Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nova Beats Marquette by 2... Again

That ending was a lot more exciting than it should have been. Villanova blew a 22-point lead with lazy and sloppy play in the second half. After a questionable intentional foul call on Corey Stokes, the Golden Eagles had the ball with 27 seconds left and a chance to tie the game with a two or take the lead with a three. Nova's defense came through with another big stop, just as they did in the first battle between these two teams, and like the last time, Villanova held on to win by two points, 78-76, for their 35th consecutive win at the Pavilion.

And a battle it was. This game had more hits and tackles than the Eagles had in the loss to Dallas later that night. Mouphtaou Yarou and Darius Johnson-Odom both had bandages on their heads. Taylor King layed on the floor in pain for several minutes after busting his head and shoulder. And Corey Stokes sent Lazar Hayward flying to the floor in what was a hard foul, but not flagrant.

Nova was getting anything they wanted offensively in the first half, and they looked to be on their way to another thrashing in the Pavilion, like the one they handed DePaul in the previous game. Stokes was back and on fire (16 points), Scottie Reynolds added 15 points, and three more Wildcats scored in double figures (Pena-11, Fisher-11, Redding-10). So how did Villanova lose such a big lead? Well, they seemed to get too comfortable with the lead, especially on the defensive end. They had several lapses on defense that resulted in backdoor layups and wide open threes. Also give credit to Marquette for turning up the pressure defensively. It's happened before this season where Villanova let a big lead slip, and there is a common theme in each of those instances: opponents' hot 3-point shooting in the second half.

Let's take a look at the data...
11/20 vs. Dayton: 18-point lead cut to 2, won by 7
Dayton: 4 threes made in 1st half (30.8%); 7 threes made in 2nd half (43.8%)

12/6 vs. Maryland: 16-point lead cut to 2, won by 9
Maryland: 3 threes made in 1st half (42.9%); 6 threes made in 2nd half (50%)

12/13 vs. Temple: Nova had 14 point lead in first half, lost by 10
Temple: 4 threes made in 1st half (36.4%); 7 threes made in 2nd half (63.6%)

1/9 vs. Marquette: 22-point lead cut to 2, won by 2
Marquette: 2 threes made in 1st half (25%), 9 threes made in 2nd half (60%)

The trends have been consistent. When Villanova gets up big, the opponent starts jacking up threes to try to come back, and Nova is unable to defend the 3-point line. They especially struggle against taller players who can shoot threes:

vs. Dayton: Chris Johnson 6'6 (3 threes made), Luke Fabrizius 6'9 (5 threes made)

vs. Maryland: Eric Hayes 6'4 (5 threes made) and Sean Mosley 6'4 (3 threes made)

vs. Temple: Juan Fernandez 6'4 (7 threes made), Ryan Brooks 6'4 (2 threes made), Craig Williams 6'9 (2 threes made).

vs. Marquette: Lazar Hayward 6'6 (4 threes made)

You can be all over someone on the perimeter, but if they're taller than you, they can just shoot it right over you. In the case of the 6'4 guards, those games took place while Reggie Redding was still suspended, so the 6'1 Corey Fisher and 6'2 Scottie Reynolds were forced to guard taller players. As for the front court 3-point shooters, Antonio Pena and Taylor King aren't quick or athletic enough to guard people out on the perimeter, and 6'5 Corey Stokes and 6'5 Reggie Redding (the team's best perimeter defender) are too short to guard the Lazar Haywards and Luke Fabriziuses of the world. The only player with the size, quickness, and athleticism to guard these types of players on the perimeter is 6'7 Isaiah Armwood; however, he is too young and raw to fill that role.

It's still too early to tell if these problems result from a simple lack of intensity and focus while playing with a big lead, or if Villanova truly has a problem defending taller players who can knock down the three. Villanova was lucky they were able to hold on to win this game, but they need to tighten up their perimeter defense to prevent another collapse in the future that may end in a loss. Finally, as Scottie Reynolds said, "There is no limit on our team if we can do that for 40 minutes, but we are not capable right now of doing that as a team for 40 minutes. That is our goal. When we get to that point we can be something special."

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