Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thunder in Paradise: Nova Narrowly Avoids Upset

He shouldn't even have been on the floor at the time, but an unlikely hero, Isaiah Armwood, came into the game with Villanova down by two with under thirty seconds left to hit the game-winning 3-pointer, his first three points of the season. Wait, hold on... I think the refs just called another foul. It was a brutally officiated game on both ends of the floor. The only reason Armwood was in the game was because Corey Stokes, Taylor King, Antonio Pena, AND Maurice Sutton ALL fouled out. George Mason also had two players foul out and another three had four fouls. It seemed like anytime two opposing players went near each other, the refs called a foul. George Mason led for most of the game, and it looked like the former Cinderella would pull another major upset. I've talked a lot about Villanova's depth this year, and in the end it paid off, as they needed every inch of it to win.

Villanova was already shorthanded before the game even started. Starting center Mouphtaou Yarou had to leave the team from Puerto Rico because of a viral infection. Taylor King started in his place, but at 6'6, he doesn't exactly bring the same kind of post presence. Because of Yarou's absence and the whistle-happy referees, Jay Wright was forced to play Maurice Sutton major minutes, who can do some nice things, but isn't ready to play 17 minutes a game yet.

One player managed to benefit from the barrage of foul calls. Corey Fisher got to the line 18 times and sank 14 of them, which helped make up for his poor 1-12 shooting effort from the field. To his credit, he kept driving to the basket, attacking George Mason defenders. Although he missed a lot of shots, I liked the fact that he was aggressive and drove to the basket, rather than just settling for jumpers. Fisher had 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Scottie Reynolds led the team with 18 points, but he treated the ball like a hot potato, turning it over 8 times. Scottie seems to have poor games like this every so often (vs. Texas last year comes to mind), but I expect him to take much better care of the ball in the next game.

Antonio Pena picked up another double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds), but fouled out in 27 minutes. He struggled with fouls last season, but I'll excuse this game because of the erratic officiating.

Corey Stokes took a big step backwards this game. After leading the team in scoring through the first two games, he had just one point before fouling out in 22 minutes. Although, he did grab 5 rebounds, an area of his game that he seems to have improved in.

In his first start, Taylor King looked good while on the court (8 points, 4 rebounds). The only problem was he only played 17 minutes and fouled out.

Maalik Wayns played great off the bench again: 9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal.

Considering all the foul trouble the team got into, it was surprising that Dominic Cheek only played 11 minutes. He was held scoreless, and missed two free throws late in the game that could have been costly.

Yes, Villanova won, and yes, the officials may have made the game a little closer than it should have been, but this is clearly not a top five team right now. They could be by end of the season, and personally I think they will be right there among the nation's elite when everything's said and done. However, this team is still so young and inexperienced. Everybody saw the strong backcourt returning from last year's Final Four team and the amazing recruiting class and assumed it would translate into instant success. Jay's young Wildcat squad isn't quite there yet, and he knows that better than anyone. But just like his teams of the past, this one will continue to get better as the season progresses, and when tournament time comes rolling around, Jay Wright will have his team ready and playing its best basketball of the season.

With all that said, I wouldn't be surprised if the team used this near loss as a wake-up call and proceeded to win the Puerto Rico Tip-off by blowing out their next two opponents. Next up, tomorrow at 3:00 PM, are the #21 Dayton Flyers, who knocked off #19 Georgia Tech earlier today.


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