Monday, March 29, 2010

Villanova Season Review in Comments Threat in Previous Post

To the Wildcat faithful-

I wanted to call everyone's attention to the fact that we have an excellent comment thread, on the St. Mary's recap below, in which we discuss at length the various factors, that led to the Wildcats' subpar performance down the stretch, in the Big East tournament, and in the NCAA tournament.  Commenter Seamus and two anonymous commenters have been contributing, big time... so please look at the comment thread not on this post, but the game recap of St. Mary's...

Go Wildcats!

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.

I continue to add content... please check back for updates...

Go Wildcats!

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

Friday, March 19, 2010

Comprehensive Villanova / St. Mary's Preview, Part 2 - #2 seed vs #10 seed - NCAA 2nd Round - The Gaels

To the Wildcat faithful-

In Part 2, I'm going to analyze the Gaels' players as individuals, and speculate about what we might expect Saturday afternoon, with Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery calling the game for CBS.  You can read Part 1 of the Villanova / Saint Mary's Preview by clicking here.

Before I begin, one historical note: this will be the third meeting, all-time, between Villanova and Saint Mary's.  The two teams, from opposite coasts, played a home-and-home series in the early 1990s.  On December 12, 1992 (the first year under the helm of Steve Lappas, the predecessor of Jay Wright), Villanova lost in overtime, to the host Gaels, 65-64.  The following year, at the Pavilion, Villanova won 89-78, on December 18, 1993; that team would go on to win the NIT.

Another note: When St. Mary's triumphed over Richmond, 80-71, it was quite a milestone for the Gaels; it was the school's first NCAA tournament victory since 1959.  The team had made the tournament five previous times since that year, but had always fallen short in the first round.

That single NCAA victory had come on March 14 of that year, against Idaho State, 80-71.  There were only 23 teams in the field, and Saint Mary's reached the Elite Eight due to that victory.  But it took another half-century for Saint Mary's to triumph once more in the NCAA tournament. 

Here's what Wright told the Saint Mary's Sports Information Office, on the Gaels:
“You just can’t go, they look like a team you could just go get and guard them one-on-one and these guys shouldn’t go by you, but you can’t play them that way. They’re so good, they’re so quick, even though they don’t look quick. They’re really ball quick, meaning they catch and pass quickly, and make decisions quickly. Their handles are quick and they get low on their drives. We’re going to have to adjust to their personnel. A couple of guys are great off the dribble, a couple guys are great shooters and passers.”
Certainly, having watched the first-round victory that Saint Mary's had little trouble achieving against #7 Richmond, the obvious distinction with this team is the prolific number of Australians, who have headed to another hemisphere, to play for Saint Mary's.  There are three Australians in the starting lineup, and five on the overall roster.

That having been said, the biggest problem facing Wright and the Wildcats, hails from far closer than Down Under: the Californian Omar Samhan.  At 6-11, the redshirt senior had a magnificent performance against Richmond: 29 points on 11-16 shooting, and a dozen rebounds, in only 28 minutes of action.  Samhan was the main reason why Saint Mary's obliterated Richmond on the glass, 40-17.

Samhan, a Wooden Award finalist, enters the game averaging 21.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3 blocks per contest.  For Villanova, the combination of Antonio Pena, Maurice Sutton, and Mouphtaou Yarou will need to prevent Samham from wreaking his customary swath of destruction through the paint.

Saint Mary's is not a particularly deep team, if coach Randy Bennett's rotation against Richmond is any indication.  The five Gael starters played all but 21 of the 200 minutes; in fact, Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova played all 40 minutes.  The other two starters, Clint Steidl and Ben Allen, played Beau Levesque saw 13 minutes; Jordan Page, a half-dozen; Mitchell Young, two minutes.  In their 21 minutes, they combined to score just five points, all from Levesque.

I will be continuing to add content, up until game time, so please check back...

I'll have a full recap after the game.

Go Wildcats!

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

Comprehensive Villanova / St. Mary's Preview, Part 1 - #2 seed vs. #10 seed - 1:05 PM, CBS, Saturday

To the Wildcat faithful-

This is Part 1 of a comprehensive, detailed preview of the second-seeded Wildcats' upcoming game with the #10 seed, Saint Mary's, who  with surprising ease - solidly defeated #7 Richmond, in the second half of yesterday's first-round doubleheader in Providence, Rhode Island. 

You can read Part 2 of the Villanova / Saint Mary's Preview by clicking here.

The Viewpoint on the Saint Mary's Gaels - 2009-10 Season Analysis

Saint Mary's finished with a record of 11-3 in the West Coast Conference (WCC), and entered the NCAA tournament with a record of 26-5, to which they have now added a first-round victory over Richmond.

For a school from the mid-major WCC, Saint Mary's RPI and strength-of-schedule are tremendous: a 35 ranking, with a 120 SOS.  In games against NCAA tournament qualifiers, they went 4-3: they lost two out of three against Gonzaga, wins over New Mexico State, San Diego State, and Utah State, and a loss to Vanderbilt.

Saint Mary's opened the season with the pair of aforementioned wins over New Mexico State and San Diego State, as well as the aforementioned loss toVanderbilt, by just two points.  The Gaels then ripped off seven consecutive wins: Cal Poly/San Luis Obispo, the non-Division I California Maritime, @ San Jose State, @ Utah State, @ Pac-10 member Oregon, Portland State, and Pacific.

So Saint Mary's entered the Diamond Head Classic Christmastime holiday tournament in Honolulu, with a 9-1 record, with the only loss being to Vanderbilt.  They extended the streak to nine, with a victory over Northeastern.  The streak was snapped in the semifinals, against Pac-10 member USC, but the Gaels captured third place by defeating the host, Hawaii.  Saint Mary's was now 11-2.

The Gaels then hosted their own holiday tournament, on their home floor in Moraga, CA - the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic; the hosts won by defeating Binghamton and Howard by lopsided margins.  Accordingly, Saint Mary's ended calendar 2009 with a bang: a 13-2 record, with the only losses coming against major-conference competition in Vanderbilt and USC.

Saint Mary's West Coast Conference Schedule

The Gaels tipped off 2010 with a pair of road WCC wins, @ Santa Clara and @ San Francisco.  Saint Mary's hosted the perennial powerhouse Gonzaga, ranked #14 at the time, but lost, 89-82.  The Gaels rebounded from the loss, with another half-dozen wins: Portland, San Diego, @ Pepperdine, @ Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, and San Francisco.

Heading into the rematch with then-#11 Gonzaga, this time in Spokane, the Gaels were sporting a 21-3 mark overall, 8-1 WCC.  But this time, it wasn't as close: the Zags humbled the Gaels by 19 points on February 11.  Two days later, Saint Mary's then stumbled @ Portland, falling in overtime; it was the only time this season they endured back-to-back losses, dropping them to 21-5 overall, 8-3 WCC.

But after that Friday the 13th loss @ Portland, Saint Mary's has gone undefeated.  They swept their three remaining WCC opponents: @ San Diego, Pepperdine, and Loyola Marymount, finishing the regular season 24-5 overall, 11-3 WCC.  It was good enough for second place in the eight-team WCC; Gonzaga won the regular season title, with a 12-2 mark.  

This second-place finish was important, as in 2003, the WCC changed its format to give the top two seeds a double bye, #3 and #4 a single bye, and have #5 play #8 and #6 play #7 in the first round.  As a result, Saint Mary's needed only two wins on the neutral court in Las Vegas, to capture the WCC automatic bid. 

The Gaels faced #3 Portland for the third time, and won the rubber match easily, 69-55.  And in another showdown with top-seeded Gonzaga, the proverbial third time was in fact the charm: the Gaels pummeled then-#14 Gonzaga, 81-62.

It is probable that given its tournament profile, Saint Mary's would have received an at-large bid, even without the 19-point victory over Gonzaga in the WCC title contest.  But no mid-major feels safe on Selection Sunday without one, and the Gaels undoubtedly celebrated in style.  The strong performance against the mighty Zags, likely influenced the Selection Committee in giving the Gaels a #10 seed.

In Part 2, I'll break down the Gaels and speculate as to what we might expect:

Go Wildcats!

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

#2 Wildcats Face #10 St. Mary's at 1:05 PM Saturday in NCAA 2nd Round on CBS

To the Wildcat faithful-

At the conclusion of the wild first day and night of NCAA tournament action, CBS announced that the second-round game in Providence, Rhode Island, between the #2 Villanova Wildcats, and the #10 St. Mary's Gaels, would take place at 1:05 PM on Saturday afternoon.  It will not only be the first game of the day, but it also will be seen by the entire nation, as no other second-round games are scheduled for that time window.

I will have a comprehensive preview of Villanova / St. Mary's up, as soon as possible.  Please be patient and check back for updates.

Go Wildcats!

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

Thursday, March 18, 2010

#2 Wildcats Survive Heart-Stopping Upset Bid By #15 Robert Morris in OT, 73-70; Villanova Rallies From Eight Down With Under 4 Minutes to Play

To the Wildcat faithful-

The headline says it all.  More to come...


What you see below is not the entire game story, as I still have to go back and look at the tape one more time, to chronicle the thrilling Villanova comeback in the last 3:57 of regulation, as well as their ability to hold off the counterattack by Robert Morris in overtime.  So, please enjoy the story you see below, and check back for more content on one of the most remarkable (although not in a positive sense) Villanova NCAA tournament victories. 

Today's game marked the 31st appearance by Villanova in the NCAA tournament, and its 49th victory (against 30 losses).  In this particular case, it's worthwhile to consider what would have happened, if the Wildcats had lost, rather than if they had won.

In 1995, #3 Villanova - with a nucleus of Kerry Kittles (the school's all-time leading scorer), Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams, Eric Eberz, and Jonathan Haynes, entered the tournament as the hottest team in the nation, the first - and thus far, only - Wildcats squad, to ever win the Big East tournament.  But the entire ride came crashing down in the first round, against #14 Old Dominion, in triple overtime.

It might seem unusual, to consider the parallels between 1995 and 2010, 15 years apart.  But the historical consequences of that loss to Old Dominion lasted a very long time - a decade, in fact.  The regime of Steve Lappas, Jay Wright's predecessor, never fully recovered, from the debacle.  (Which is remarkable, given that Lappas-coached teams subsequently reached the tournament in 1996 (a #3 seed), 1997 (a #4 seed), and 1999 (a #8 seed).

But ultimately, while at Villanova, Lappas went just 2-4 in the NCAA tournament, and the albatross of the Old Dominion fiasco was something that he could never shake.  Nor did it help, that all four of the losses came while wearing the white jerseys of the higher-seeded team.

Villanova's program did not fully recover from the defeat for ten years - when Jay Wright's third team reached the Sweet 16, eventually losing to North Carolina in a heartbreaker in that round in Syracuse.

It did not go unnoticed, by me, that in this year's tournament, Old Dominion just happened to be playing - and pulling an upset, in fact - at the same time Villanova was locked in its battle with a tenacious, gutty, and gallant Robert Morris squad.  Was this a sign from the basketball gods?

Would the 2009-10 season - with its promising, magical 20-1 start - be remembered, primarily, for how it ended?  An appalling slump to end the regular season, a single loss in the Big East tournament, and becoming just the fifth #2 seed - ever - to lose to a #15 seed, in the NCAA tournament?  Entering play today, #15 seeds were 4-96 all-time against #2s, since the current format began in 1985.  No #2 seed had fallen since 2001.

Fortunately, all of these questions are merely of historical, speculative interest.  Villanova - somehow - managed to rally from a 55-47 deficit, with 3:57 to play, force overtime, and outlast Robert Morris, 73-70.  CBS analyst Bill Raftery put it best: "Robert Morris only lost on the scoreboard."   It was the inaugural meeting between the two Pennsylvania schools - and I would seriously doubt if Villanova will be scheduling Robert Morris any time in the foreseeable future.

Raft was entirely correct, as he often is.  The Wildcats did not even come close, to deserving to win this game this afternoon.  The basketball gods cruelly tantalized the Colonials, and every player and every member of the Robert Morris coaching staff will wonder, for the rest of their lives, how they managed to let that advantage slip away, in the final 3:57.   In a Providence venue, where they had the majority of the crowd rooting for them as the underdog... (and which, although they were probably not aware of this, Villanova had historically struggled against the Friars...)

Perhaps the most egregious misplay from Villanova, was when Corey Fisher attempted to inbound a ball from underneath the basket, and trying to throw it toward the corner, turned the ball over, when he misfired the ball in that diretion, and the ball itself fell wide left of the line.  (As in not even close; it didn't even hit the line.)

Or perhaps it was when Reggie Redding, with Villanova trying to protect a lead at the end of overtime, inexplicably passed up a certain, absolutely guaranteed layup (no Colonial was within a mile of him), in favor of dribbling the ball for an extra second and a half, in order to be sent to the free throw line, to convert the two points that he could have just laid in without any trouble whatsoever.  (And he then missed one of the two free throws, giving Robert Morris a chance to force another OT, by keeping it a one-possession game at 73-70.)

I do believe, however, that in sports, it is inevitable that you have to win games, that you don't deserve to win.  The nation really should be reading about the remarkable upsets in Providence, about how #15 Robert Morris will be taking on #10 St. Mary's on Saturday.  But fortunately for us Villanova folk, we get to keep playing.  And the bottom line is that under the single-elimination format, all that matters is that we won today (on the scoreboard, or by luck, at least - as opposed to execution, shooting accuracy, rebounding, and the like.

Perhaps the one silver lining is that we probably can't play any worse, against St. Mary's.

The day had gotten off to a highly inauspicious start, when the noon KYW-3  news and the CBS Road to the Final Four both led with the story about how Fisher and Scottie Reynolds would not start due to what Wright termed "a teaching point".  Reynolds was inserted into the game less than four minutes in, and Fisher appeared soon after.  Apparently, according to Raftery and Verne Lundquist, they hadn't read or absorbed a scouting report of Robert Morris,  in accordance with team rules.  (After seeing the Wildcats' performance today, I can totally envision the accuracy of the charges.)

Granted, it probably did not really damage the Wildcats, today.  Fisher and Reynolds don't play anywhere near every minute, anyhow; the four minutes they sat out were more than made up for by the extra energy they had later.  But it was still a distraction, and it's very disconcerting when two of your most experienced players aren't fully prepared for NCAA tournament play.

Reynolds had one of the worst shooting days of his career: 2-15 from the floor, and 1-8 from beyond the arc..  Ironically, he made up for it by draining 15-16 from the line, finishing with 20 points (off the bench), leading the Wildcats.  He now needs 29 points to tie Kittles as the school's all-time leading scorer, but he's fortunate that he has additional games in which to draw closer to the mark.

But the big story was Mouphtaou Yarou.  Mouph came up big, with a stellar performance, easily the best of his young Villanova career.  Mouph was unstoppable in his 26 minutes: 17 points on 5-6 shooting, 7-7 from the line, eight rebounds, a pair of assists, and three blocks.  He was clearly the most valuable Wildcat, today.

The Wildcats also received a big boost from King, who seemed to be back to his old self: 10 points in just 15 minutes off the bench.

I will have a full preview of the second-round game against St. Mary's, up as soon as possible.

Go Wildcats!

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

CBS: Reynolds, Fisher Not to Start Today Due to What Wright Describes As A Minor Teaching Point

To the Wildcat faithful-

Both KYW-3 and Greg Gumbel on CBS's national Road to the Final Four, announced a few minutes ago that both Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher will not start in today's game, due to what Jay Wright described as a "minor teaching point."  This is of great concern, particularly in light of the fact that Taylor King's benching was also described with the same euphemism.

However, they have not been benched.  The Road to the Final Four reported that they will both play, and enter the game at some indeterminate point in the first half...

UPDATE:  Reynolds entered at 16:07, Fisher at the under-16 timeout.

Please check back for developments...

The Ultimate #2 Villanova / #15 Robert Morris Preview, NCAA Tournament, First Round, South Regional, Providence, RI - Part 2

To the Wildcat faithful-

In Part 2 of the Robert Morris Preview, I'm going to break down the Robert Morris Colonials, and what we may be able to expect in the game today.  You can read Part 1 of the Robert Morris Preview by clicking here.

The game will tip off at 12:30 PM, as we have the honor of being one of the first games of the tournament to get things under way.  I was pleased to learn that calling the game for CBS, from the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, RI, will be Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery.  ("Send it in!")

The Philadelphia Connections

There are a surprisingly large number of connections, between Greater Philadelphia, and the Robert Morris Colonials.  Chief among them:
  • Head coach Mike Rice, although from Pittsburgh, was an assistant coach from 2004-06 at St. Joseph's University, under Phil Martelli.
  • One of Martelli's sons, Jimmy, is now in his third season as an assistant to Rice, after playing for Dickinson from 2001-05.
  • Assistant coach Andrew Toole played three seasons at the University of Pennsylvania, under Fran Dunphy, now the coach at Temple.
  • Sophomore guard Velton Jones is from Philadelphia, having played at soon-to-be-closed North Catholic High School, in Northeast Philadelphia.
  • Sophomore forward Russell Johnson is from Chester, PA, having played at Chester High.
  • Junior guard Khalif Foster is from Philadelphia, having played at the Academy of the New Church in Montgomery County.
  • Freshman forward Lijah Thompson is also from Philadelphia, having played at Monsignor Bonner in Drexel Hill, PA.
  • Senior forward Dallas Green - although from Indianapolis, IN - shares his name with the legendary Philadelphia Phillies manager who led the team to its first world championship back in 1980 (well before the Colonial player was even born).
With so many Philadelphia ties on the coaching staff, it's easy to see how Philadelphia players represent a disproportionate share of the recruited players.  I actually had written this section, before I saw this piece by jhulax22 of The Nova Blog.... but check out their version on the many Philadelphia connections...

The Robert Morris Colonials Starters, in Order of My Perception of Their Importance

# 4 Karon Abraham, 5-9, Freshman, Combo Guard, But Primarily Shooting Guard

Robert Morris returned three starters from the team that won last year's NEC tournament championship and went to the NCAA tournament.

Accordingly, prior to the season, Rice was not anticipating that a 5-9 freshman such as Abraham, would be leading the Colonials in the following categories:
  • points/game (13.4);
  • field goal attempts (294);
  • three-point field goals (80), attempts (181), and percentage (44.2%)
  • free throws (122), free throw attempts (143) and percentage (85.3% - and in this latter category, he leads the NEC).
But Abraham has done so.  Compare the numbers above, with the official quote Rice gave on Abraham, in the Robert Morris media guide:
"Physically, Karon is ready to come in and play right away because of how quick and athletic he is and because he'll bring a change of pace.  He'll come off the bench and provide an instant spark.  He'll play a little bit at point guard, but mostly he'll see time at the two guard.  He really has the ability to create his own shot because of his speed.  He can be isolated on the wing and create a high percentage shot for himself.  He needs to be a sponge and continue to improve, but I think he could be successful in our program."
Rice was prophetic: Abraham has been more than successful in the Robert Morris program.  Instead of the sixth man, coming off the bench for offensive sparks, he's arguably the best player on the team.  Of the team's 34 games, Abraham has started 23, and he's second on the team in minutes with 26.6/game.  

Abraham's accolades include a unanimous selection as NEC Rookie of the Year, and was MVP of the NEC tournament.  During Robert Morris's run through the tournament, Abraham averaged 17.7 points, shot 54.5% from the floor, and 50% (8-16) from three-point range.  In the championship against top-seeded Quinnipiac, Abraham scored 16 points to lead the Colonials to victory, with four rebounds and three steals (the four rebounds are particularly good for a 5-9 player)

After Robert Morris got off to a 4-7 start, Rice inserted Abraham into the starting lineup for the first time.  Since then, the Colonials have gone 19-4.  Although the 4-7 record was against tougher, non-NEC competition, for the most part, the sudden soaring was not a coincidence.

How Jay Wright Will React: Senior Reggie Redding, who at 6-3 has a considerable height and experience advantage, usually draws the assignment of guarding the opponent's best player.  Let's expect to see him on #4.  Also, due to Abraham's size, he could be guarded by Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, or even Maalik Wayns.  Wright may decide to just use waves of fresh defenders on Abraham.

# 2 Mezie Nwigwe (6-4 Senior) - Shooting Guard(Pronounced Mez-e-A new-WIG-way) 

Nwigwe is a savvy senior, and a stout defender - he was named NEC Defensive Player of the Year, and is second on the team in steals with 44.  His role will be to stop Reynolds and Corey Fisher from filling it up from the outside.  He averages 8.2 points and 4.3 rebounds/game, and can hoist a three every once in a while (19-55, 34.5%).  At 74.3%, he is a superb free throw shooter.  (He actually is very similar to Redding.)

Nwigwe came off the bench for his first three seasons at Robert Morris, but has started all but one game this year, averaging 26.7 minutes/game.  According to the media guide:
Scoring guard with the ability to take the ball to the basket in a variety of ways... Also has the ability to knock down the mid-range and long jumpers... Arguably the most physically-gifted athlete on the Robert Morris roster...Became a playmaker... consistently finding the open man.
# 1 Rob Robinson (6-8 Senior) - Power Forward - 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds per game, 22 blocks

Robinson has started every game this season, and is Rice's main option in the paint.  Robinson has been named All-NEC second team for the second straight season, and was named to the NEC All-Tournament Team as a junior.  (As a junior college transfer, he has been at Robert Morris for just two seasons.)  He's the team's top rebounder, and second-leading scorer.  However, he has two considerable weaknesses: foul trouble and the foul line.

Robinson committed 106 fouls in the 33 games in which he played, over 3.2 per contest, and he plays just 26.2 minutes/game, probably for that reason.  He's fouled out of seven games.  In addition, he is a dreadful free throw shooter - he made just 38.7% of his attempts.  This is a significant decline from his junior year, when he shot 50%.  With Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton each bringing five fouls to the table, Robinson may be fouled a lot.  But primarily, the task of neutralizing him will fall to Antonio Pena.

The Robert Morris media guide on Robinson:

Length continually poses problems for opponents in the paint... Possesses an uncanny ability to block shots... Extremely active on the glass on both ends of the floor... One of the most magnificent dunkers in school history... A natural scorer with his back to the basket and a solid passer for his position.
# 3 Velton Jones (6-0 Redshirt Freshman), Point Guard, 8.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, 97 assists, 81 turnovers, 50 steals. 

Jones has started 29 games this season at the point, averaging 24.8 minutes/game, while leading the team in assists and steals.  For a point guard, he is a poor free throw shooter, making just 58.3% of his attempts.  He is also an inaccurate perimeter shooter, converting just 27.9% of his triples.  Villanova will likely leave him uncovered beyond the arc, and dare him to start dropping threes.  A partial qualifier, he practiced with the team last season but could not participate in games, retaining four years of eligibility.

The Robert Morris media guide quotes Rice, describing the Philadelphian:
"The one thing we've lacked we have in Velton Jones, and that's a pure point guard who penetrates to pass... Velton is an aggressive penetrator who has an ability to create shots for others..." 
In his player profile, the media guide states further that Jones "is not afraid to take the open shot", which may account for the poor three-point shooting percentage. 

#24 Dallas Green (6-8 Senior) Forward - 6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds per game. 

Green heated up in the NEC tournament, averaging 10 points and 4.3 rebounds, in the three Robert Morris victories.

Rice describes Green, thus:
"Dallas is the ultimate glue guy.  He's really comfortable with the role he plays.  He knows where to get his shots and where to get his rebounds.  He's a guy who understands how we want to play basketball at both ends of the floor, and he's a big reason why we've been successful the last two years [now three years].  Dallas thrives in his role, and he does so in a very efficient manner."
Off the bench, Rice has some options: 6-6 redshirt freshman forward Russell Johnson (the Chester native); 6-3 junior guard Gary Wallace, and 6-8 senior forward Josiah Whitehead.  It appears that Robert Morris largely uses an eight-man rotation. 

How Villanova Could Lose to Robert Morris 

It's no secret that the Wildcats stumbled badly down the stretch.  Of course, Villanova is bigger, deeper, and more talented than Robert Morris.  The Wildcats are comparable to Big East rivals Syracuse and Pitt, both of which crushed the Colonials on their home floors.  But this isn't the Pavilion; this is a neutral court in Providence, Rhode Island, and while there will be some of the 'Nova Nation there, there will also be a lot of the crowd rooting for the #15 seed.  (The Wildcats do have the advantage of being familiar with the Dunkin' Donuts Center, the home of Big East rival Providence.)

Robert Morris takes a lot of free throws, and if the Wildcats continue to foul recklessly, and give the Colonials many opportunities for free points, they could stay in it.

In addition, Rice preaches defense above all else.  Robert Morris averages 68.5 points/game, while giving up 65.7; the Wildcats average 82.5 points/game, while yielding 72.9 points.  Robert Morris, like most underdogs, will try to shorten the game, hold the ball for long possessions, and try to get fouled.  In contrast, Villanova will try to press and trap, get baskets in transition, and try to get a big lead early.  (Robert Morris has not come back from any deficit larger than 10 points, all season; if Villanova can take a commanding lead in the first half, it may deflate morale.)

I continue to add this to this preview, so please check back for more content...

Don't forget to fill out your brackets, before the deadline closes this morning.

Go Wildcats!

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

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Ultimate #2 Villanova / #15 Robert Morris Preview, NCAA Tournament, First Round, South Regional, Providence, RI - Part 1

To the Wildcat faithful-

This is Part 1 of what I am striving to create - the Ultimate #2 Villanova / #15 Robert Morris Preview, NCAA Tournament, First Round, South Regional, Providence, Rhode Island.   You can read Part 2 of the Robert Morris Preview here.

The Villanova Wildcats enter the game with a record of 24-7, having received an at-large bid, out of the Big East.  The Robert Morris Colonials arrive with a record of 23-11, having received the automatic bid, as the tournament champions of the Northeast Conference (NEC).

Part 1 - The Viewpoint on the Robert Morris Colonials 

History vs. Villanova - This is the first time the schools have ever met.

NCAA Tournament History - Robert Morris is making its seventh NCAA tournament appearance.  Previously, the Colonials received NCAA bids (with seeds in parentheses) in 1982 (#12), 1983 (#12), 1989 (#16), 1990 (#15), 1992 (#16), and 2009 (#15).  (Note: prior to the expansion to 64 teams, the lowest possible seed was a #12, which they received in both 1982 and 1983.)

After a 17-year hiatus, the Colonials returned to the NCAA tournament last season, but were defeated by #2 Michigan State (the eventual national runner-up), 77-62.  2010 marks the second consecutive Robert Morris appearance in the NCAA tournament, and as was the case last year, the Colonials were seeded #15.

Despite half a dozen previous appearances, Robert Morris has only won a single NCAA tournament game, giving them a 1-6 record in tournament play.  Moreover, the Colonials have never defeated an opponent, other than another low seed.  The sole victory came back in 1983 - two years before the tournament expanded to 64 teams, in which Villanova - of course - won the championship!  In 1983, the Colonials defeated Georgia Southern in the opening round (the "play-in" game, in which Georgia Southern was another #12).

2009-10 Season - 23-11 overall, 15-3 NEC (tied for first place, with Quinnipiac, in a conference with a dozen teams). 

The Colonials shared the regular-season title with Quinnipiac, as they both finished 15-3.  However, Quinnipiac received the top seed in the NEC tournament, by virtue of its victory over Robert Morris, in their sole regular-season meeting, on February 20.  Thus, Robert Morris received the #2 seed.

However, the two regular-season co-champions met in the NEC tournament final, and Robert Morris avenged its February defeat.  On March 10, the Colonials won a nail-biter, 52-50, over their rival, and claimed the automatic bid.  The seven NCAA automatic bids are a NEC record, for any member school.

Analysis of 2009-10 Schedule and Results

November 2009

This season did not get off to a good start for Robert Morris.  They began the season 1-4, and the only opponent against whom they were hopelessly overmatched, was Syracuse.  In the Colonials' season opener, the Orange, ranked #25 at the time, annihilated them, 100-60, at the Carrier Dome, on November 11 (Veterans' Day).

However, Robert Morris also lost @ Penn State by 19 points, before playing in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Albany, New York.  They lost to Detroit Mercy by 12, crushed Alcorn State, 107-76, and then lost to the host, Albany, by 5.  By the end of November, they were just 1-4.

December 2009

After an initial improvement, the Colonials began to sink back into the mire.  They defeated Mount St. Mary's and Wagner, by single-digit margins - and so were back to 3-4.  But Robert Morris then lost three of its next four - @ Duquesne (a cross-town rival in Pittsburgh), @ Cleveland State, and two home games to Appalachian State and Kent State.  At Christmas, Robert Morris was just 4-7.
 It is likely, that after a 4-7 start, that Colonials fans were not particularly optimistic about their likelihood of returning to the NCAA tournament.

But then, the ship was righted.  In its final game of 2009, Robert Morris won @ Youngstown State, 72-67.  In January, they closed out their nonconference schedule, with a pair of home victories, both narrow, over NCAA tournament-bound teams: Ohio University (by two points) and Morgan State.  So, Robert Morris entered NEC play with a 7-7 mark.

January/February 2010- NEC Schedule (plus Pittsburgh)

The NEC opener was a setback, losing @ Long Island by 10.  But after that opening loss, Robert Morris took off like a rocket.  The Colonials, after starting 7-8 overall, ripped off nine consecutive victories in NEC play, as their record soared to 9-1 NEC, 16-8 overall.  They swept home-and-homes with St. Francis (NY), St. Francis (PA), Fairleigh Dickinson, and Monmouth.  And they also avenged the loss @ Long Island, by defeating the Blackbirds at home, 66-58.  (Note: #4 Villanova defeated #13 Long Island, the NEC champions, in the first round of the 1997 NCAA tournament, in Winston-Salem, NC  - Wake Forest was the host.)

Robert Morris's nine-game overall winning streak was snapped by a game at another cross-town rival, then-#25 Pittsburgh, and the host Panthers pulverized them, 77-53.  But they shrugged off the loss well enough, winning three more NEC contests: @ Central Connecticut State, @ Bryant, and visiting Sacred Heart.  Their record was now 12-1 NEC, 19-9 overall.

The big showdown game was their sole meeting with Quinnipiac, the other power.  Despite the fact that the game was at Robert Morris, the visiting Bobcats won 87-79, and took the lead for the regular-season title.  Robert Morris's final two were @ Wagner (a win) and @ Mount St. Mary's (a loss).  They wound up 15-3 in the NEC, regular-season co-champions, and 20-11 overall.

March 2010

The NEC tournament was one of the first to get under way, back on March 4.  The #2-seeded Colonials had received a bye, and prevailed over #7 Central Connecticut State in the quarterfinals.  They had no trouble with #3 Mount St. Mary's in their third meeting of the year, breezing 80-62.  So it was another showdown with Quinnipiac, for the NEC championship and the automatic bid.  And Quinnipiac had the right to host the game, as the top seed.  But the Colonials edged the Bobcats, 52-50, to return to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season.

So what does their 23-11 overall record, 129 RPI rank, regular-season NEC co-championship, and NEC tournament championship tell us about Robert Morris?

According to the outstanding site,, Robert Morris had a final RPI rank of 129.  (To put that in context, Villanova had a RPI rank of 11.)  Their strength-of-schedule ranked just 258.  However, to put that in context, Quinnipiac - which played in the same conference with a virtually identical record, both in conference play and overall - had a strength-of-schedule of 324, and an RPI of 147.

By the standards of whom a NEC team has the chance to play, Robert Morris actually had a pretty tough nonconference schedule.  (Please bear in mind that little schools only get to play big schools when they agree to play on the road, or on the neutral court of a holiday tournament.)

They had games @ two Big East powers, Syracuse and Pittsburgh; they had a loss @ Penn State, albeit a terrible team, in the Big Ten.  They had home victories against Ohio University, which qualified for the tournament as a #14 seed, and Morgan State, a #15 seed.  They have a good home loss against Kent State: although the Golden Flashes did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, they were a bubble team with a RPI of 47 and a 22-9 record.

However, as is the case with all low-major teams, there are some wins on their schedule that are of no value whatsoever.  (This was not Robert Morris's fault, as they have to play all their conference opponents, obviously.)  They had a 10-point win @ Bryant, which ranked 346 out of 347 teams in Division I, and which finished the season, 1-29.  (The Colonials only won this game by 10, too.)

They own two wins over Wagner, which was 331 in RPI and 5-26 overall.  The home game against Wagner was actually close - Robert Morris won by just three points!  They did better in the game @ Wagner, winning by 21.

They have two wins over Central Connecticut State (309 RPI, 12-18): one on the road and one at home in the NEC tournament.  Both wins were in the high single digits. The first win was by just nine points, the second by just eight.

The Coaches vs. Cancer tournament brought them a win over Alcorn State, which was just a shade above Bryant - a RPI of 344 and a 2-29 record.  However, Robert Morris at least won that game by 31 points.

Robert Morris swept St. Francis (NY) (294 RPI, 11-18 overall).  In the game @ St. Francis (NY), the Colonials won by just four points; however, in the home contest, the Colonials won easily, by 18.

Let's consider the other St. Francis - St. Francis (PA), which are both in the NEC.  In an interesting arrangement, they played each other twice in three days - February 4 and 6.  On February 4, @ St. Francis (PA), the Red Flashes (287, 11-19 overall) lost by just nine; two days later, @ Robert Morris, it was a dozen-point victory for the Colonials.

Robert Morris played Fairleigh Dickinson (270 RPI, 11-21 overall) twice in seven days: the home game was actually pretty close, with the Black Knights falling by just seven.  The game @ FDU was a 15-point victory for the Colonials.

Out of conference, Robert Morris had a narrow victory @ Youngstown State (271 RPI, 6-22 overall).

Albany (300 RPI, 7-25 overall) was the host of Coaches vs. Cancer.  On December 22, Robert Morris lost to them by five. 

So, here's my analysis of what this schedule and results tell us...

When Robert Morris played elite teams - which they did only twice - they were crushed, by both Syracuse and Pittsburgh, on the road.  This is to be expected; NEC vs. Big East isn't a fair fight, especially on the Big East team's home court.  However, although Kent State isn't a Big East-caliber team, the victory over them was a big coup, though.

What's intriguing to me, is how well the Colonials did, against teams that were roughly equivalent to them, and were fairly evenly matched: neutral court loss to Detroit Mercy (167); win @ Cleveland State (165), loss @ cross-town rival Duquesne (114), and road loss to Penn State (194 RPI, 11-20 overall).

Penn State is sort of an anomaly, as even though Robert Morris had a far superior record and RPI, it was still NEC vs. Big Ten, and it was on the road.  The fact that it was a 19-point loss, however, is surprising.

This concludes Part 1.  Next up - Part 2 - Breaking Down the Robert Morris Colonials...

Go Wildcats!

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

Monday, March 15, 2010

Congratulations To The Nova Blog, Formerly Known As I Bleed Blue and White

To the Wildcat faithful-

I would like to take this opportunity, to offer belated congratulations, to the bloggers who have now taken the fine blog, I Bleed Blue and White, to a new level.  Now known as The Nova Blog, they have now joined SB Nation, a network of extraordinarily high-quality blogs.  As many of you know, I've exchanged preview information with SB Nation bloggers for Georgetown, West Virginia, and Syracuse this season - and the content from all of them is top-notch.
Accordingly, I've now changed the right sidebar, having removed I Bleed Blue and White, and changed the URL to the new SB Nation one, The Nova Blog.  I particularly like the Wildcat logo in the top left corner.

Best of all, they have decided to join SB Nation in March, just in time for the tournament.

So, I'd really like to encourage all of you to go take a look at their new cyber-digs at SB Nation.  There are a lot of bells and whistles on a SB Nation blog; you'll want to explore it for a while.

I'll be adding content, regularly throughout the week, as I prepare for Robert Morris on Thursday, so please keep checking back for updates...

So go take a look at The Nova Blog - you'll find it well worth your while.

Go Wildcats!

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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

#2 Wildcats Vs #15 Robert Morris - NCAA 1st Round - Providence, Rhode Island, 12:30 PM Thursday

To the Wildcat faithful-

The Wildcats received an unexpectedly strong vote of confidence, from the Selection Committee on Sunday.  Despite staggering down the stretch, Villanova warranted a #2 seed, higher than anticipated.  I had been bracing for a #4; I felt that we would get - and deserved - a #3; I was astonished when all of the 3s and 4s had been issued, and it thus became apparent that we had the only high seed left, the #2 in the Midwest Region in Providence, RI.  (Yes, I know the geography under the "pod" system doesn't make sense.)

Villanova will be facing Robert Morris on Thursday, with tip time to be announced.

Check back for more...

Monday Morning UPDATE:  Tip time has been announced for 12:30 PM on Thursday afternoon.  This means that of the 32 first-round games, we will be among the first three.  Part of the fun will be the fact that if we win, we can relax then, and enjoy the other 29 first-round games on Thursday and Friday, knowing that we'll be playing again on Saturday...

Go Wildcats!

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 

    #4 seed - #10 AP Villanova vs. #5 Marquette - Preview - Big East Tournament Cyberinterview with Outstanding Marquette Blog, Cracked Sidewalks

    To the Wildcat faithful-

    I'd like to thank Kevin Buckley of the outstanding Marquette blog, Cracked Sidewalks,  for cranking out this set of questions-and-answers, not only on short notice, but because the Golden Eagles (unlike the Wildcats) had to play in the second round yesterday, in which they ousted St. John's...  Cracked Sidewalks is the definitive authority on Marquette basketball...

    Here is our cyber-interview:

    1) Villanova beat Marquette twice already, in both cases, by just two points. And this is the increasingly rare time when two Big East teams are facing each other for the third time.  How does that impact the Marquette approach to the game?

    1.  Tough to give you anything but the typical platitude answer here:  Coach Buzz, as a young coach, has learned from our last 3 games with Villanova.  Truly, they've all been tight games that, had a shot fallen here or there, the games could have tipped the other direction.  I would envision a similar game today. 

    2) Not to bring up an unpleasant subject, but there was, of course, that quarterfinal from last year, when you had that heartbreaking loss, on Dwayne Anderson's shot at the buzzer.  (The one upside for you, though, was that later than evening, Syracuse ended up outlasting UConn in six overtimes, so our game got wiped right off the headlines and the lead story on SportsCenter...)  So it's been three consecutive narrow losses to Villanova (and after you had beaten us three consecutive times...)

    What sort of impact do you think that has on the Marquette staff and players?

    2.  Marquette is a team built on heartbreaking losses.  Villanova has handed us 3 in the last 12 months, but if you were to ask any Warrior fan, the last year has been replete with heartbreakers.   Losing to Missouri in the NCAAs in a tight game, losing to FSU by 1 after having a 17 point lead.  Losing @WVU by 1, @DePaul (double ouch) by 1, ND in OT on Senior Night.   Add in 3 tight Villanova losses, and MU faithful have been kicked in the nuts 8 times in 12 months.

    So you ask what impact the 3 losses you hung on us will have?  Not much.  Even with our 3 OT victories this year, tight games make MU fans think "here we go again."

    3) What's the biggest change in Marquette's team, since we played twice, back in January?  As you remember, we were the first and third games on your Big East schedule, and the more recent of the two was all the way back on January 9.  I'm sure a lot has happened, since then?  What sort of changes should Villanova fans expect from Marquette?

    Our rotation has probably gotten tighter since January.  Even with the addition of Junior Cadougan, who didn't play the first half of the season, we typically play 7 guys exclusively, with small minutes from Cadougan and Erik Williams, both of whom were expected to play more at the beginning of the year, but the guys in front of them are simply better and they only get in for short breathers or when foul trouble occurs.

    Changed since January .. MU was picked to finish 12th in the Big East.  (I pegged them for 5 Big East wins.)  Now it's Big East Tournament time, they finished 5th in the Big East, won 6 straight on the road, and are a lock for the NCAAs.  They've been through 4 OT games (winning 3) and 10 of their last 12.   They have far more confidence, and mental toughness since January, and have the wins to prove it.

    We don't have the 5th most talented team in the Big East, but MU has done more with less throughout the season.   Should be a good game!

    Thanks once more to Kevin Buckley, and Cracked Sidewalks - go take a look at their site- it's well worth it...

    Go Wildcats!

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

    Saturday, March 06, 2010

    #9 Wildcats Fall In OT Heartbreaker to #10 West Virginia, 68-66, After Losing 14-Point Lead: Reynolds' Game-Winner At the Buzzer Hits the Rim

    To the Wildcat faithful-

    The #9 Wildcats - playing in their metropolitan Philadelphia finale - lost a heartbreaker to #10 West Virginia, 68-66, at the Wachovia Center.  It was one of the most painful losses of the Jay Wright era, as the Wildcats yielded only 16 points in the first half, and seemed to be well in control, with a 14-point second-half lead.  Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher both tied the game with dramatic three-pointers, Stokes in regulation and Fisher in overtime.  But Scottie Reynolds - playing in front of a uniformly pro-Villanova crowd for the final time - missed what would have been the game-winning shot at the buzzer at the end of overtime.

    UPDATE:  On Saturday afternoon, Reynolds launched the final shot he will ever take in metropolitan Philadelphia, at least while wearing the blue and white of Villanova.  Had this shot, taken as time ran out in overtime, fallen, it would have been the perfect capstone, to his many stellar performances in front of pro-Wildcat crowds over the past four seasons.

    He took the shot from the near corner (from a CBS television angle), and thus directly across the court, from his Wildcat teammates.  And when he released it, I certainly thought it was headed in.  The other Wildcats did, as well, as you can see from the replay.  As did most of the people in the Wachovia Center.  Yet another heroic buzzer-beater from Reynolds, in a high-profile game.

    Well, the basketball gods giveth, and they taketh away.  Whatever magic they provided in last year's Elite Eight against Pittsburgh, when The Shot bounced in to propel Villanova to its first Final Four in 24 years,. it wasn't forthcoming, yesterday afternoon.  Reynolds's shot was just a little bit long, and clanged off the rim.

    The miss meant that West Virginia - coupled with Pitt's eventual win over Rutgers later in the afternoon - meant that the Mountaineers, Panthers, and Wildcats are caught in a three-way logjam for second place in the Big East standings, at 13-5.  The Big East tiebreaker rules stipulate that for resolving this tie, a "mini-conference" of Villanova, West Virginia and Pitt is considered.  Under this formula, Pitt claimed the runner-up spot, with West Virginia taking the #3 seed.

    And so, in the span of one week, the Wildcats have gone from playing Syracuse, with the hopes of winning the Big East regular-season title, to the #4 seed, barely claiming a double-bye.  After starting the season 20-1, the Wildcats are really struggling down the stretch.  They are now 24-6, having lost four of their last six games.  Not where they wanted to be, come March.

    Villanova will almost certainly be gone from the Top 10 in Monday's poll, and deservedly so.  We used to dream about a #1 seed, for which this loss has extinguished any flickering hopes.  Even capturing the Big East tournament championship on Saturday, probably wouldn't put Villanova back onto the #1 line.  If the season were to end today, the Wildcats would be fortunate to garner even a #3 seed.  Our strength-of-schedule, though respectable, isn't high enough to warrant anything higher.  Only some good wins in New York, over top-flight opponents, could change that dynamic.

    This was a very painful loss.  The Wildcats had a great deal to play for; a chance to win for the final time in front of their own partisans; a chance to add another victory over a top 10 opponent; a chance to take the #2 seed in the conference tournament, and thus draw weaker opponents.  And they had this game well under control.

    The Wildcat defense yielded only a paltry 16 points to a high-powered opponent in the Mountaineers, their worst half of the season.  They had a 13-point lead at halftime, and a 14-point lead in the second half...

    Four Wildcats wound up in double figures.  Reynolds led the team with 17 points, but did so on just 5-16 shooting, including an anemic 1-9 from three-point range.  Fisher added a dozen points, while Stokes - returning to his early-season form as the Bayonne Bomber - went 3-6 from beyond the arc, finishing with 11 points, off the bench.  Reggie Redding finished with 10 points, while guarding West Virginia star Da'Sean Butler.  Nonetheless, Butler hit what would prove to be the game-winning shot, in the final seconds of overtime, just before Reynolds' bomb from the corner hit the rim.

    A notable absence was that of Taylor King.  I noticed, near the end of the first half, that he hadn't yet entered the game, and speculated that either he was in Wright's doghouse, or that he was injured, especially because he was sitting at the far end of the bench.  Neither of the CBS announcers noted his absence, most likely because unlike (for example, Jay Bilas or Bill Raftery) they hadn't done any of our games this year, and didn't notice that we were missing a player out of our rotation (albeit one whose playing time has been declining...)

    Resolving the mystery, David Cassilo of The Villanovan Sports Blog reported after the game that Wright told the media that King didn't play because of a "teaching point".

    Certainly, it was regrettable that King committed this offense, prior to this particular game, because the Wildcats could have surely used him, in an overtime loss by two points to a powerful opponent...

    Next Up for the Wildcats - The Big East Tournament - Quarterfinal Game on Thursday, vs. Marquette, Connecticut, or St. John's

    The Wildcats - having now been reduced to the #4 seed -will now play one of three potential opponents: #5 Marquette, #12 Connecticut, or #13 St. John's.  Marquette enjoys a single bye, and will play the winner of Tuesday's matchup between the Huskies and Red Storm, on Wednesday afternoon.  In turn, the Wildcats will face the winner of Wednesday's contest, on Thursday aftenoon, officially at 2 PM (although in practice, it will more likely be around 2:30, as the first game of any Big East tournament doubleheader rarely concludes early enough for a 2 PM start of the second game).

    Please check back for more news, as the Wildcats' adventure into March Madness begins...

    Go Wildcats!

    E-mail: villanova.viewpoint-at-yahoo-dot-com (same e-mail address as you've been using...)

    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...)