to score 49 points in the NCAA tournament.  Certainly, that's feasible; if Villanova were to reach the Sweet 16 - thus playing three games - he'd need to average just over 16 points/game to make it.  Unfortunately, the way the team is playing now, I'm not particularly optimistic, about the prospects of the Wildcats making it to the second weekend. 

The Consequences of This Loss, For NCAA Seeding Implications 

I speculate that Villanova might be lucky to get a #4 seed, at this point.  The NCAA Selection Committee places great emphasis, on play down the stretch and in conference tournaments.  This scenario has now become a disaster:
  • The Wildcats had lost three of their last five regular-season games.
  • After falling from a #2 seed to the #4 seed on the last day of the regular season, they still benefited from a double-bye.
  • And after the double-bye, they still lost, to a lower-seed in Marquette, that had played yesterday, and which Villanova had already swept in the regular season (albeit by narrow margins).
  • And so, they now enter the NCAA tournament selection process, with four losses in their last six games. 
Next Up for the Wildcats

We await Selection Sunday...  Prior to the big announcement, I'll have a highly inaccurate, speculative guess about where the Wildcats will be seeded, their opponent(s), and location(s).
    Go Wildcats! 

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


    Anonymous said...

    We looked ragged and out of sorts, but if you look at the stats, it's not clear we played that badly. still, it's tough to beat a team that shoots 61% from the arc, including 6 of 6 in second half. Johnson-Odom was 5-7 from arc.

    I don't know what to say. Terrible skid. I think we've lost 5 of last 7. Is this worse than the skid after the great start in 1951? Right now, I think it is.

    It seems that when we began to use Mouph (whom I love), the air went out of our offense. Defensively, we seem to have a lot of trouble defending against the trey. In last month, Taylor's in some games; not others. Same with Armwood and Wayns. Starters and subs may be situational, but I'm not sure who to expect on the floor from game to game or what to expect from the team.

    You know, the ball movement of Marquette today in the half court (and Syracuse earlier) was crisp and elegant. A delight to watch (if it weren't against us!). If we can show some of that kind of movement in the NCAA tournament, we might be able to regain our mojo. If not, I"m not sure we'll get out of the first weekend.

    Just think: three weeks ago we were the class of the Big East and a #1 seed. Oh, how the mighty are fallen!


    Villanova Viewpoint Publisher said...

    Hello, Seamus-

    Thanks for the comment. My two cents:

    I'll have to look up the skid in 1951, that you referred to...

    Per Mouph - I think that Mouph is really helping defensively, and that it's more ironic than anything else, that now that he's developing, we're struggling. The fact that we have another shot blocker underneath, frees the guards to make some gambles on defense, since he's back there to erase some mistakes.

    Mouph also makes us far less reliant on Pena, as our only interior defender. Previously, if Pena got into foul trouble, we were in serious jeopardy. And with whatever's going on with Taylor King, that takes another guy out of our rotation with some size. So we need Mouph, badly...

    I agree completely, with your point, that "I'm not sure who to expect on the floor from game to game." In a further irony, Jay might have so much talent and so many pieces to use, that he's experimenting (and I think that he's doing this with complete justification and legitimacy) more and more with trying to find the optimal combination for every situation.

    So, nothing more to do now, and hope that by the time next weekend gets here, that something changes to bring back the magic... Who knows?

    Go Wildcats!