Yesterday, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association announced their finalists for this year’s Oscar Robertson trophy. The award is for whoever they select as the player of the year.
There are 15 other candidates, and to say Cunningham is in select company is an understatement. Some of the other finalists are Stephen Curry, Tyler Hansbrough, Blake Griffin and DeJuan Blair.
The winner will be announced on April 3rd in Detroit, where the Final Four is taking place. While Cunningham probably won’t win, it is nice that he is getting national recognition.
Here’s the latest update in my bracket projections. At-large teams are in bold.
1. UConn (Big East)
3. Kansas (Big 12)
4. Arizona State
5. LSU (SEC)
6. Florida State
7. Gonzaga (WCC)
11. Utah St. (WAC)
13. VCU (CAA)
14. North Dakota State (Summit)
15. Buffalo (MAC)
16. Morgan State (MEAC) vs. Alabama State (SWAC)
2. Michigan State (Big Ten)
5. Xavier (Atlantic 10)
10. Siena (MAAC)
12. Penn State
13. Davidson (Southern)
14. Stephen F. Austin (Southland)
15. Cornell (Ivy)
16. Long Beach State (Big West)
1. UNC (ACC)
4. Wake Forest
6. Utah (MWC)
8. Oklahoma State
10. Ohio State
11. Miami (FL)
12. Texas A&M
13. American (Patriot)
14. Binghamton (America East)
15. Belmont (Atlantic Sun)
16. Tennessee-Martin (OVC)
2. Memphis (C-USA)
6. Butler (Horizon)
7. West Virginia
9. Boston College
10. South Carolina
12. Creighton (MVC)
13. Weber State (Big Sky)
14. Arkansas Little Rock (Sun Belt)
15. Robert Morris (Northeast)
16. Radford (Big South)
LAST FOUR IN: Maryland, Penn State, Texas A&M, Minnesota
LAST FOUR OUT: Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Rhode Island, UNLV
In what was a highly entertaining game from the opening tip, UConn held on to beat Marquette 93-82. In the game, Marquette guard Dominic James broke a bone in his left foot and is out for the season. Both the game and the injury have huge ramifications for Villanova.
It was nearly impossible for Villanova to catch and pass UConn in the Big East standings since they lost their only head-t0-head matchup. However, Marquette was a different story as Villanova split the season series, and currently have the tiebreaker because they have a better win (Pitt) in conference than Marquette does.
The loss for Marquette means that both the Golden Eagles and the Pittsburgh Panthers will have at least three losses entering their game next week. It is certain than that one of those teams will lose at least four games in conference.
That means that if Villanova wins out they will get a double-bye because they hold the tie-breaker over both Marquette and Pittsburgh. The could change but it would take a rather crazy scenario. So the Wildcats, control their own destiny in terms of a double-bye.
Now to the injury to James. Unfortunately, it will be an abrupt end to a fabulous college career for the Marquette point guard as it was announced he will miss the rest of the year. It is a huge blow to Marquette as he was their most experienced player and the leader in assists on the team.
Maurice Acker will now fill in for James. He is known more as a defensive stopper and only scored six points filling in against UConn.
Marquette can still score with Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Lazar Hayward, but this no doubt hurts their chances for postseason success. James is hard to replace offensively, and Marquette is not a deep team to begin with. They only played seven guys against UConn, and that includes James, who played four minutes.
Marquette just became a very vulnerable team, and with games against Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse coming up, they may struggle to keep the double-bye.
It may not have gone exactly according to script, but in the end, Villanova got the only thing they needed – a victory.
The first half was nothing to be proud of for the Wildcats. They struggled shooting the ball the entire first 20 minutes, and once again Dante Cunningham was forced to the bench with two early fouls. They went into the break down 33-25, and one can only imagine what Head Coach Jay Wright had to say to them.
Villanova came out of its funk in the second half and soon gained the lead. The comeback was sparked by the strong play of Cunningham on both ends of the floor and the sweet 3-point shooting of Corey Stokes. The Wildcats were able to get the lead as large 12 points during the second half.
However, DePaul rallied and got the game close again in the final stages, but Scottie Reynolds turned his game up another level and began hitting several key baskets. The rally fell short for the Blue Demons, and Villanova prevailed 74-72.
The Wildcats were led by Cunningham and Reynolds, who both had 18 points. Corey Fisher and Stokes came off the bench to score 12 and 10, respectively. The Wildcats also got a strong game from Reggie Redding who finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
One of the keys for Villanova coming into the game was to work on their defense. They saw mixed results as they were able to hold down DePaul for large portions of the second half and held them to 38.8 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from 3-point range. However, DePaul, and specifically Will Walker who was 6-11 from downtown, was able to hit big shots when it needed to. The Wildcats did hold DePaul’s leading scorer, Dar Tucker, to 16 points on 7-23 shooting, including 1-11 from beyond the arc.
The win coupled with a Marquette loss to UConn means in all likelihood if Villanova wins out, they will get a double-bye.
Here is this week’s Big East Writers Poll, which is organized by Syracuse University and includes a vote from almost every sports editor at a Big East school. My voting is below, but as a note, I submitted my ballot before the Pitt-Prov game last night.
Here’s how I voted:
6. West Virginia
8. Notre Dame
12. Seton Hall
13. St. John’s
The answer is yes and no. Which one will all depend on the next 10 days of Big East basketball.
The answer is yes, if Villanova wins out and Pittsburgh loses one of their final three games. Home games versus Marquette and UConn look like the best shots for this to happen. If Villanova and Pittsburgh wound up tied, Villanova would be seeded higher because it beat Pittsburgh.
The answer is no, possibly, if Villanova winds up tied with Marquette. Since the two teams split the season series, it would go to the next tiebreaker which is record versus the top team in the conference. Having Pittsburgh first gave Villanova that edge. It is still very unclear who will finish first, but if Pittsburgh doesn’t lose again, the Wildcats will prefer they are first.
I think, though, it is better for as many teams ahead of us to lose as possible and we will sort things out after the regular season. So the answer is yes, Villanova got a little victory tonight.
The goal all season has been for Villanova to play the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in March at the Wachovia Center. By doing this, it would mean the Wildcats are a top four seed. It would also would mean that with the home crowd behind them and familiarity with the building, Villanova would have a a little extra advantage in the first two rounds.
With about two weeks left in the regular season, things are beginning to clear up about how Villanova would wind up in Philly.
Here’s how it breaks down:
There are four sites that concern Villanova: Philadelphia, Kansas City, Greensboro and Dayton.
There are twelve teams that are in pursuit for games in these spots: Villanova, UConn, Oklahoma, Memphis, UNC, Duke, Pitt, Louisville, Michigan State, Clemson and Wake Forest.
Two of these sites look pretty locked up barring epic collapses. Those are Kansas City and Greensboro. Oklahoma and Memphis are closest to the Kansas City site, and with not many other teams close to it and it being very unlikely both teams collapse, that is where they should be.
Things also look pretty clear in Greensboro, where UNC and Duke should wind up. With the favoritism these schools get, they should be close to home. However, there is a scenario where this may change, which will be explained later in the post.
Pitt will almost certainly be in Dayton while UConn will be in Philadelphia.
That leaves a spot in Philadelphia and a spot in Dayton for Villanova, Louisville, Michigan State, Clemson and Wake Forest.
Here are the scenarios to how Villanova winds up in Philadelphia:
1) They finish the highest in the eyes of the committee out of those five teams.
2) Louisville finishes ahead of Michigan State, and Villanova is ahead of Wake and Clemson. The Cardinals would go to Dayton, while the Spartans would go to Minneapolis because they are closer to that site than Philadelphia. As a result, Villanova would get the spot at the Wachovia Center. If Michigan State finishes ahead of Louisville and both are ahead of Villanova, the Spartans go to Dayton and the Cardinals go to Philadelphia.
The key for the Wildcats is for Michigan State not to get on a roll and for Villanova to stay ahead of Wake and Clemson. The Wildcats should be rooting hard for a UNC-Duke ACC Final because an appearance by either Wake or Clemson would most likely allow that team to end up in Greensboro while either UNC or Duke would get the second spot in Philadelphia.
A trip to the Big East final would most likely take care of all of this, but even without that, it is clear that there is a distinct possibility that the Wildcats will play at the Wachovia Center.