Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Battling Orange and Blue Demons

Villanova is 2-3 in their past five games, and the two wins easily could have been losses. It may not seem like a time to celebrate, but let’s try to lift the spirits of Nova Nation with an NBA All-Star Weekend edition of Nova Awards.

The Bill Simmons Award for Humbling Victory for a Coach
Bill Simmons, the inventor of the awards shtick, was the coach of the East team in the Celebrity All-Star game. They won, but how proud can you be about defeating a West team led by Justin Bieber? Jay Wright’s Villanova team had a thrilling two-point victory over DePaul, but the fact that they needed overtime to beat the worst team in the Big East (1-13) is a bit humbling.

The Black Mamba Award for MVP

Corey Fisher had a Kobe Bryant-like performance in the win over DePaul: a career-high 34 points, a clutch 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, and perhaps the biggest similarity to Kobe, his one assist. Kobe has proven that Black Mambas have their good sides (37 points for All-Star MVP, 81 points in a game) and their bad sides (6-24 FG, 0-6 3PT in game 7 of the Finals last year). The same goes for Fisher, who has had his share of good games (105 points over the summer) and bad, the worst of which happened to come against Syracuse (3-16 FG, 0-8 3PT). The main difference is the Lakers won that game 7, while Nova lost to Syracuse.

The MVP of the Syracuse game was Scoop Jardine, who also has aspects of both the good and bad “Black Mamba”. Scoop had 20 points (7-11 FG) and 6 assists in the win over Nova, after having just 2 points (1-8 FG) and 3 assists in their first meeting back at the Carrier Dome.

The LeBron James Triple-Double Award for Best Performance in a Loss
LeBron joined Michael Jordan as the only player in NBA All-Star Game history to record a triple-double with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, but his East team lost the game 148-143. Corey Stokes reminded us what he does best in his return after missing three games with a turf toe injury. Stokes scored a game-high 24 points and was the only Nova player to make a 3-pointer. He hit 5 of 10, while the rest of the team was 0 for 16.

The James Jones Award for Best 3-Point Shooter
The way Jeremiah Kelly shot the ball against Nova, it seemed like he was shooting uncontested threes from a rack. He was the big reason DePaul nearly upset Villanova, making 7 of 13 three-pointers to score 25 points in the overtime loss.

The JaVale McGee Award for Big Man That Can Dunk

He didn’t dunk three balls or on two baskets at the same time, but Rick Jackson finished a handful of alley-oop dunks against Nova. He was nearly perfect from the field (8-9), which is easy when all your shots are dunks, scoring 18 points for the Orange.

The Rookie Challenge Award for Disappointing Sophomores
The Rookies upended the Sophomores 148-140 this year, but it’s a game that doesn’t really matter. However, these past few games for Villanova do matter, and their talented sophomore class has been underperforming. Dominic Cheek has been in a funk ever since his knee injury back in mid-January. Maalik Wayns has fallen into an every other game pattern for good/bad performances over the past six games. His point totals over that span: 17, 4, 13, 5, 17, 4. Likewise, Mouphtaou Yarou had a big game against DePaul (12 points and 15 rebounds), but he was shut down by Syracuse (5 points and 3 rebounds). The most impressive sophomore in the Rookie Challenge was DeJuan Blair (28 points and 15 rebounds), who was an lowly 2nd-round draft pick. The least heralded Nova sophomore also came up big in the loss to Syracuse. Isaiah Armwood had a double-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and he added 3 blocks. He may not be very skilled offensively, but I like his intensity on the boards and on defense.

The Blake Griffin Dunk Over a Kia Award for Blatant Advertising
Just when you thought sneakers, jerseys, shorts, socks, warm-up suits, and headbands were enough, Nike found another place to put their swoosh logo… on Jim Boeheim’s glasses!? What’s next, Nike starts tailoring designer suits for Jay Wright?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From Pitt Fall to Beating Hall

Villanova came dangerously close to losing their third-straight game Tuesday night against the Seton Hall Pirates. Last Saturday the Wildcats lost a close hard-fought game (57-54) to Pittsburgh, one of the best teams in the country, which is nothing to hang your head about even though the 46-game Pavilion winning streak came to an end. Ironically, Nova’s win over the Pirates was the more disappointing performance over the past two games. The team’s late-game ineptitude was reminiscent of the Rutgers collapse. Villanova led most of the game against Seton Hall and were up 7 points with 5 minutes to play. However, from that point on, they stopped attacking on offense and "played not to lose" instead of "playing to win". They ran the clock down on each offensive possession, which resulted in rushed turnovers or poor shots trying to beat the buzzer. Jay Wright’s team is at their best when playing at an up-tempo pace and remaining aggressive on offense. Maybe it’s just something about playing in New Jersey and the close proximity to the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore that makes them lose their minds.

Corey Fisher has been playing fantastic as always, but the problem is he hasn’t been playing enough. He fouled out early against Pitt when the team could have used him on that final possession with a chance to tie the game. Then Fisher was forced to sit on the bench with 4 fouls late in the Seton Hall game. You want him to stay aggressive on offense and defense, but he is the best player on the team and needs to be on the floor when it matters.

Antonio Pena is getting a little too trigger happy with that mid-range jumper. He’s much improved in that department, but he’s not quite as automatic as Dante Cunningham was.
P.S. Dante out-double-doubled Kevin Love against the Timberwolves last Monday, (18 points and 13 rebounds for Cunningham vs. 12 points and 11 rebounds for Love) so I guess that scientifically proves he's a better player.

Maalik Wayns has fallen back into a shooting slump these past few games: 0-6 FG vs. Rutgers, 4-12 FG vs. Pitt, 2-7 FG vs. Seton Hall. Then when he does make a 3-pointer, it’s too late. However, Wayns’ bigger slump has been his ball-handling. He has 13 turnovers in past three games, including an almost-fatal 6 against Seton Hall. He’s one of the fastest players in college basketball, but speed kills, and sometimes he gets out of control.

James Bell stepped up big-time against Seton Hall in the absence of Corey Stokes. 21 points, 7-9 FG, 4-6 3PT, 3-3 FT. Was he wearing a Bayside Tigers shirt under his jersey? Did he make a call on a foot-long cell phone from the bench? Yep, I guess you can say Villanova was “Saved by the Bell”.

Mouphtaou Yarou had a huge game in the loss to Pitt with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks, despite the fact that he missed a wide open dunk. Mouph looked like he was on his way to another big game against Seton Hall after scoring 8 points in the first half, but he was scoreless in just 7 second half minutes.

Isaiah Armwood didn’t shoot any field goals against Pittsburgh, but he did hit one shot, the one to Nasir Robinson’s face. I don’t know whether or not it was intentional, but I kind of hope it was because Robinson deserved it. He’s just another name in a long tradition of dirty Panther players… *cough*cough* Carl Krauser.

Dominic Cheek is the player I thought would step up to fill the shoes of the injured Stokes, but instead Cheek shot 1-7 and 0-5 in the past two games. He hasn’t scored in double figures since January 6, two games before his knee injury. His rebounding numbers have been fine since then, so I don’t know why his shot is so off.

Even with Villanova down a man due to Stokes’ injury, Maurice Sutton’s playing has been dwindling. Sutton has played under 10 minutes for seven-straight games, as Jay Wright has been giving the extra minutes to Armwood and Bell.

Kyle Lowry scored a career-high 36 points Wednesday night to go along with 7 assists and 4 rebounds. A career under-30% 3-point shooter, Lowry hit 6 of 9 threes, improving his season average to 36.4%. It used to be that outside shooting was the only thing holding Kyle back. Now all he has to worry about is the slew of all-star caliber point guards he has to guard every night in the West: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Jason Kidd and...

Finally, congratulations to Randy Foye, who had his #2 jersey retired at the Pavilion last Saturday. Foye was one of my favorite players to watch while I was at Villanova, both on the court and off. It was just five years ago that I was sitting in the same classroom as Randy in Mendel Hall for our marine biology class. Ah, the good ‘ole days, learning about crustaceans and algae. Now he’s making millions of dollars in the NBA and I’m… not.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

NNBEPP2: 2011 Movies

While watching last Sunday’s Super Bowl, I could hardly even focus on the game because of all the great new movie trailers that premiered. The Patriots won, right? Anyway, let’s take a look at the upcoming 2011 movies in the latest edition of the Nova News Big East Power Poll.

1. Pitt (22-2, 10-1) :: Captain America
The leader of the Avengers seems like a good representative for the leader of the conference, but can Pitt remain one of the top teams in America without their captain, Ashton Gibbs. The Wildcats will get their first look at the Panthers this Saturday, when Nova will put it’s 46-game Pavilion winning streak on the line.

2. Notre Dame (20-4, 9-3) :: The Green Lantern
Hopefully it will change this weekend, but the fact remains, the Fighting Irish are the only Big East team to beat Pitt this season. Ben Hansbrough is playing like he has a mystical green ring that gives him the college basketball superpowers of his brother Tyler.

3. Georgetown (19-5, 8-4) :: Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son
Like his father, John Thompson III has Georgetown competing at an elite level every year, even after losing players to the NBA. The Hoyas are on a seven-game winning streak, but they’d be even better if Austin Freeman could dress up and play all five positions like Martin Lawrence.

4. UConn (18-4, 6-4) :: Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon
Michael Bay’s movies are known for their big explosions and action sequences, but they tend to lack in story and character. The 2010-11 Huskies are known for Kemba Walker’s big scoring and impressive stat lines, but the team is lacking in other areas. Not to mention Walker’s shooting percentage has plummeted over the past two months. However, the Transformers movies still rake in hundreds of millions of dollars, and UConn still wins games, and those are the only stats that really matter.

5. Villanova (19-5, 7-4) :: Just Go With It
Villanova was cruising along, up double-digits on Rutgers, and I kind of half-tuned out. The next thing I know, it’s a two-point game. I think Jay Wright and his team did they same as I, and started looking forward to this weekend’s big match-up against Pitt. The way Nova lost that game was rough, but like Adam Sandler, I’m going to say “just go with it”, forget it and move on. Games like this happen, where you think you’ve won and you mentally check out, and it’s better to happen now than in the NCAA Tournament. It sounds cliche, but that loss will be a learning experience, and I don’t think this team will ever let up in a game for the rest of the season. If they needed to lose a mid-season game to Rutgers to learn that lesson, so be it. Furthermore, this loss will only add fuel to the fire for Saturday’s game versus Pitt. Let’s just hope the critics’ reviews of Villanova come March are better than those of Just Go With It.

6. Syracuse (20-5, 7-5) :: Super 8
J.J. Abrams’ projects are always shrouded in mystery, almost as much mystery as this Syracuse team. I can’t figure them out. They start the season 18-0, but are 2-5 since. Why does Fab Melo continue to start every game when he only plays 3 minutes? Where is Carmelo going? What's on that train in the Super 8 trailer? What is the island on Lost? I need answers!

7. Louisville (18-6, 7-4) :: Hall Pass
"A married man is granted the opportunity to have an affair by his wife." Is that the plot to Hall Pass or Rick Pitino’s life?

8. Cincinnati (19-5, 6-5) :: Cowboys & Aliens
Okay, I give up. I can’t figure out any way that cowboys and aliens relate to the Cincinnati Bearcats… But, hey, doesn’t that movie look cool?

9. Marquette (15-9, 6-5) :: Thor
Thor was a warrior, and the Golden Eagles used to be Warriors. Despite wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse, Marquette might not even make the NCAA Tournament this year, which has more to say about the depth and quality of the Big East than Marquette’s shortcomings.

10. West Virginia (15-8, 6-5) :: The Hangover Part II
This season has been the hangover to last year’s Final Four for West Virginia. The second hangover is the one Bob Huggins has while he’s coaching.

11. St. John’s (13-9, 5-5) :: X-Men: First Class
Talk about first classes, Steve Lavin has the #2 recruiting class in the country, with 6 players in the ESPNU Top 100. As for their 15 point win over Duke? They must have turned into mutants for that game.

12. Providence (14-10, 3-8) :: Priest in 3D
What’s crazier, a vampire-killing priest or a donut-eating friar?

13. Rutgers (13-11, 4-8) :: Sucker Punch
Rutgers’ stunning comeback win over Villanova felt like a sucker punch. It was just one of those freaky Reggie Miller/Larry Johnson late-game performances. Sure, Villanova made their share of mistakes, but Rutgers hit some lucky shots that make you just shrug your shoulders and tip your cap.

14. Seton Hall (10-14, 4-8) :: Pirates of the Caribbean on Stranger Tides
Bullets are no match for pirates… Captain Jack Sparrow nor Jeremy Hazell.

15. South Florida (8-17, 2-10) :: Fast Five
It’s not good when the highlight of your season is “holding” Jimmer Fredette to 32 points in a double-overtime loss and “holding” Kemba Walker to 24 points in an overtime loss. Neither is it good when the highlight of your movie is the trio of Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Dwayne Johnson. I don’t know what’s more surprising, that they’ve made five Fast and the Furious movies or that South Florida has been in the Big East for five years already. Either way, it sure was a “fast five”.

16. DePaul (6-17, 0-11) :: Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Never say never, unless the question is “When will DePaul win a Big East game?”

Friday, February 4, 2011

NFL: Nova Football League

Villanova’s return home after their 3-game road trip wasn’t as sweet as they had hoped it would be. Austin Freeman led Georgetown with 30 points in a 69-66 victory over Nova in Philly. However, Nova’s true return home to the cozy confines of the on-campus Pavilion was just what they needed to halt a 2-game losing streak. The 75-70 win over Marquette marked the Wildcats’ 46th-straight victory at the Pavilion. Now if only Jay Wright could figure out a way to move the Big East and NCAA Tournaments to the Pavilion…

With the Super Bowl approaching this Sunday, it got me thinking. What if Villanova’s basketball players chose a different path? What if they ditched the hardwood for the gridiron and devoted their lives to the sport of football instead of basketball? Could they do it?

I could see Corey Fisher being a Ray Rice-like running back. He’s quick and has a compact frame, plus he has a knack for bouncing off of defenders on his way to score. With 6-pointers, instead of 3-pointers, Fisher should be able to double the 105 points he scored last summer.

Corey Stokes is the ultimate deep threat in basketball, which would make him a perfect wide receiver in football. He could use his height to his advantage when catching jump-balls in the end zone like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. The only problem is Stokes is too humble to be a prima donna wideout like TO and Moss. He will have to work on that.

Maalik Wayns would be the quarter back. He’s a natural leader, a playmaker, a scorer, and a distributor. With his lightening-fast speed he could be the next Michael Vick. You know, minus the whole dog fighting thing.

Antonio Pena has all the tools to play linebacker in the NFL. He’s definitely the strongest player on the team, and he just has that “look”, like Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor, that strikes fear into opposing players.

This should be easy, Mouphtaou Yarou grew up playing football… never mind that was “the other football”. But Mouph has proven to be a fast learner of new sports, and I could see him lining up at defensive end. He has the footwork to get around offensive guards and rush the quarterback plus the length to deflect passes.

Dominic Cheek would make a nice NFL safety. He is one of the most versatile players at Villanova, able to play multiple positions. As a safety he’d be free to roam on defense and make plays like Troy Polamalu. Although he’d have to start growing his hair out.

Maurice Sutton’s tall skinny frame doesn’t lend itself to football too well, but he could be useful on special teams. At almost 7-feet tall, Sutton can be a kick and punt blocking specialist. He just needs to jump over the line and swat away any field goal attempts with his long arms.

Isaiah Armwood has the speed, strength, and athleticism to make a very good corner back. He’s already defensive-minded, and he could use his height and leaping ability to intercept passes.

At 6’5, 225 lbs., James Bell is big and strong for a basketball guard, especially at Villanova, but that frame is ideal for a football tight end. Bell is right around the same size as Antonio Gates, who went from playing college basketball to being a Pro Bowl tight end.

Walk-ons Russell Wooten and Dallas Ouano perform the unsung duties of hyping up their teammates from the bench and pushing them at practice, so it’s only natural that they play the least heralded position in football, the offensive line. But they will need to start eating more. A lot more.

Even though he’s a great head coach, Jay Wright is the only member of the Villanova basketball program that definitely could not make the transition to football. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t imagine Jay wearing a sleeveless hooded sweatshirt on the sidelines like Bill Belichick. Moreover, the headsets would ruin his hair, and his designer suits wouldn’t mesh well with the frozen tundra of Lambeau.