Saturday, January 22, 2011

#7 Wildcats Puree #3 Orangemen, 83-72, in One of the Greatest Wins of the Jay Wright Era

To the Wildcat faithful-

On Saturday at high noon, the #7 Wildcats delivered an incredible victory, in what can only be described as one of the greatest wins of the Jay Wright era on the Main Line.  Wright continued Villanova's remarkable success at the Carrier Dome, guiding the team to a stunning, 83-72 victory over the #3 Syracuse Orangemen.  (I know it's not officially the Orangemen any longer.  I will continue to use the term, nonetheless...)

Maalik Wayns led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 21 points on 6-11 shooting, 3-7 from behind the arc, and perfection from the foul line, on half a dozen attempts.  

Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes also contributed 16 points apiece.  Fisher was 4-8 from the floor, 3-4 from beyond the arc, and also dealt seven assists against four turnovers.  As for Stokes - the Bayonne Bomber was 5-12 from the floor, and was also 4-11 from three-point range.

Also reaching double figures for Villanova was Antonio Pena, who quietly added 10 points and seven rebounds - I was hoping that he'd bring in yet another double-double.  And uncharacteristically, Pena also added four assists.  To get four assists from a power forward, is a testament to Pena's improved passing ability and the quality of the Villanova offensive system.

Syracuse's trademark, traditional 2-3 zone, dovetailed well with a solid strategy - prevent Villanova from running a halfcourt offense designed to get the ball inside to Mouphtaou Yarou.  The Orangemen succeeded in doing so, with the result being that Mouph was rendered almost a non-factor.  Despite not committing a personal foul, the sophomore center saw only 25 minutes, scoring seven points on 3-7 shooting and collecting four rebounds.

One bench player contributed significantly, as well.  Maurice Sutton - just two games removed from serving a one-game suspension for violation of a team rule - saw a surprisingly high 15 minutes, with five rebounds, and two blocks.   Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood saw comparatively little action - combining for 19 minutes, five points, and four rebounds.  (James Bell didn't see any time.)

The Wildcats ran their record to 17-2 overall, and are poised to jump significantly in Monday's AP poll.

It was anticipated that the game might break the record for the largest on-campus crowd to see a college basketball game.  It joined the top three (also Villanova/Syracuse clashes), but ended up as only the second-highest, finishing slightly lower than Villanova's humiliating defeat at the Carrier Dome last season.  

Keys To the Villanova Victory

Clutch Free Throw Shooting.   The surprisingly large 11-point margin of victory, was sustained by Villanova's incredible performance at the foul line.  The Wildcats, of course, lead the Big East in free throw percentage, but even by lofty Villanova standards, it was outstanding - the Wildcats made 22 of their 24 attempts, for 91.7% accuracy (Gary Buchanan-esque, for those of you who remember....)

Accurate Sharpshooting.  Villanova made 50% of its field goal attempts against a very tough Syracuse defense, including 45.8% from beyond the arc.  The Wildcats were red-hot out of the gate, and as a result, were able to maintain a substantial, steady lead throughout the entire contest.

Staying Out of Foul Trouble.  With the Wildcats having such a short bench, and with a tendency to sink into foul trouble, it was a non-issue.  Incredibly, Villanova committed only 10 fouls in the entire game, of which Cheek, a bench player, committed three.  

Speaking of fouls - this was something odd and noteworthy - 

On the last possession of the first half, Villanova was set to inbound the ball with 4.9 seconds to play, under its own basket.  Syracuse had committed only four fouls, and the one-and-one doesn't begin until the seventh foul of the half.  

Jim Boeheim decided that he was better off having one of his starters, Scoop Jardine, commit two deliberate fouls, to make it difficult for Villanova to exploit the 4.9 seconds on the final possession.  He is a Hall of Fame coach, with a national championship, but with all due respect to Boeheim, I disagreed completely with his strategy.  I was more than happy - as I suspect Wright was - to accept the loss of a 4.9 second possession, in exchange for two cheap fouls on one of their starters.  And the further irony - the Wildcats still almost scored at the buzzer, with a shot clanging off the rim, on their third attempt after the two fouls.)

I would have found it more understandable, if Boeheim had sent in a couple of reserves to commit the fouls.  (He did, after all, have an entire bench available - he could have just as easily sent in two end-of-the-bench players to commit them.)  But why one of his starters?

This Victory in Historical Context

This was the first time Villanova had defeated a team ranked this high on the road, since the memorable 1995 victory at Connecticut, on a team featuring Kerry Kittles, Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams, Eric Eberz, Chuck Kornegay and others....  (We won't draw the parallel to that team's ultimate fate in the NCAA tournament, though - the triple-overtime-loss to #14-seed Old Dominion in the first round.)

Next Up For the Wildcats

A trip to lowly Providence is on tap for Wednesday, but Providence has traditionally been a very difficult place for Villanova to win, which we'll discuss further later in the week.  But if Villanova plays the way they did on Saturday, the Friars shouldn't be too much to handle...

Go Wildcats!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

#7 Wildcats Top Terrapins With 19-0 2nd Half Run, Overcome 12 Point Deficit

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #7 Villanova Wildcats - in what we have to acknowledge was an extremely entertaining game, although frightening halfway through the second half - used an incredible 19-0 run in the second half to best a black-jerseyed Maryland Terrapins squad, 74-66, at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

Despite the close geographical proximity of the two schools, it was only their fifth meeting ever, and the return game from Villanova's trip to Maryland last season.  Maryland was noteworthy in two aspects of Villanova basketball history.  The Terrapins were the third team Villanova vanquished, on its way to the 1985 national championship, in the Sweet 16.  And the following season, they were also the first opponent to ever take the floor at the then-new Pavilion, on campus.

I'll have some more extended thoughts on today's victory...  in the meantime-

Go Wildcats!

Update- full story:

Saturday’s victory over Maryland was one of the oddest games in recent Villanova history.  The Wildcats trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half, before their 19-0 run quelled Maryland’s upset bid.

Villanova’s inability to get to the foul line, particularly in the first half, was one reason why Maryland was able to take a 36-33 halftime lead, en route to the aforementioned 12 point advantage.  The Wildcats, who average well over 20 free throw attempts per contest, had a grand total of three attempts in the first half.  Moreover, when the Wildcats do get there, they make a high percentage of the shots.  Our shooting percentage is tops in the Big East and among the best, nationally.

This was good strategy, on the part of Maryland coach – and Collingswood, NJ, native – Gary Williams, who developed a love of basketball, partially due to his frequent attendance of Palestra doubleheaders.  Although he ultimately played at Maryland, graduating in 1968 (in addition to his 22 years and the 2002 national championship in College Park), Williams originally wanted to play for Penn - which was a national powerhouse at the time.

But back to Saturday's game.  Williams recognized that this was a critical part of our offense, and the Terrrapins were clearly instructed not to commit fouls, if possible.  Villanova makes too many free throws for that strategy to be effective.  (And Maryland had its own weakness in that area – Maryland entered the contest, ranked 306th in Division I, in terms of free throw percentage.)  And Villanova, as a result, barely got to the foul line, during the first half.

Ironically, the issue with fouls came from Villanova’s end.  Mouphtaou Yarou was saddled with foul trouble for the entire contest.  From purely a shooting perspective, Mouph had his worst game of the season.  He missed all six of his field goal attempts, finishing with just three points from the foul line. 

Villanova’s initial plays in the first half were run well, designed to get Mouph shots in the paint.  I believe that had he not gotten into foul trouble, Jay Wright would have continued to run the offense through him, but here’s what happened…

After missing two shots underneath, Mouph committed two quick fouls.  The second one was particularly egregious.  Mouph missed a shot in the post, and then decided – as a way of overcompensating – to foul Maryland’s guard from behind, out on the perimeter.  This was a terrible decision on Mouph’s part, as it took him out of the game.  He was immediately yanked, and logged only five minutes in the first half.

Mouph would then compound his error, by committing his third foul, immediately after play resumed in the second half.  He would ultimately play only 23 minutes, before fouling out in the last two minutes.  He did have an outstanding game on the glass, pulling in a dozen rebounds – a great total even if he had played the entire game, but particularly valuable in light of the relative lack of minutes.

Ordinarily, he wouldn’t have played that much in the second half, given his three fouls in the first 21 minutes.  But Maryland was ahead for much of the second half, and Wright had no choice but to leave him out there.

As it turned out, Mouph’s foul trouble was particularly problematic, since Wright had decided prior to the contest that Maurice Sutton – the player who invariably replaces Mouph if he gets in foul trouble – would be serving a single-game suspension, for violating a team rule.  So Wright had Mouph in foul trouble and Sutton, unavailable.

Villanova’s personnel problems were further compounded when Dominic Cheek sprained his knee in the first half, and didn’t return for the second.  Cheek played only four first-half minutes, did not score, and added two rebounds.

As a result, this was a game, where a shorthanded Villanova team really needed some punch in the paint – and fortunately, Antonio Pena had a great day.  Pena played all but one minute of the game, and turned in a double-double – 14 points on 7-12 shooting, along with 10 rebounds.

Other Wildcats also had fine days on offense.  Maalik Wayns led the way for Villanova, with 22 points on 7-10 shooting from the field and 7-9 shooting from the foul line – in all, a superb performance, particularly in only 29 minutes.  Corey Fisher played all but three minutes, finishing with 17 points on 7-15 shooting overall and 5-6 from three-point range, plus five assists. 

It was a subpar game from Corey Stokes, who struggled from the floor.  He finished with nine points on 4-14 shooting, and made just one of his seven attempts from three-point range.

Coming off the bench, Isaiah Armwood had a monster game on the glass, grabbing 13 rebounds (including five on the offensive end) in just 22 minutes.  James Bell saw 10 minutes, scoring three points to go with one offensive rebound, and one assist.

As a team, the Wildcats did their usual fine conversion rate from the line, connecting on 15 of their 20 attempts (75%).  Although Villanova obviously had no control over this, the Terrapins also had their usual dreadful performance from the foul line – 10-18 (57%).

The CBS Broadcast – Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg Were Great

I was particularly happy to learn that Verne Lundquist and Clark Kellogg would be calling the game for CBS.  Kellogg had his share of Kelloggisms, including a compliment to Gregory after a dunk, that he had been “coming strong and coming correct” to the hoop.  (Hopefully, we’ll make it to the Final Four again, and have Kellogg doing the analysis of the Wildcats, once more…)

Lundquist accurately noted the aforementioned, unexpected role that Maryland has played in Villanova basketball history.  But even better, CBS showed a clip from the 1985 Sweet 16 victory, in which you could see young Rollie Massimino, young Steve Lappas, and most surprisingly – young Lundquist!

Lundquist himself noted, in a wry, self-deprecating way - “I had hair back then.”  He added that although he did not call the Villanova/Maryland game in Birmingham, Alabama, he did in fact call the second Sweet 16 game, that took place immediately after it, on that court in Birmingham, over a quarter-century ago.

Maryland Traditions – “Fear the Turtle” and Testudo, Uniforms with Four Colors

I have friends with Maryland ties, and their enthusiasm for the Terrapins (known colloquially as the Terps) knows no bounds.  I must say that although he didn’t make the trip north on Saturday, that Testudo – the formal name for the Terrapin mascot, a giant turtle – is indubitably one of the coolest mascots in all of college basketball.  As much as I love the Wildcat, the only downside to the nickname is that it’s so commonplace, throughout Division I.

“Fear the Turtle” is the Maryland slogan.  Back in the day, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles entered the pop-culture scene, their “Turtle Power” slogan was also appropriated by the Maryland faithful.

Although, as a general rule, we don’t like black jerseys unless it’s actually the school’s colors – like Providence – Maryland’s black jerseys actually are in keeping with the state’s colors, so we liked them.  Maryland has the coolest flag of any state in the Union – you’ve undoubtedly seen it – the one in which two quadrants are red and white, and the other two black and gold with a checkerboard design.  If you looked carefully yesterday, the uniforms were black and gold, but with red numbers.  Usually, the Maryland uniforms are red and white, with black and gold trim…
One Final Observation

When Villanova was trailing in the second half, the guards rolled the ball up the floor, in order to save a couple of seconds, due to the rule that the clock won’t start until the ball is touched.

Now, this makes some sense, if you’re behind during the last three minutes.  But they did this with over eight minutes to go (yes, eight minutes)!  I don’t think that I’d ever seen a team do that with so much time remaining (I disagree with the tactic, as you can tell!)  Fortunately, that was the only possession on which they tried it.

Next Up For the Wildcats
Villanova has little time to celebrate the victory, as they must make the dreaded trip up to #10 Connecticut, for Monday night’s contest, with the hated Huskies…  Until then-

Go Wildcats!