Thursday, December 23, 2010

Calm Before the Storm

Villanova had a nice two game breather in-between Big 5 games and before the start of the Big East schedule. The opponents were Delaware and Monmouth, and Nova won the games by a combined 59 points. The final game of 2010 will be against Temple, then Nova opens the new year and Big East season against Rutgers.
  • Fisher Price delivered some early Christmas presents. He had back-to-back games with at least 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
  • Maalik Wayns has gotten back on track from downtown, hitting 3 of 7 triples in his past two games, after shooting 0 for 11 in the previous four.
  • Corey Stokes, on the other hand, has been on track from downtown all year long. Stokes drained five 3-pointers in a game for the third time this season against Monmouth, en route to 19 points.
  • Following his recovery from injury, James Bell has had to play himself into game shape, and it looks like he is just about there. He scored 10 points against Delaware, then played a season-high 21 minutes against Monmouth. Now he just needs to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater so I can use the headline “Saved by the Bell”.
  • Dallas Ouano recorded his first personal stat of his career; one steal against Monmouth. (We’ll ignore the turnover.)
  • Monmouth’s individual scoring in the game against the Wildcats went as follows: 0, 0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. By that pattern, Monmouth would have needed just four more players to beat Villanova.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Hawk, the Quaker, and the Explorer are Dead

Villanova finished up a three-game sweep against Big 5 schools, including St. Joe’s (71-60), Penn (65-53), and La Salle (84-81). All three opponents proved to be tougher adversaries than expected, especially the scrappy Explorers, who nearly pulled off the upset at the intimate Tom Gola Arena. The only Big 5 opponent remaining on the schedule is Temple, who beat the Wildcats for the city crown last season. The Owls already knocked off Georgetown this year (68-65), prompting a dubious court rushing by their fans.

Villanova’s talented back court is renowned around the country, but the new dynamic duo in the front court has been vital to the team’s recent success. Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou are like a modern version of San Antonio’s “Twin Towers”, David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Neither Wildcat is a 7-footer, but fifth-year senior Pena is a wily veteran like the Admiral, while Yarou is a young big man oozing with potential, just like a young Duncan. Pena’s been dominant over his last four games, averaging 14 points and 9 rebounds. Mouph is already averaging close to a double-double on the season at 8.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, and he will only get better from here. The Spurs’ Twin Towers won two championships together, which is impossible for Nova’s duo to duplicate since Pena is a senior, but I’d settle for “just one”.

Corey Stokes, coming off a career-high 34 points against Penn, is having an Allan Ray-esque offensive season. His numbers are up across the board, averaging 16 points per game, shooting 47% from the field, lighting it up from downtown at 41.8%, and Stokes is virtually automatic from the charity stripe at 95.7%. He can guard multiple positions at 6-foot-5, and Jay Wright has praised Stokes as one of his best defenders. The Bayonne Bomber has come a long way since arriving on campus as a one-trick pony 3-point specialist.

Dominic Cheek has turned into a real spark-plug off the bench for Villanova. Ironically, his worst game, when he scored just four points, came in his lone start of the season, versus Penn. Cheek dropped 14 points against both St. Joe’s and La Salle, and he’s turning into a legitimate threat from behind the arc. He sank four 3-pointers vs. the Explorers, which is valuable because as teams play more zone defense, Nova needs more reliable shooters to pair on the perimeter with Stokes.

Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns’ 3-point accuracy should improve, but thus far they’ve been dreadful at 22% and 14.7% respectively. Both seem to be trying to shoot their way out of their slumps, as Fisher is attempting 4.6 threes per game, and Wayns, 3.8. Fisher has proven he can consistently drain the collegiate 3-pointer, shooting 39.6% last season, so I encourage him to continue taking the open shots. Wayns, on the other hand, should stick to driving to the basket because he’s shooting a much better 63% on 2-pointers.

Other notes:

- There are seven Big East teams currently ranked in the top 25, and this was supposed to be a “down year” for the Big East. I know it’s early, but there are four teams still undefeated and four more with just one loss. They’ll start beating up on each other soon enough.

- JayVaughn Pinkston was suspended for the entire season. That seems fair; he made a mistake and is serving his punishment. Now, the rest of the team can focus on this season, and not have to worry about any distractions surrounding Pinkston’s situation.

- LeBron James’ return to Cleveland garnered a lot of national attention, and he answered with an impressive 38 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists. Kyle Lowry’s return to Memphis wasn’t as ballyhooed, but he had an equally impressive 28 points, 3 rebounds, and 12 assists. (11-15 FG, 4-5 3PT, 2-2 FT) Lowry is flourishing while Aaron Brooks is sidelined with an injury, averaging about 12 points, 4 rebounds, and 8 assists as a starter for Houston. Brooks should be returning shortly, unless there's some kind of Tonya Harding incident.

- Randy Foye has played in just seven games this season for the LA Clippers. You can’t say I didn’t warn you. Then again, if his second year with the Clips is anything like Blake Griffin’s, Foye could be in store for big year in 2012… assuming the world doesn’t end.

- Dante Cunningham doesn’t wow you with his stats (4 pts, 3 reb, 0.5 blk), but he is quietly turning into a solid professional basketball player up in Portland. He is playing about 17 minutes every night, and Coach Nate McMillan gives him that time off the bench because he plays hard all the time.

- Scottie Reynolds is averaging 18 points and 4.6 assists for the Springfield Armor in the NBA D-League. Scottie has to be an upgrade over a some of the current back-up point guards in the NBA. Come on GM’s, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NIT: Nova Impeded by Tennessee

The perfect season is over. Villanova suffered it’s first lost of 2010-2011 to Tennessee in the final of the NIT Season Tip-off. At least my pre-season picks are still perfect… and my prediction of Kemba Walker for Big East Player of the Year isn’t looking too bad either. In the 78-68 loss to Tennessee, the dynamic backcourt duo of Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns shot a combined 0-8 from 3-point range, and they weren’t a whole lot better from inside the arc. As a result, Villanova fell out of the top ten in the polls for the first time this year. So is it time to panic? The short answer is no.

The 82-70 victory over UCLA in the game prior is a win that sounds better than it actually is. UCLA is one of the most prestigious programs in college basketball history, but their perceived value is higher than their actual value; eleven National Championships tend to do that. Ben Howland’s club is still in rebuilding mode after losing a slew of talented players early to the NBA; Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Jrue Holiday, to name a few. I wasn’t overly impressed with anyone on the Bruins, other than Reeves “Two-Face” Nelson, who put up a double-double on Nova. He had 10 points and 13 rebounds, one for each tattoo on his left arm.

Tennessee, on the other hand, looks like a contender, assuming they don’t fall apart during Bruce Pearl’s suspension. They played one of the best defensive games I’ve seen in a while. Villanova may be famous for their point guards, but Tennessee is becoming famous for their long athletic guards. Scotty Hopson (6’7) and Cameron Tatum (6’6) gave the smaller Fisher and Wayns fits on defense, getting in their faces for jump shots and clogging the lane to prevent them from driving to the basket. Perhaps Hopson was trying to capture some of Alonzo Mourning’s defensive prowess with his throwback 1990’s flat-top hair style. Maybe the Vols should have Bruce’s son, Steven Pearl, take over as player-coach during his father’s suspension. I’ve never heard such praise from the announcers during a telecast for a player who only scored two points. Then again I don't watch Indiana Pacers games, so I'm probably missing out on the Tyler Hansborough hyperbole.

The biggest positive to take away from the pre-season NIT is the continued improvement of Mouphtaou Yarou, who was the lone Wildcat named to the All-Tournament Team. Mouph had back-to-back double-doubles against Lafayette (12 and 12) and UCLA (13 and 16), then followed that up with 15 points and 5 rebounds against Tennessee. He seems to get better and better in each game, which means that by the time Nova returns to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament, Mouph will be putting up Kevin Love-esque 30-30 games. Or so we hope.