Saturday, March 20, 2010

St. Mary's Stuns Nova

This was not the top-10 Villanova Wildcats team I've watched all season. Literally. After a very successful season where Antonio Pena and Taylor King anchored the front court, Jay Wright decided it would be a good time to tinker with a new look by throwing two freshmen, Maurice Sutton and Mouphtaou Yarou, on the floor to learn on the fly in high-pressure NCAA Tournament games. On top of that, he gave two more freshmen, Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, some of the most minutes they've seen all season. I like all four of the freshmen, and in Wayns and Cheek's cases, I've been calling for more playing time for them all season. However, now is not the time to make major lineup changes. These freshmen needed to get their reps in the regular season so they could handle this situation.

Scottie Reynolds - Seriously. What happened? I think he reenacted the movie "Freaky Friday" and switched bodies with his mother. He looked slow and hesitant, like the previous 2-15 game was still in his head. He followed it up by another horrid 2-11 shooting day, and at the end of the game with Nova down three, when Scottie normally steps up and takes control, he passed away the ball immediately like it was a hot potato. He wound up falling 21 points short of Kerry Kittles' Villanova scoring record, and it's really a shame. These past two games are a black eye on what was a spectacular career from Scottie Reynolds. I really feel for him because as disappointed as I and other Villanova fans may be, Scottie must feel that much worse. When the dust settles, he should hold his head high because Scottie Reynolds had one of the all-time best collegiate careers that anybody in a Villanova uniform has ever had, and hopefully years from now when we think of Scottie Reynolds, we will remember the "shot" that sent Nova back to the Final Four and the 40 point games, and his poor 2010 Tournament will just be an afterthought.

Corey Fisher - I see your 2-11 and raise you a 3-13. You can handle one player having an off-game, but when both of your two best players can't buy a bucket you're in big trouble. Fisher seemed to get frustrated that he wasn't getting any foul calls around the basket, so he started settling for too many jumpers. Nova was a perfect 11-11 from the free throw line, by the way, but St. Mary's attempted 16 more free throws, making 20 of 26.

Omar Samhan - Samhan made six of the Gaels' free throws, as Villanova made him look like Kareem Abdul-Jabber. The 6'11 big man scored 32 points on 13-16 shooting. Jay Wright waited way too long to start double teaming him.

Mickey McConnell - He must still have the luck of the Irish with him from St. Patrick's Day. I know he shoots over 51% from 3-point range, but come on... he's even making bank shot threes? Watching that shot go in must have made Scottie feel sick. Or sick"er".

Matthew Dellavedova - I was really hoping Scottie would punch that guy in the mouth. You're just asking for it with a flamboyant mouthpiece like that. Seriously though, as bad as Nova played, you still have to give a ton of credit to St. Mary's. Those kids played hard, and deserved to win. Who knew there were so many good basketball players down under?

Antonio Pena - He had a band on his leg, and for Jay Wright's sake, I hope 'Tone was injured. If he was fully healthy, then it's completely unacceptable how little Jay played Pena in these two Tournament games. Pena and King averaged over 45 minutes per game all season, yet they played just a combined 20 minutes in this game. Meanwhile Cheek, Wayns, Yarou, and Sutton combined for 61 minutes in this game, despite averaging about 54 minutes per game all season. Pena was the team's leading rebounder and the only proven low post scorer all season. If you double his minutes to the 26 that he normally plays, that's potentially 18 points, 4 rebounds, and probably a Villanova victory. It was no surprise to me that Nova made a run and reclaimed its first lead since the beginning of the game while Pena was on the floor late in the second half.

Isaiah Armwood - Was he even in Providence? Armwood
was really coming on at the end of the season, and Jay Wright was trusting him with more and more playing time, and he doesn't even touch the floor in either NCAA Tournament game. Jay Wright's lineup decisions were perplexing. It was like how Avery Johnson and the #1-seed Dallas Mavericks botched the 2008 NBA playoffs versus #8-seed Golden State by overreacting and adjusting his lineup to match up with the Nellie-ball Warriors. You don't change your philosophy when you're the favorites. You're supposed to make them adjust to you. Villanova was succeeding with a 4-guard lineup all season, then Jay Wright starts playing Sutton and Yarou together, and it's no surprise that they struggled to figure out how to play together.

Corey Stokes and Maalik Wayns - They were the only two Wildcats to show up for this game. Stokes drained three 3-pointers for 15 points, and Wayns added 10 off the bench. However, Wayns made a lot of freshmen mistakes by trying to force too much on offense. But again, based on his role all season, Wayns wasn't prepared to take over in that situation.

Reggie Redding - Villanova's other senior didn't have a good final game either. He's not known for his scoring, but the defensive specialist did not get it done on the other end of the floor, as both McConnell and Dellavedova lit it up from the perimeter. Like Reynolds, Redding still had a great career at Villanova. Look no further than the team's success during their four years here.

Bill Simmons and Barack Obama - I should have known Nova was doomed when, not only the Sports Guy, but the Commander-in-Chief jinxed the Cats by picking them to go to the Final Four.

I hate to come off so critical of Jay Wright (I wish Pete from would come out of retirement to give his thoughts on Jay's coaching job in the Tourny). Jay has done wonders for the school, and there's no other coach in the country I'd rather have running the program, but he has made some questionable decisions overs the past few days, from the "teaching point" benchings to the radical lineup adjustments. I'll close by saying congratulations. The Tournament results were disappointing, but Jay Wright and crew still had a great season: they won 25 games, tied for second place in the Big East, made the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year, and won an NCAA Tournament game for the third year in a row. So let the loss sink in, look back at all the highlights from this season, then finally, start looking forward to next year. We have some great players returning and more great recruits coming in.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Nova Survives Robert Morris in OT

"I wouldn't be surprised if history repeats itself and Robert Morris gets out to an early lead on Villanova, and the score may be close at halftime. Nova fans and office pool participants across the country will sweat as whispers of "Cinderella" are heard. However, just as in years past, Villanova's depth and athleticism will over power the mid-major Colonials in the second half, and the Wildcats will cruise to a double-digit victory."
That's what I wrote in my preview for this game, and although the first part held true, I never anticipated Robert Morris being able to hang with the Wildcats for that long, and I certainly did not expect an overtime thriller. I'm not completely surprised though; Villanova always seems to struggle against these small, scrappy mid-major teams. Earlier this year they needed a late 3-pointer to beat George Mason, and I'm sure everybody remembers last year's 1st round near-upset versus American. Villanova was fortunate to escape this game with a 73-70 win, but the scary thing is that no matter who wins the Richmond/St. Mary's game, Villanova will be forced to play another small, scrappy mid-major team.

Jay Wright - News broke before the game that Jay was benching Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, his starting back court and top-two leading scorers, to make a minor teaching point. Well, I hope they learned their lesson because it almost cost Nova the game. Fisher never seemed to get into the flow of the game, and Scottie's shot was well, to put it kindly, off.

Scottie Reynolds - 2/15 FG, 1/8 3PT, 4 turnovers... In what could have been his final college basketball game ever, Scottie Reynolds had his worst shooting game ever. He wasn't really forcing bad shots shots; he was getting good looks, but the shots just weren't falling. But there's a reason he is an All-American and a National Player of theBold Year candidate. He never gave up. His shot wasn't falling so he drove to the basket, and kept driving. He got to the line 16 times, and made all but one of them. He finished with 20 points, despite making just 2 field goals. It was a gutsy performance from the senior.

Mike Rice - The head coach of the Colonials did not agree with the gluttony of foul calls that went in Reynolds' favor. Some of the highlights: Rice getting spun around and held back from the officials by one of his own players, Rice taking his jacket off and marching halfway out of the arena, and Rice getting CBS in trouble with the FCC for shouting about thirty curses after the jumpball/foul controversial call.

Karon Abraham - Check the morgues for someone named Issac tomorrow because I think Abraham sacrificed him. It's the only explanation for the freshman having the game of his life, dropping 5 threes and scoring 23 points.

Mouphtaou Yarou - MOOOOOOOF! The undersized Colonials had no answer for Yarou as he scored a career-high 17 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots. He also played a season-high 26 minutes, and I thought he should have played even more. He was that dominant. I can't wait to see what Mouph can do over a full season next year.

Antonio Pena and Maurice Sutton - Was Jay trying to make a teaching point to Pena also? He inexplicably played Sutton for almost double the amount of minutes as Pena, the team's leading rebounder. Sutton is a great shot-blocker, he had 4, including the game-saving swat that led to the Redding breakaway. However, the 6'11 center had just one rebound in 17 minutes, despite being the tallest player on the floor. The undersized Robert Morris somehow managed to out-rebound Villanova in the first half; meanwhile, Pena was stuck on the bench. I couldn't understand it.

Reggie Redding - Maybe Reggie was trying to top his full-court pass against Pitt last year for "worst late-game blunder". Instead of taking a wide-open layup to give Nova a 5-point lead, Redding chose to dribble out the clock for an extra second before getting fouled. Then, of course, he proceeded to miss the first free throw. However, like last year, it didn't cost Nova the game. All's well that ends well, I guess.

Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher - Not only did Wayns get the start over Fisher, but Jay continued to play Wayns over Fisher throughout much of the game. Wayns played 20 minutes for the first time in two months, while Fisher played just 25 minutes of a 45 minute game. Wayns is great at driving to the basket, and I love his upside for the future, but he is not ready to run an offense. Reynolds is the leading scorer, but the offense runs through Fisher and the team needs him on the floor as much as possible. I love Jay, and I understand the benchings, but the NCAA Tournament is no time to be making major changes to your rotation with Sutton and Wayns over Pena and Fisher.

Taylor King - With a fresh haircut, King rediscovered his lefty stroke to score 10 points off the bench, his first time reaching double digits since early January. However, he only played 15 minutes. Jay Wright made some odd choices with his rotation today. At least King seems to be past whatever personal issues he was battling, which is a good sign.

Verne Lundquist - For the entire game he insisted on calling Scottie "Scott Reynolds" and Mouphtaou "Moostaf Yarou".

CBS - On the bottom of the screen they abbreviated Robert Morris as "ROB MORR". If there are an unusually high number of robberies committed today, I blame CBS.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nova News 2010 NCAA Bracket

Evan Turner is ridiculous, but Ohio State's lack of size in the front court will catch up to them against Greg Monroe and Georgetown. Kansas is the cream of the crop in this region, and I don't see anybody stopping them.

Minnesota is my biggest upset of the first two rounds; just a gut call. I hate to be boring with a lack of major upsets, but I just don't see many happening this year. I think Syracuse advances to Indy with or without Onuaku.

I would have picked West Virginia to make it to the Final Four if they were in any other region, but I think Kentucky is a special team. The "other" Wildcats are very young, but they are loaded with NBA talent, and John Wall is the next Dwyane Wade.

I wanted to pick Louisville to upset Duke in the second round, but I'd much rather Villanova take down the Blue Devils later. I'm trying to subdue my homerism and temper expectations, but I just really like Villanova's potential match ups to get to the Final Four.

Final Four:
I have Syracuse beating Kansas, but that is only if Onuaku is healthy. The Orange can get to the Final Four without him, but they can't beat the Jayhawks without their steroid-filled center. Like last year, Nova's run will come to an end in the Final Four, and as usual, their loss will come at the hands of the eventual National Champion: the Kentucky Wildcats.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Path to Indy

The field of 65 has been announced, and despite their losses down the stretch, Villanova was rewarded with a 2-seed in the South Region. The path to Indianopolis is long and treacherous, but here is what Villanova will have to do to return to the Final Four...

Round 1: vs. #15 Robert Morris Colonials (23-11)
First of all, who is Robert Morris? The school, located in Pittsburgh, PA, was founded in 1921, and is named after... wait for it... Robert Morris, who signed the Declaration of Independence and helped finance the Revolutionary War. According to Wikipedia their notable alumni include Hank Fraley, Tim Hall, Tim Levcik, Robb Butler, Kevin Colbert, and Jerry Bowyer... a real who's who of F-list celebrities. Since when do Arena Football League players count as notable alumni? Robert Morris is in the Northeast Conference, along with Farleigh Dickinson, who Villanova beat 84-61 in their first game of the season. Robert Morris swept FDU in the season series, 80-73 and 65-50. This is Robert Morris' seventh trip to the Big Dance, but the Colonials are better known for their world-class bowling team, (2007 National runners-up) which has produced several professional bowlers, such as Roy Munson and Ernie McCracken. Robert Morris played two Big East teams this season: 11/11 they lost 100-60 at Syracuse and 2/8 they lost 77-53 at Pitt.

Villanova has recently struggled as a high seed in these opening round games of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, as a 3-seed, they trailed 14-seed American for much of the game, then finally pulled away late in the second half for a 80-67 victory. In 2006 as a 1-seed, Villanova had trouble early with 16-seed Monmouth, who they eventually beat 58-45. I wouldn't be surprised if history repeats itself and Robert Morris gets out to an early lead on Villanova, and the score may be close at halftime. Nova fans and office pool participants across the country will sweat as whispers of "Cinderella" are heard. However, just as in years past, Villanova's depth and athleticism will over power the mid-major Colonials in the second half, and the Wildcats will cruise to a double-digit victory.

Round 2: vs. #7 Richmond (26-8) or #10 St. Mary's (26-5)
St. Mary's beat Gonzaga 81-62 to win the WCC Tournament, and Richmond has a 71-54 victory over Temple, a team Villanova lost to earlier in the season, although Nova-killer Juan Fernandez did not play in that game. Both are solid teams that pose a legitimate challenge to Nova. Nevertheless, you have got to like Villanova's chances of getting to the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row.

Round 3: vs. #3 Baylor or #6 Notre Dame or #11 Old Dominion or #14 Sam Houston
The Baylor Bears are the favorite to make it to Houston from the New Orleans pod. I think they will, and frankly I can't wait because Baylor's players have some epic names that make Ole Miss and South Florida pale in comparison: LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter, Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Acy, Dragan Sekelja, and Givon Crump. Luckily, games aren't decided by name originality, so I think Villanova moves on the Elite Eight.

Round 4: vs. #1 Duke or #4 Purdue or #5 Texas A&M or #8 California or #9 Louisville or #12 Utah St. or #13 Siena
Obviously a lot of different scenarios are in play here. I think Louisville has a great shot at upsetting Duke in the second round. Purdue and A&M have a chance, but Villanova will most likely be looking at a rematch of last year's Sweet Sixteen against the #1 Blue Devils. This is almost the same exact Duke team that Villanova manhandled 77-54 last year, minus the now NBA player Gerald Henderson, but the Blue Devils may have been better off without his 1-14 shooting performance that night anyway. Nova lost Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark three of that team's toughest and most physical defenders, and it was that physical play that gave Duke fits. This year's Villanova team isn't as good defensively, but Duke doesn't scare me at all. I think Villanova has an excellent shot to return to the Final Four this year, but they have to take care of Robert Morris first.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

BET Round 3: Running Diary

It's New York City. It's Madison Square Garden. It's the Big East Tournament. The Madness of March is in full swing, as several teams have already punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament and many others are still looking to join them. I kept a running diary of the events as they unfolded during Villanova's match-up against Marquette. So without further adieu...

2:00 PM: As expected, the noon game is still being played. Why do they always list the second game at 2:00 PM when they know there's no chance it will start before 2:30?

2:05 PM: Why is the Big East Player of the Year letting Sardine drive recklessly to the basket with the game on the line? I know Scottie Reynolds would be taking over in this situation.

2:10 PM: Georgetown pulls the upset over Syracuse, and Onaku might be done for the year. Their #1 seed could be in jeopardy. Chris Wright with 27 points and 6 assists: I think someone's angry they didn't get an "Honorable Mention".

2:37 PM: The game finally tips off. Apparently it was delayed because Austin Freeman tried to eat the Reeces logo on the floor of the Garden.

First Half

19:00 - Fisher draws a foul, but misses both free throws then turns it over... not a good start.

- Reggie Redding scores the first points of the game on a long two.

17:00 - Mouphtaou Yarou with a LeBron James signature block from behind on the breakaway dunk! He looks like a young Hakeem, who was actually Akeem. (Olajuwon was also a soccer player from Africa who didn't pick up basketball until the age of 15. I hope Mouph turns out half as good as the Dream.)

- Scottie Reynolds makes his first 3-pointer.

- Stokes comes off the bench and hits a three. He had 20 points against Marquette last year at MSG... he likes playing here.

- Taylor King is in! I don't know why he was out, but I'm glad he's back. (Note: King would leave the game after two minutes and never return. So never mind that unfounded excitement.)

- Marquette makes their second basket at the end of the shot clock. Those are always killers to give up three points after playing 34 seconds of good defense.

- Stokes with the lucky bounce as the three-ball drops in. Nova needs Stokes making threes to have any kind of success in the Big Dance.

- Can somebody get a hand in Darius Johnson-Odom's face? He's made 3 threes already.

- Fisher goes to bench with two fouls and zero points.

- Reynolds gets caught in the paint surrounded by four Golden Eagles with nowhere to go, then pivots around and drops in an old school scoop shot. That was pretty.

4:00 - Buzz Williams may be challenging Patrick Ewing's record for most sweat produced at a basketball game at MSG.

- Scottie Reynolds and David Cubillan get in a tangle-up on the floor. These teams are playing hungry.

- Stokes is three for three for three! Say that three times fast.

- Fisher Price is back on the floor to score his first points of the game on a drive to the basket.

- The game is tied 30-30. For your halftime entertainment: The T-shirt Squad!

Second Half

19:00 - A bad offensive foul called on Fisher, his third personal foul of the game. Come on zebras, this is the BIG EAST, we don't reward flopping.

- Fish stays in and hits a three!

- Jay Wright rewards Corey Stokes by starting him in the second half, and Stokes responds by knocking down his fourth 3-pointer of the game. It's been a while since the Bayonne Bomber has been this hot from downtown.

- Another shot clock buzzer beater by Marquette. So demoralizing.

- Stokes hits another three and has 16 points for the game. Then, on defense, he lands awkwardly and comes away limping. Luckily, he stays in the game... we need him.

- Mouph is getting involved on offense. He hits a layup then draws a foul and makes both free throws. His upside is sky-high.

- Scottie hits a three. It's the second half, so naturally he's heating up.

13:00 - Yarou dives on the floor after a loose ball. It's weird seeing a big guy in a white jersey playing so hard at MSG. I've never seen Eddy Curry do that.

- He's on fire! Stokes is 5-6 for three and has 19 points.

12:00 - J-O is really peeving me off. (I'm not typing out his full name again; it barely fits on the back of his jersey.)

- Pena gets the offensive rebound, then goes up strong for the and-1. Nova is up 52-48.

- An intentional foul is called on Redding for stopping a clear path breakaway. That was a reach-in foul, he did not grab him. Plus, Scottie was right there, so he didn't even have a clear path.

- J-O gives Marquette a 54-52 lead. He has 18 points.

7:00 - Fish gets back to the free throw line for the first time since the beginning of the game, and he makes both. Fisher Price needs to keep toying with these defenders by attacking the basket.

- Scottie is struggling on offense, so he tries to draw a charge on defense by flopping, but there is no call. Then J-O hits another three. Come on Scottie, you're better than that.

- Facing Marquette pressure, Scottie dribbles the ball off his foot out of bounds. Today is not his day. I was hoping he would come out with a vengeance after the Big East POY snub. (Reynolds finished 4-10 for 10 points, with 2 assists and 3 turnovers.)

- J-O with ANOTHER 3-pointer for 24 points. I have a new enemy. Congratulations J-O, you have joined Luke Harangody, Edgar Sosa, Carl Krauser, Kevin Pitsnoggle, and Eric Devendorf in a long line of Big East players I despise.

- Meanwhile, as Marquette takes an eight point lead, it has been nine minutes since Stokes (19 points, 5-6 3PT) has attempted a shot.

- Fisher Price is creating open shots for his teammates as he sets up Pena under the basket. 'Tone hits both free throws to cut the deficit to two at 65-63.

- Fish with the steal and a breakaway. He goes up for a layup with extra hang time, trying to draw contact. We are tied at 65. Fisher often makes layups more difficult than they need to be, but he usually makes them.

- Fisher is taking over! Nova is down by one, 68-67.

2:22 - Finally! Stokes gets a shot off and drains it. (22 points, 8-9 FG, 6-7 3PT) The game is tied at 70.

- Lazar Hayward makes a three to put Marquette up 73-70. We're coming down to the wire here. Scottie needs to step up.

- A foul is called on Nova, Marquette goes up five, and the game is slipping away.

- Pena makes a layup, and Nova is down by three again.

- With the shot clock turned off, Nova is forced to foul Hayward. He makes both free throws to make it 77-72. We'd need to get lucky at this point.

- Fisher Price with the behind the back layup and-1, but he misses the free throw. (Fisher had a great game: 16 points and 6 assists, but he was 5-9 from the free throw line. Those four points could have made a big difference.)

0:18 - Cubillan dribbles out of control trying to avoid the foul and instead loses the ball on his own, but they call a foul on Villanova. Unlucky.

- After draining a lot of time off the clock, Pena makes a layup to make it 78-76, but Nova really needed a three there. The Marquette defenders were hounding Fisher and Stokes on the perimeter, not allowing them to get a shot off.

- Nova is forced to foul Hayward again. He gets a lucky bounce and makes both to give Marquette a four-point lead. It's rare when a team's center is the their free throw "icer" at the end of the game.

-Fisher misses a meaningless three at the buzzer and the game is over. Marquette wins 80-76.

They say it's tough to beat a good team twice in one season and almost impossible to beat them three times. That doesn't seem to effect the UConn women's team, but that saying held true for the men because it happened to Syracuse first, and now to Villanova, as both double-bye teams lost their first games. Nova is still in the big Tourny, and this loss will hurt their seeding, but I'll gladly take the extra time to rest, regroup and prepare for our round one opponent, whoever it may be. Until Selection Sunday...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Big East Honors and Snubs

The Big East has come out with their post-season awards... real awards, not the ones I give out. Let's take a look...

BIG EAST Player of the Year
Wes Johnson, Syracuse

I was hoping Scottie Reynolds would win it, but if there's one player I could understand winning it over Scottie, it's Wesley Johnson. He's the best player on the best team in the conference, and he really does do it all. He leads the Orange in scoring at 15.7 ppg. He leads the team in rebounding at 8.5 rpg, which is especially impressive, considering he is 6'7 and competing for boards with 6'9 Arinze Onaku and 6'9 Rick Jackson on his own team. He averages 2.4 assists per game and almost 2 blocks and 2 steals per game. His shooting percentages are good as well (48.7% FG, 78.6% FT, 38.1% 3PT). The only knock on Wes is his decline in scoring and shooting accuracy over the past few weeks, but he is playing with an injured hand.

In the case of Scottie Reynolds, you have to take into account how much better he has played in Big East games. Wes Johnson was still very good, but his numbers did drop in conference games. Reynolds, on the other hand, improved his scoring to 19.9 ppg, field goal percentage to 50%, 3-point shooting percentage to 42%, and free throw percentage to 84%. After all, this is the BIG EAST Player of the Year Award, not the Big East Player in Non-Conference Games Player of the Year Award. The biggest thing going against Reynolds is his team's poor play to close out the season. Villanova went 4-5 in their last nine games, which included a loss against Syracuse and Wes Johnson. Had Nova finished with a better record over those last nine games, I think it would have swayed some votes in Scottie's favor.

Finally, I know the award is technically only for this season, but you can't help but notice Scottie Reynolds' body of work over his four-year career at Villanova. The key word there being FOUR years. These days in college basketball it's rare to see a player as good as Reynolds stay in school for his senior year. And unlike other seniors who have had great careers (cough-Harangody-cough), Reynolds' Villanova teams have achieved major success. He's been to a Sweet Sixteen, a Final Four, and has made countless big shots along the way. Scottie Reynolds is battle-tested and proven. Is Wes Johnson? No one knows, because he's never been there before. Ironically, Reynolds' success is probably being held against him. He's been so good for so long that opposing fans joke that it seems like he's been in school for six years. People have gotten sick of Scottie, so they move along to look for the next new star. It's the same reason Jordan lost the '97 MVP to Karl Malone. There's no doubt Wesley Johnson is a great player, but it would have been nice to see Scottie Reynolds begin his collegiate career with a Big East Rookie of the Year Award and end it with a Big East Player of the Year Award.

BIG EAST Rookie of the Year

Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati

Stephenson's season was somewhat erratic, but he didn't really have any competition for the award. He has a great handle for his size, and he is so strong that he's almost unstoppable when driving to the basket. It's just a shame that he takes more jumpers than Samuel L. Jackson. Sorry, even I can't believe I just made a reference to a movie that bad.

BIG EAST Coach of the Year
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse

I tend to believe any coach of the year award should go to the coach on the best team, just on general principle. I can't make an exception here, although Buzz Williams, Jamie Dixon, and Stan Heath all deserve credit for what they accomplished with their respective teams this season. At least Boeheim will never beat Jay Wright in a best looking or best dressed coach of the year award.

BIG EAST Men’s Basketball Scholar-Athletes Of The Year
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame

"Abromaitis will receive a $2,000 scholarship, which may be applied to graduate or professional studies." That's enough for about 1/4 of one class. How considerate of them.

BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year
Hamady Ndiaye, Rutgers

Ndiaye averaged 4.5 blocks per game, and he had one 10-block game and two 9-block games. That's impressive and all, but it didn't seem to have much of an effect in the win/loss column. You need to look a little deeper than block and steal numbers to measure defense in basketball. Also is it just me, or do you think of this song every time you see Hamady's name. Warning: if you click that link, you WILL start dancing.

BIG EAST Most Improved Player
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh

Gibbs went from scoring 4.3 points per game in '08-'09, to 16.2 this season. That's certainly a big improvement, but what does this award really mean? Austin Freeman improved (11.4 to 17.3 ppg), and so did Tim Abromaitis (1.7 to 17.2 ppg), Jamine Peterson (4.7 to 19.6 ppg), Kevin Jones (6.3 to 13.5 ppg), Gavin Edwards (3.8 to 10.7 ppg), Kris Joseph (3.4 to 11 ppg) and Antonio Pena (5.1 to 10.8 ppg). What's the real criteria here? Whoever sucked the most the year before?

BIG EAST Sixth Man Award
Kris Joseph, Syracuse

Another bogus award. I'm glad Corey Fisher won it last year, but in most cases, like Manu Ginobili with the Spurs and even Fisher last year, the sixth man is actually better than the fifth man on their own team, and the only reason they come off the bench is because of some quirky coaching strategy that may or may not work.

BIG EAST Sportsmanship Award
Tory Jackson, Notre Dame

And I thought the other awards were contrived and pointless.

Greg Monroe, Georgetown
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Dominique Jones, USF
Wes Johnson, Syracuse
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia

No complaints here. See above for my thoughts on Wes and Scottie. I love a center who can dish out 12 assists in a game (Monroe). Butler and Jones can go off for 30+ points any night. And as much as it pains me to see Gody's name here, 23 points and 10 rebounds every night is pretty darn impressive.

Austin Freeman, Georgetown
Lazar Hayward, Marquette
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall
Andy Rautins, Syracuse

You gotta love Hazell, a classic chucker like Costanza. He has attempted over 10 3-pointers in a game 15 times this season, highlighted by a 4-19 shooting performance from behind the arc when he scored 41 points against West Virginia.

Jerome Dyson, Connecticut
Kemba Walker, Connecticut
Samardo Samuels, Louisville
Corey Fisher, Villanova
Devin Ebanks, West Virginia

If Fisher didn't make Third Team, I would have had to make a personal visit to the houses of some Big East coaches to straighten them out. Scottie gets all the publicity, but Fisher has been just as valuable to Nova's success this year. Also, can we retract Dyson's name after that stink bomb of a game he had against St. John's? (4 points, 9 turnovers)

Jimmy Butler, Marquette
Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame
Jamine Peterson, Providence

Why only three honorable mentions? What about Chris Wright, Mike Rosario, Mac Koshwal, DJ Kennedy, Will Walker, Sharaud Curry, and Edgar Sosa? Check that, the last word I would use to describe Edgar Sosa is honorable.

Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
Alex Oriakhi, Connecticut
Vincent Council, Providence
Dane Miller, Rutgers
Brandon Triche, Syracuse
Maalik Wayns, Villanova

Congrats to Maalik. And you thought I was lying when I said Lance had no competition for Rookie of the Year. Oriakhi averaged under 5 points per game and made the all-rookie team.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Big East Final Standings

Ranked in order of Big East Tournament seed...

1. Syracuse (15-3)
I've hesitated all season long to believe in this team, and I give up. They destroyed Nova at the Dome; they're the best in the Big East and maybe the entire country. I can neither confirm nor deny that this is a reverse jinx.

2. Pitt (13-5)
The Panthers exceeded everybody's expectations by finishing second in the Big East in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year. A lot of the credit goes to the Big East's Most Improved Player, Ashton Gibbs.

3. West Virginia (13-5)
They're really good, but their fatal flaw seems to be weakness at the point guard position. They probably could have beat us in regulation with a true point guard taking control at the end of that game.

4. Villanova (13-5)

Taylor King might be out for the rest of the season. That hurts, but luckily Nova has the depth to deal with it. Yarou, Cheek, and Armwood need to step up.

5. Marquette (11-7)
They have gone to overtime in four of their last five games. It looks like the Golden Eagles are getting an early start to March Madness.

6. Louisville (11-7)
After sweeping the season series versus Syracuse, the Cardinals are currently projected as an 8-seed in the NCAA tournament. I would hate to be the 1-seed that has to face them in the second round.

7. Notre Dame (10-8)
The Irish lose Luke Harangody and end the season on a 4-game winning streak. More proof to Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory, or more proof to my theory that Gody is overrated?

8. Georgetown (10-8)

A week after being hospitalized and finding out he has diabetes, Austin Freeman scores 24 points in a win over Cincinnati... good for him. Looking at the career arc fellow diabetic Adam Morrison, Freeman should continue to dominate in college, grow a huge afro and a mustache, get drafted in the lottery by Michael Jordan, then win an NBA championship for sitting on the bench.

9. South Florida (9-9)
The Bulls play DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Congrats on your first Big East Tournament victory USF!

10. Seton Hall (9-9)
Currently on the outside of the bubble looking in, I could definitely see the Pirates winning three games in the BET and earning a bid in the NCAA Tournament.

11. Cincinnati (7-11)
They're still a year or two away from being real contenders; that is assuming Lance Stephenson doesn't pull a Sebastian Telfair and enter the NBA before he's ready.

12. UConn (7-11)
There have been some nice surprises in the Big East, (Syracuse, Pitt, Marquette) but UConn is by far the most disappointing team. I'm rooting for them to beat St. John's and Marquette, just so Nova can get some revenge by beating them in the third round.

13. St. John's (6-12)

They needed not one, not two, but three overtimes to beat DePaul in their season finale. That must have been almost like watching the six-overtime Syracuse-UConn game in the BET last year, but only if all the players were drunk. Then again, Eric Devendorf played in that game, so maybe it wasn't that far off.

14. Rutgers (5-13)
Hamady Ndiaye was named BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, which gives further support to the adage that defense wins championships. What's that? Rutgers is horrible? Never mind then, keep shooting.

15. Providence (4-14)

The Friars ended the season on a 10-game losing streak. Maybe a diet of coffee and donuts isn't so good for basketball players.

16. DePaul (1-17)
There's always next year.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Nova Falls in OT to WVU

Villanova lost a heart-breaker in their regular season finale 68-66 in overtime to #10 West Virginia at the Wachovia Center. This was Nova's fourth loss in their last six games, which is not exactly how you want to finish up the season. However, Villanova still had a wonderful regular season, finishing in a tie for second in the Big East (13-5) and 24-6 overall. The outcome of the West Virginia game may not have been worthy, but it is award season, so let's close out the regular season by handing out some awards, as always with respect to Bill Simmons.

The Hurt Locker Award for Wild Man Who Sacrifices His Safety

The Hurt Locker is about a US soldier in Iraq who sacrifices his life for his country by disarming IED bombs. Scottie Reynolds is a Villanova Basketball player who sacrifices his body for his team. Scottie nearly took the game off the air when he went diving to the sidelines for a loose ball and knocked over the television equipment. It really sets a great precedent for the rest of the team when your star player does something like that.

The Carl Fredricksen Award for Grouchy Old Man

In case you don't know, Carl Fredricksen was the grouchy old man in the animated film Up. His oldness and grouchiness was outdone by Bob Huggins, who got called for a technical after screaming at the referees.

The New York Knicks Award for 3-Point Accuracy

Later that night the Knicks would go on to set an NBA record by shooting 0-18 from behind the arc against the historically bad New Jersey Nets. Unlike the Knicks, Scottie Reynolds is normally good, but he made just 1 of 9 shots from downtown. Scottie did have a team-high 17 points, but he had a rare poor shooting performance going 5-16 from the floor. None were bigger misses than the final 3-pointer at the buzzer of overtime, which would have been the game winner. Scottie has been so clutch for Villanova, that everyone was expecting the shot to go in, but he just barely missed it. But hey, do you know who leads the NBA in missed game-winning shots? The same guy who leads in game-winners made: Kobe Bryant. So it happens... even to the great ones.

The Avatar Consolation Award
Avatar took home three Oscars (Cinematography, Art Direction, and Visual Effects), but none in any of the major categories James Cameron was hoping for (Best Picture, Best Director). Corey Fisher hit a clutch 3-pointer towards the end of regulation to tie the game up, but ultimately it became consolatory when Nova lost in overtime. Cameron shouldn't care about the Oscars because his movie has made over two and a half billion dollars worldwide. Hopefully Fisher will be able to forget about this loss when Nova goes on a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

The Razzie Award for Worst Play
Devin Ebanks made a clueless play at the end of regulation when he pulled back to dribble out the clock with the game tied, then chucked up a desperation heave at the buzzer when he realized his team wasn't winning. Ebanks is able to laugh about it now because the Mountaineers went on to win the game. This is similar to how Sandra Bullock won a Razzie for worst actress in All About Steve, then later won the Oscar for best actress for The Blind Side.

Best Original Score

Da'Sean Butler made the game-winning basket on an impressive running bank shot in the lane. Nova held the All-Big East First Team member to another poor shooting day from the field (3-10), but Butler was a beast inside going 13-14 from the free throw line, scoring a game-high 21 points, and grabbing 10 rebounds.

The Best Actor in a Leading Role Award
... Jay Wright got robbed by Jeff Bridges. He was amazing in his portrayal as Ryan Bingham in the film Up in the Air. Let's hope Villanova coach George Clooney doesn't get robbed in the Big East Coach of the Year voting.
Wait a second...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Nova Silences Cincinnati

Villanova survived a scare from the Bearcats at the Fifth Third Arena, but they held on to win 77-73. Nova looked to be clicking on all cylinders, until a 16 point lead dwindled to 2 with 2:42 remaining. Deonta Vaughn (18 points) played his heart out on Cincinnati's senior night, but it ultimately wasn't enough.

Now for some fun with captions...

Corey Stokes: "Don't worry, you'll get them in the second half."
Scottie Reynolds: "Please tell me you've washed your hands since last week."

Scottie was held scoreless in the first half, but did you really think that would continue into the second? He came out of the locker room to score 17 points, and he iced the game from the free throw line.

Coming off the bench for the second game in a row, Corey Stokes had his best game in over a month. He sank 3 of 6 shots from downtown to score 14 points. He was one of six Wildcats to score in double figures in the game, a stat reminiscent of the beginning of the season. Nova needs balanced scoring to succeed because sometimes the "Reynolds and Fisher Show" just isn't enough.

Reggie Redding: "Ahhh! Coach, Gates scares me!"
Jay Wright: "I'm watching you, Yancy."

At 6'9, 260, Yancy Gates is already scary, never mind when he starts getting into shoving matches with Antonio Pena and Mouph Yarou. Gates and Pena were called for double technicals for the scuffle. Gates had 13 points, but only 1 defensive rebound, despite being the biggest guy on the floor. Yancy (56.6% FT) also managed to somehow make all 7 of his free throw attempts.

Reggie Redding scored in double figures (11 points) for the first time since January 17 versus Georgetown. He also made a clutch 3-pointer that ended Cincy's comeback charge.

Cashmere Wright: "Since when does Villanova have a shot blocker?"
Mouphtaou Yarou: "Watch out little man, I'm making up for lost time."

Mooooooooouph! Back-to-back games with 10+ points and three in a row with 2 blocked shots. Believe the hype.

Antonio Pena: "Born Ready? I've been dominating the Coney Island playgrounds since you were in diapers."

The 23-year-old Antonio Pena and 19-year-old Lance Stephenson both attended the famed Lincoln High in Coney Island, Brooklyn, although they were a few years apart. Pena had a strong game, especially in the first half, and he finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds, but he fouled out for the eighth time this season.

Lance is athletic and has some skills, but he can't shoot (4-11 FG, 4-8 FT), which is kind of important when you're a shooting guard.

Mike Cronin: "What am I doing here? I wish I was back co-starring in movies with Jack Black."

Have you ever seen Mike Cronin and Mike White in the same room together?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Nova Gets Juiced By Cuse

We went in expecting a classic, but instead #4 Syracuse ran away with a 95-77 victory over #8 Villanova, securing a spot alone atop the Big East standings. Villanova was suffocated by the 2-3 zone, and they had a hard time creating anything on offense. Nova clearly wasn't used to playing against the zone, which is tough to prepare for in practice. Now that they have seen it, Villanova should be much better equipped to break down the zone the next time they face the Orange... if there is a next time. Villanova would also have a much better chance against Syracuse on a neutral court, and not, you know, in front of the largest on-campus crowd in college basketball history (34,616).

The offensive struggles against the zone are somewhat understandable, but there's no excuse for Nova's poor defense. Syracuse had about forty wide-open dunks in transition. They could not stop the Orange big men, Arinze Onaku and Rick Jackson (19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks). There was a huge disparity in the free throw differential once again, with Syracuse (24-33) making six more than Nova attempted (13-18).

Corey Fisher - 14 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals
Fisher was unstoppable when driving to the basket (8-10 FT), but he settled for too many jumpers in the game (3-12 FG, 0-5 3PT). Nova needed Fish to continue to attack the basket to try to get Syracuse's big men in foul trouble.

Scottie Reynolds - 16 points, 3 assists, 3 steals
Reynolds looked like he was in store for a big scoring night after hitting a couple of deep threes early in the game, but Syracuse did a good job shutting him down in the second half (2-4 FG, 5 points).

Andy Rautins - 12 points, 8 assists, 3 steals
I knew he could shoot, but I had no know idea Rautins was that good all-around. He clogs up passing lanes at the top of the zone defense, and he's their best passer and playmaker on offense. Just imagine how much better Rautins would be if he didn't spend two hours gelling his hair every morning.

Reggie Redding - 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 assist, 0-0 FG
Redding is supposed to be Nova's version of Andy Rautins, but he was virtually nonexistent in the game.

Arinze Onaku - 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks
I want him tested for steroids. Seriously, his biceps are bigger than my head.

Antonio Pena - 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals
Pena had a nice game against a very good front court, but he also had 4 killer turnovers. Several times in the game Pena found himself with the ball in the middle of the zone with nowhere to go and wound up making careless passes. In a shocking turn of events, Pena also fouled out for the the seventh time this season.

Scoop Jardine - 16 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist
Scoop + Jardine = Sardine
If you can't beat 'em, make fun of 'em.

Corey Stokes - 3 points, 1 rebound, 0 assists, 1-4 FG
His shooting accuracy has become as poor as his pissing accuracy.

Wesley Johnson - 14 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals
He had about the quietest 14-10-4 I've ever seen.

Mouphtoau Yarou - 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks
YES! Finally, this is what we've been waiting to see from the big fella. Mouph got the start, but almost all of his damage came in the second half. He looks healthy and deserves more playing time in the future.

The Dome Ranger - 32 full court sprints, 6 hot dogs, 3 heart attacks

Syracuse may have won that game, but at what cost. At least Villanova didn't make a complete mockery of it's fan base by having some old, overweight guy in a mask run around the Dome like a madman. Before the game, the Dome Ranger was the same size as Otto the Orange, but after sprinting along the sidelines all game long he was skinnier than Isaiah Armwood.