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.