Sunday, March 29, 2009

Final Four is... Final

The 2009 NCAA Tournament is down to a Final Four:
#2 Michigan State Spartans
#1 Connecticut Huskies
#3 Villanova Wildcats
#1 North Carolina Tar Heels

Villanova will play UNC on Saturday at 8:47 PM. Despite some slip-ups in the ACC, I think the Tar Heels have been the best team in college basketball all season, and they've been playing like it in the Tournament so far. It will be a tall order to beat them, but no one gave Nova much of a chance in the 2005 Sweet Sixteen, yet they came within one bad call of pulling the upset.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Nova Marches on to FINAL FOUR!!!

Final Score: #3 Villanova 78, #1 Pitt 76

Player of the Game: Scottie Reynolds - 15 points, game winner

Recap: Villanova pretty much had the game in the bag, then committed one of the most boneheaded passes ever, and it seemed like we were heading for overtime. Then with 5 seconds left, Scottie Reynolds made one of the greatest plays in school (and NCAA Tournament) history. He just said, "Pack your bags fellas, we're going to Detroit now!" and drove the ball straight to the rim, took contact, and still made the shot. Just an unbelievable play to cap off an epic game. I was one of the most most optimistic Villanova fans at the start of the season, but even I did not anticipate this team making the Final Four. But here we are... and we're not done yet!

Jay Wright: Great Coach, or Greatest Coach?Myself and others were critical of Jay Wright throughout the season for him favoring his upperclassmen over the more talented sophomores. Jay stuck to his guns however, opting for the more experienced group. And it was experience that enabled the players to keep their composure after the bad pass and run the same play that they've ran hundreds of times in practice to win the game. There isn't another coach in the entire country I'd rather have leading this team and representing the university than Jerold Taylor Wright Jr.

One word to describe Jay Wright's defense: pesky. All of Nova's defenders are in their man's face, constantly slapping at the ball, trying to force turnovers. It is visibly irritating to their opponents. Also to make up for their lack of size, Jay has them playing excellent help defense, always switching, double-teaming, and recovering. Jay may not be the best coach in America at drawing up in bounds plays, but the man can sure run a defense. And as the saying goes: "Defense wins Championships".

God I Love Dwayne AndersonDwayne is not the best shooter or ball handler, and at a skinny 6'6, he often times winds up playing against much bigger power forwards, but no one I know plays with more heart. He has that Kyle Lowry gene (or is it a sickness?). He might be that guy who took dodgeball in gym class way too seriously, or was a little too competitive when playing Scrabble with his family, but dag nabbit, there's not another guy in the world I'd rather have diving for loose balls on my basketball team. He saved the best scoring performances of his career for the NCAA Tournament (15 ppg), and he continues to make big play after big play. He knocked down a big 3-pointer, then came up with a crucial steal leading to the and-1. I don't know how we're going to replace him next year.

Big Shot ReynoldsScottie instantly altered his Villanova legacy in a mere five seconds with one spectacular shot. Sure he's had two 40-point games, but he has been underwhelming in his NCAA Tournament career. Now, no matter what happens from here on out, Scottie Reynolds will go down as one of the all-time Villanova greats.

Shane Clark!?!?!?!Where did this kid get the guts start jacking up threes all of a sudden, in the biggest game of his career? He hit three big 3-pointers early in the game to help Nova get off to a strong start. Also for once in his career he didn't lead the game in pump fakes; that feat belonged to Pitt's Sam Young.

Reggie's RedemptionI like how Jay Wright defended Reggie Redding in the postgame interview by saying it took guts to try that full-court pass, but yeah, it wasn't the smartest play. You have to give Reggie credit for keeping his cool and making a good inbounds pass to Cunningham on the next play. He stuffed the stat sheet as usual: 5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals.

Fisher Price
Corey Fisher was at it again. The jumpers weren't falling for him in the first half, so he did what he does best and took it to the rack in the second half to score 9 points. He's made dramatic strides in his free throw shooting: he's 24/27 in the NCAA Tournament so far. Fisher was a perfect 7/7 shooting clutch free throws down the stretch against Pitt.

Corey "Strokes"Stokes brought that scoring punch off the bench, hitting some big shots. He sank a big 3-pointer, and also showed some versatility by driving to the basket to score.

Humble PenaAntonio Pena played some solid minutes in relief of Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark to eat some fouls in the post. Most young players would be sour about not just losing their spot in the starting five, but almost falling out of the rotation completely. However, when Jay Wright calls Pena's name he is ready to play. This is a testament to his class and the attitude Jay Wright instills in his players.

Valiant EffortI have to give credit to Pitt; after all it, takes two to play one of the best college basketball games ever. I have a ton of respect for DeJuan Blair; he plays tough and always has a smile on his face. We had no answer for Sam Young and his pump fakes as he dropped 28 points. Finally, Levance Fields is a fierce competitor; hitting two clutch free throws, then almost nailing the full-court heave.

Well I guess that's about it... What's that, I forgot somebody? Oh yeah, that guy.

Dante Cunningham has been so consistently great all season that it's almost boring. What can I say that hasn't already been said about DC. Four years, 4 NCAA Tournaments, 100+ victories, 1 Sweet 16, 1 Elite 8, 1 Final 4, and he's been a valuable player on every one of those teams. The dude is simply a winner. He had 14 points, 5 rebounds, and a block in this one to set his 2009 Tournament averages at 17.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks. It's almost impossible to lead your team to the Final Four with numbers like those and not be drafted to the NBA.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Villanova is Elite

Final Score: #3 Villanova 77, #2 Duke 54

Player of the Game
: Dante Cunningham - 14 pts, 11 reb, 1 stl, 1 blk

Recap: I was watching the start of the Missouri/Memphis game, getting ready for CBS to switch over to Duke/Nova at 10:08, and at about 10:07 PM eastern -- black. The power went out at my house. It was like a scene from a bad movie, or a Sopranos episode. I spent the next half hour frantically trying to find a place with power to watch the game. I thought it was a bad omen of things to come. However, when I finally found myself in front of a working television, Villanova was up by five midway through the first half. Unless you were even more unfortunate than me, you know what happened next. Nova took a three point lead into the locker room and never looked back. Nova was dominant on defense, holding Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer to 4-32 shooting and outscoring the Blue Devils by 20 points in the second half.

Photo Captions:
Unknown Blue Devil: "Thanks Greg, you have the magic touch."
Greg Paulus: "Forget basketball and football, my future is as a professional masseuse."
In his final collegiate game Greg Paulus had 3 points, 1 assist, 2 turnovers, and 4 personal fouls in 10 minutes.

Jon Scheyer: "I can't stop you with my defense, so maybe I can distract you with my jazz hands."
Reggie Redding: Scores, then shakes head in disgust.
Scheyer's offense wasn't much better than his Swiss cheese defense: 3-18 FG, 2-10 3PT.
Redding had a great game on both ends of the floor: 11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks. He's really turning into a complete player, and he couldn't pick a better time to do it.

Dwayne Anderson: "No layups."
Elliot Williams: "Oh well, at least I'll be on Sportscenter."
I have to give Williams credit for that one dunk, it was sick. But that was Duke's only highlight of the game.
Dwayne had a great first half with 8 points and 5 rebounds, but he failed to score in the second. However, you can never fully measure Anderson's impact in the box score. There just isn't a stat for heart and toughness.

Shane Clark: "The road to the NBA goes through me, buddy."
Shane played some tough defense down low and didn't allow any easy baskets. As a result he fouled out in 22 minutes, but he contributed a solid 7 points and 5 rebounds.
Henderson, on the other hand, really hurt his draft stock in this game: 1-14 FG, 1-5 3PT, 7 points.

Dante Cunningham: "Sit down dude, you can't dance."
Dante grabbed another "Nova News Player of the Game Award", not that that means anything. He had his tenth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Singler, Thomas, and Zoubek were no match for Cunningham inside.

Scottie Reynolds: "This is basketball, not yoga."
Kyle Singler: "Scheyer told me to try jazz hands."
Scottie is starting to heat up. He had his best scoring game of the tournament so far with 16 points. It wasn't the most efficient 16 points (5-15 FG), but it's good to see him aggressive on offense, looking for his shot. A wrist injury may have been holding him back in the last two games because he was wearing a brace, but hopefully his shooting stroke is fine now.

I can't even attempt to figure out what's going on here.
Corey Stokes is in there, and although he had a quiet night offensively (7 points, 1-4 3PT), he grabbed 5 rebounds and played strong defense. His counterpart from the bench with the same first name also had a quiet night. Fisher had just 6 points and more turnovers than assists, but it didn't matter. This game wasn't about scoring, it was all about the tenacious Wildcat defense.

Coach K: "I wish I could go back to coaching Kobe, LeBron, and D-Wade..."

Next Game: Sat. 3/28, 7:05 PM vs. Pitt
Now Villanova plays a familiar foe for a trip to the Final Four: Pittsburgh. No one saw back to back blowouts coming against UCLA and Duke, but I don't think there will be any surprises in this one. Pitt and Nova know each other too well. Villanova can't overpower them with tough physical play because Pitt is even more tough and physical. Villanova already proved they can beat this team, and they know the key is to attack DeJuan Blair. The Final Four is within reach... they just need to play their hearts out and leave everything out on the floor.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Links: Guy Fisher

With the big matchup against Duke tonight, Villanova has received a lot of media attention, both locally and nationally. VUhoops and I Bleed Blue and White have been posting links to these stories all week, and you should definitely check them out. But if you can only read one, make it this amazing story by Dana O'Neil at ESPN about Corey Fisher and his uncle Guy. Truly inspirational stuff.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Round 3: Duke

Foe: #2 Duke Blue Devils (30-6)

Recent History: Villanova and Duke have not met in almost a decade, when the Blue Devils won 98-85 in the 2000 preseason NIT. Villanova is 3-7 all-time against Duke, but their last win was way back in 1958. Duke has consistently been one of the top teams in the country this season, maintaining a spot in the top 10 and spending a week ranked #1. They won the ACC Tournament over Florida State, and had several quality wins during the regular season including: Michigan, Purdue, Xavier, Georgetown, and Wake Forest. Duke destroyed Binghamton by 20 in the first round, then escaped Texas by 5 points in the second round. They were powered by 24 points from Gerald Henderson, who has been the team's best player this season. The junior G/F is averaging 16.8 points per game, and is looking like a potential lottery pick in the NBA draft. Right behind him is 6'8 super-soph Kyle Singler, averaging 16.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Jon Scheyer is the third Dukie averaging double figures at 14.9 points per game, most of which come from behind the arc where he shoots 39.5%. Rounding out the starting five are forward Lance Thomas (5.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and freshman point guard Elliot Williams (4.2 ppg). Off the bench they have guard Nolan Smith (8.5 ppg), 7'1 center Brian Zoubek (4.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg), and David McClure (1.9 ppg). Last and least is the infamous Greg Paulus. The once starting point guard has had a significant drop off in every statistical category this season, most notably minutes. The former star high school quarterback has got to be second guessing his choice to play basketball.

Famous Alumni: Basketball: Tommy Amaker, Shane Battier, Jay Bilas, Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, Johnny Dawkins, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Jr., Daniel Ewing, Danny Ferry, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, Dahntay Jones, Billy King, Christian Laettner, Corey Maggette, Shavlik Randolph, J.J. Redick, Jason Williams, Sheldon Williams
Other: Richard Nixon, Ron Paul, Paul Farmer, Michael Peterson, Jack Coleman, Tucker Max, Dave Brown

Fun Facts:
  • University is named after tobacco industrialists James Buchanan Duke and his father Washington Duke.
  • Duke has 3 National Championships, 14 Final Fours, 17 ACC Championships
  • Duke has had a record 11 National Players of the Year
Complimentary Youtube Video:

Final Verdict
: This game has the makings to be an instant classic. Duke and Nova are two big names in college basketball, and the teams play similar styles. If Nova can bring that same kind of physical play they used against UCLA, I don't think the Blue Devils will be able to handle it. Coach K is one of the best coaches in the game, but Villanova has an inside man (transer Taylor King) to share some of Coach K's secrets. I think it will be a close game, but if they play like they did against UCLA, Nova should win it.

TV: 9:57 PM, CBS and

Links:, VUH, IBBW, LGN, VBTN, VV, VSB, Duke, Wiki, AP

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Nova Rolls Past UCLA to Sweet 16

Final Score: #3 Villanova 89, #6 UCLA 69

Player of the Game: Dante Cunningham - 18 pts, 10 rebounds, 2 ast, 2 stl, 1 blk

Recap: Now that's what I'm talking about! This is the team we were expecting to see show up to the NCAA Tournament. Villanova played it's most complete and balanced game of the season, dominating UCLA with its physical play from start to finish. This was definitely an award-worthy performance...

The John Wooden Award for Best CoachJay Wright and his squad put on a clinic today. Six Wildcat players scored in double figures, and a seventh, Shane Clark, had 8. UCLA, from the Panzy 10 Pac-10, was flabbergasted by Villanova's tough, physical style of play. Everybody on the team did what they're supposed to: Dante and Dwayne had double-doubles, Fisher was swishing and dishing, Stokes (12 pts) was draining threes (4-9), Scottie was scoring (11 pts), Redding did a little bit of everything (13 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 4 steals), and even Shane Clark was scoring in the post and rebounding.

The "I Love You Man" Award for Best BromanceAssociate head coach Pat Chambers kissed Dwayne Anderson on the head when returned to the bench. D-Train deserved some love for this performance: 10 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals. Anderson's highlight of the game was when he sprinted down the court, dove towards Darren Collison from behind, stole the ball, then slid across the floor on his stomach. That's just the kind of hustle Dwayne brings to the game, and it seems like he has at least one of those types of plays every game.

The Manu Ginobili "Sixth Man" Award

We all know Corey Fisher won Big East Sixth Man of the Year, but is there a better player coming off the bench in the entire nation? I submit that there is not. Fisher Price has accepted his role and excelled at it. He brings instant energy and scoring into the game, and has a knack for getting to and finishing around the basket that few in the college game can replicate. He had a pretty flawless game today: 13 points (4-7, 1-3, 4-4), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 0 turnovers.

The Pennsylvania Lottery Award for Person That's About to Become Very RichIf Dante Cunningham continues to average 20 points and 10 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, he could find himself on an NBA roster next year. has him going 37th overall right now. I thought he might have a little more trouble scoring today, but the Bruins had no answer for Dante's Inferno.

The Club Trillion Award

Walk-on Jason Colenda graduated from "Club Trillion" by hitting two free throws to score the first points of his collegiate career. Leave it to Colenda to do it in the NCAA Tournament, against the most prestigious program in all of college basketball, instead of an early December game against Houston Baptist.

The Austin Powers Award for Best Chest Hair

... Josh Shipp

Villanova will travel to Boston next week to play the winner of #2 Duke/#7 Texas. I am really looking forward to that game, no matter who we play. Duke is a team everybody loves to hate, and I'd love a rematch with Texas after that loss at the Garden back in December.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Round 2: UCLA

Foe: #6 University of California, Los Angeles Bruins (26-8)(13-5)

Recent History: Eric Maynor missed a shot at the buzzer, allowing UCLA to escape with a 65-64 win, setting up this second round matchup. UCLA is the most successful college basketball program of all time, and one of the best of the past few years. They have made 3-straight Final Fours, and like Villanova, this year's senior class its the winningest in school history. Villanova is 1-2 all-time against UCLA. Nova lost to the Bruins in the 1971 NCAA Championship game 68-62. The two schools later met for a home-and-home series in 2001 and 2002. UCLA won 93-65 at the Pauley Pavilion in '01. Then in '02, Jay Wright's first season, Nova upset the Jason Kapono led Bruins 58-57 at Villanova's Pavilion. UCLA lost a big chunk of last year's team to the NBA draft: Russell Westbrook (#4), Kevin Love (#5), and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (#37), and all three players have had impressive rookie seasons. Despite the losses, the Bruins return a good team led by a trio of seniors: shooting guard Josh Shipp (14.4 ppg), point gurad Darren Collison (14.4 ppg, 4.9 apg), and 6'9 F/C Alfred Aboya (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg). 6'9 forward Nikola Dragovic is a threat from the perimeter (9.4 ppg, 37.7% 3-PT). They also feature a talented freshman guard and future NBA prospect, Jrue Holiday (8.6 ppg), although his defense is probably better than his offense at this point. Ben Howland's teams always put defense first, and this team is no exception.

Best Win: 85-76 vs. then #19 Washington

Worst Loss: 82-81 vs. Washington State (only loss to a non-NCAA Tournament team)

Famous Alumni: Basketball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Arron Afflalo, Trevor Ariza, Matt Barnes, Baron Davis, Tyus Edney, Jordan Farmar, Dan Gadzuric, Gail Goodrich, Jason Kapono, Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Reggie Miller, Bill Walton, Earl Watson, Russell Westbrook
Other: Sean Astin, Elizabeth Berkley, Jack Black, Francis Ford Coppola, James Dean, James Franco, Heather Locklear, Marilyn Monroe, Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, George Takei, Jim Morrison, John Williams, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Troy Aikman, Arthur Ashe, Jeff Conine, Troy Glaus, Jimmy Johnson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Michelle Kwan, Jackie Robinson, Chase Utley

Fun Facts:
  • UCLA has a record 11 National Championships: 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, and 1995.
  • UCLA won 88 consecutive games from 1971 to 1974.
  • Overall, UCLA athletics have won 124 National Championships.

Complimentary Youtube Video:

Final Verdict
: This UCLA team has seemingly flown under the radar this year, despite being ranked all season. A team with this much tournament experience should not be taken lightly. Villanova cannot afford to fall behind early to a team that is this good defensively. They need to play 40 minutes of Villanova Basketball to have any chance of winning. Most importantly, Scottie Reynolds needs to bring his 'A' game because Dante Cunningham will have a much tougher time scoring inside.

TV: 1:05 PM on CBS and


Nova Survives American Upset

Final Score: #3 Villanova 80, #14 American 67

Players of the Game
: Dante Cunningham - 25 points, 7 reb
Dwayne Anderson - 25 pts, 8 reb

Recap: Well, I guess that's why they call it March Madness. American looked the part of Cinderella in the first half, as sharpshooter Garrison Carr (22 points, 6-14 3-PT) led his Eagles to a 10 point halftime lead. Nova played right into their hands by making it a 3-point shootout early on. If Villanova learned anything from their games against Marquette and Louisville in the Big East Tournament, it was to save their best basketball for the second half. When Nova was trailing by 14 with about 18 minutes left, I feared the worst, but in the back of my mind I remembered those second half collapses we had in the Big East Tournament. If they could do it to us, surely we could mount a comeback against the lowly14th-seeded American Eagles. In the second half it finally clicked to the Wildcat players that they were bigger, faster, and stronger, and therefore, American could not stop them inside. Nova attacked the basket and got to the free throw line at will, and also turned up the pressure defensively. It was a wild roller coaster ride of a game, but ultimately the glass slipper did not fit this Cinderella.

American's small frontline had no answer for Dante Cunningham, and his line proves it: 25 points, 9-16 FG, 7-7 FT, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 assists. My only criticism is that he settled for a few too many jumpers. I mean, Dante had two slow white guys guarding him in the post. Don't get me wrong, Brian Gilmore is a smart player and I loved his effort (16 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast), but he's not exactly the second coming of Bill Russell on the defensive post. It's not often that Villanova has the size advantage in a game, so when they do, Dante needs to take advantage of it.

In what seems to be a NCAA Tournament tradition, Dante was sporting a new design shaved into his head. Here's a shot of last year's 'do in the Sweet 16 game vs. Kansas and last night's game vs. American.

Dwayne Anderson played out of his mind. You can tell how much this means to him and his fellow senior and childhood friend, Dante Cunningham. He came out firing from long range and couldn't miss. He was the only Wildcat that could compete in a shootout... he only missed one shot the entire night (9-10 FG, 4-5 3-PT) to score his career-high 25 points.

Corey Fisher fell victim to the allure of the 3-point shot early in the game, but then went back to his schoolyard roots by driving to the basket in the second half. That's the highlight of Fisher's game, and his clutch free throw shooting played a major role in Villanova's comeback. He scored 9 of his 11 points from the stripe, and he added 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.

Scottie Reynolds looked half asleep in the first half. This had the look of one of those classic games where Reynolds was shut down and Nova had no chance. He had 4 turnovers and only 2 assists. Scottie stepped it up slightly in the second half to score 8 points, but he was able to rely on his teammates for the scoring on a night when he wasn't feeling it. In years past Villanova couldn't win without a big night from Reynolds (see Kansas in last year's Tournament), but the improvements of players like Cunningham, Fisher, Anderson, Redding, and Stokes are what makes this years team capable of making a deeper run in the tournament.

Rounding out the box score:
Reggie Redding attempted three 3-pointers in a game for the first time in over a month. He made one, but that's not his game, he's much better driving to the basket. Nova's defensive stopper had an impressive 4 blocks in the game.

Corey Stokes attempted 5 threes, but only made one to score five points. I have a feeling he will have a better shooting night in the second round. He also contributed in other areas with 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block.

Shane Clark had 2 points, 3 assists, and 3 rebounds (2 offensive) in 19 minutes.

Antonio Pena did not play. I'm surprised Jay Wright didn't use Pena to exploit American's size disadvantage.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Round 1: American

Foe: #14 American University Eagles (24-7) (13-1)

Recent History: Villanova is undefeated (8-0) all-time against American. The last time they met was in 1993 at the Pavilion when Nova won 94-62. This is the second year in a row that American has made the Big Dance; it's also their only two NCAA invitations in school history. Last year they were a 15-seed and lost in the opening round to 2-seed Tennessee 72-57. This year the Eagles dominated the Patriot League and are currently on a 13-game winning streak. American is without a quality win, but they have experience against good teams, with losses to Oklahoma, Georgetown, and Maryland. American's bread and butter is the 3-point shot. They have four players shooting over 38% from behind the arc, including 6'8 senior forward, Brian Gilmore (12.4 ppg, 5.4 reb, 42% 3-PT). The clear leader of the team is 5'11 senior shooting guard Garrison Carr. He is averaging 17.8 points per game and is shooting 38.7% from 3-point range. Carr has the capability to get hot from downtown; he sank 8 threes in a game vs. UMBC earlier this season to score a season-high 34 points.Carr proved that he can do it against real competition last year in the NCAAs when he dropped 26 points on 6-15 from three against Tennessee. However, Carr has struggled against top competition this year: 9.3 ppg and 9% 3-PT (3/32) in games vs. Oklahoma, Georgetown, George Washington, and Maryland. Senior point guard Derrick Mercer is the third Eagle averaging double digit scoring at 11.5 points per game (41.4% 3-PT).

Famous Alumni: Basketball: Kermit Washington
Other: Goldie Hawn, Ugly Betty, Star Jones, Barry Levinson, Judge Judy

Fun Facts:
  • The university was chartered by an act of Congress in 1893, fulfilling George Washington's wishes for a "national university".
  • American is ranked #1 Most Politically Active Campus in the United States by the Princeton Review.
  • American University was the birthplace of the U.S. chemical weapons program, and chemical weapons were tested on campus in the early 1900s.

Complimentary Youtube Video:

Final Verdict: This is an experienced American team, riding a long winning streak, but I don't see them being able to handle Villanova's size and athleticism, not to mention the Philly crowd. Carr is the only player that worries me, but Reggie Redding should be able to shut him down. I think Villanova cruises to an easy victory and meets the winner of UCLA/VCU on Saturday.

TV: 7:20 PM on CBS and

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Nova Nabs 3-Seed in Philly

On Selection Sunday, Villanova landed the #3 seed in the East region of the NCAA Tournament. This is the fifth consecutive season Jay Wright has led the Wildcats to the field of 65. They will face #14 seed American University (24-7) out of the Patriot League. (I think that's their starting five pictured above, in front of our guys.) Most importantly, Villanova gets to play the first two rounds at their second home, the Wachovia Center in Philly. Should they win, Villanova will face the winner of #6 UCLA vs. #11 VCU. Also in the East region are #1 Pitt and #2 Duke. Is it too early to be dreaming of sending Greg Paulus home early in the Sweet 16? 

The last time Nova played at the Wach for the opening rounds of the tournament was as a #1 seed in 2005-06 when they won both games (58-45 vs. #16 Monmouth, 82-78 vs. #8 Arizona) en route to the Elite 8. The East looks like a difficult region, but I like some of the early match-ups for Nova, and I think they can potentially make a deep run. With the home court advantage, Nova should be able to advance to the Sweet 16 in Boston. However, you can't count out UCLA, who have made 3 consecutive Final Fours, and VCU scares me as a potential sleeper. More on our first opponent American to come later...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Louisville Sends Nova Home

Final Score: Louisville 69, Villanova 55

Player of the Game: Earl Clark - 17 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast, 4 stl

Recap: This game started a lot like the Marquette game the day before. It was all Nova early, although they only took an 8 point lead into the locker room at the half this time. And like the Marquette game, Villanova's opponent made a comeback in the second half. There were no late-game heroics this time, however; as Louisville marched on to an easy 14-point win.

Dante Cunningham was terrific in the first half. He was draining mid-range jumpers and finished the game with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Dwayne Anderson was hot early from the perimeter and scored 12 points. Corey Fisher also had a great first half, knocking down some threes and had 14 points total for the game.

Then a completely different Louisville team came out of the locker room after halftime. They were sharing the ball on offense, but the big difference was on defense. Louisville ran the full court press to perfection, forcing 23 Villanova turnovers, including 7 by Fisher and 6 by Reynolds. They also denied Cunningham the mid-range jumper by guarding him tight on the high post and even blocked a couple of his shots. Louisville was all over Scottie Reynolds the entire game. The only open looks he got were deep 3-pointers, well beyond the NBA line, so it's no surprise he only finished with 2 points on 1 field goal. Jay Wright called Louisville "the best defensive team in the country", and I agree. They are so long and athletic and they go about 9 deep, so Rick Pitino is able to press the entire game by continuously substituting fresh players. It's actually how I envision next year's Villanova team to be. Jay Wright's squad will be 10 or 11 deep, with a plethora of guards to sub in and out. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves; this season is far from over.

As opposed to last year, Villanova can now sit back and relax on Selection Sunday, knowing that their name will be called. The only question is what seed they will be and whether or not they will get to play in Philly at the Wachovia Center. I still think they have a good chance at a 3 or 4 seed, and hopefully they get to stay close to home. A Big East Championship is prestigious and I'd love it if Nova won, but I'd probably rather get sent home early and be fresh for the NCAA tournament than get physically and mentally drained like Syracuse has done by playing 4 games and 7 overtimes in 4 days.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Anderson Beats Buzzer, Marquette to Set Up Semifinal Matchup with Louisville

Final Score: Villanova 76, Marquette 75

Player of the Game: Scottie Reynolds - 21 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals

Recap: Villanova played its best half of the season, taking a 16 point lead into the locker room. It looked like the loss of Dominic James was too much for Marquette to handle. But then that happened. Nova got a little too comfortable with the big lead, and Marquette started sinking some 3-pointers. I'm not even sure how it happened, but suddenly Nova was down by one with only 40 seconds remaining. Corey Stokes almost blew Villanova's chances with a travel, but a great defensive effort on the other end left Nova with one more chance. Reggie Redding dribbled around the top of the key for what seemed like an eternity, then found a wide open Dwayne Anderson under the basket for a layup that bounced around on the rim about twenty times before dropping in just as the buzzer sounded. Dwayne Anderson was having a very quiet night. He only had 2 points and 4 rebounds, but he turned out to be the hero for Villanova on this day.

Scottie Reynolds had a great first half, scoring an efficient 18 points, half of which came from the free throw line. However, he only scored 3 points in the second half to finish 5-13 from the field. His cold touch in second half was part of the reason for Nova's collapse. I have to commend him for his toughness on the boards. He grabbed a team-high 8 rebounds and battled for a couple more that resulted in Marquette fouls.

Corey Stokes picked up the slack in the second half by scorching the nets from all over. He scored 20 points on 6-9 fg, 3-6 3pt, and 5-5 ft. His only mistake was the travel, but luckily it didn't cost Villanova the game.

Dante Cunningham struggled to find his shot throughout the game, only scoring 7 points on 3-10 shooting. Marquette really made an effort to deny him the mid-range jumper that Dante has been so lethal with. He also had an uncharacteristically low 2 rebounds and battled foul trouble, finishing with 4 personals in 25 minutes.

Corey Fisher had a nice game off the bench: 8 points, 5 assists, 1 turnover. He had a few plays for the highlight reel including a one-handed shovel pass on the break to Scottie Reynolds for an easy layup, an alley-oop dish to Dante Cunningham, and he went coast-to-coast finishing with a spin move to beat the first half buzzer. Corey is clearly not afraid of the spotlight.

Double R had a typical "Reggie Redding game": 8 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block. He obviously played an integral part in the winning basket by setting up Dwayne with the pass. Shane Clark had a solid game with 6 points and 6 rebounds, 4 coming on the offensive glass. Antonio Pena also contributed on the boards with 6 rebounds to go with his 2 points.

On the Marquette end, Villanova was able to force their two star guards, Jerel McNeal (4-17 fg) and Wesley Matthews (1-10 fg) into poor shooting performances. Although, they were able to finish with 15 and 11 points respectively. Nova had trouble in the paint with Jimmy Butler, who went 13-16 from the free throw line off the bench. Dominic James' replacement, Maurice Acker, made a valient effort, going 3-4 from downtown to score 12 points. Speaking of James, was it really necessary to keep a camera on him the entire game? I feel like I saw his face more than I saw actual game footage.

Next Game: Louisville, 7:00 PM, on ESPN

Ever since that heartbreaking loss to Louisville at the Wachovia Center, I've been hoping for a rematch with the Cardinals. Now Villanova gets their chance. Louisville cruised to a 73-55 win over Providence in the game just before Nova's near collapse. The Marquette game should serve as a wake up call to Villanova, reminding them that they need to play a full forty minutes. I think this close-call will help Nova gear up for the #1 seeded Cardinals. If Cunningham can bounce back, Reynolds can play a full game, Stokes stays hot from three, Fisher plays in control, andRedding and Anderson stay tough on defense, Villanova can pull the upset. They already proved they could play with this team, and I'm sure that watching the videotape from the crushing defeat on January 10 will make the Wildcats hungry for revenge.