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Quick recap: Villanova 77 Cincinnati 73

At times it wasn’t pretty, but Villanova got the job done as it knocked off the Bearcats to pick up a road win. The victory may not have been enough to silence doubts, but a win is a win. Here’s a look at the most important aspects of the game:

  • Remarkably, the first 13 points of the game were scored by Antonio Pena, Corey Stokes and Mouphtaou Yarou. Stokes had a particularly strong start, scoring 10 points in the first half. The Wildcats needed it as Scottie Reynolds was held scoreless in the first half.
  • For one of the first times this season, there were many questions from Wildcat fans about Jay Wright’s rotation. Corey Fisher was subbed from the game almost immediately, and didn’t return for about 10 minutes. Reynolds also sat for five minutes in the first half, and the two played together for just a few minutes in the first half. In the second half both players found themselves on the bench for long stretches yet again. Meanwhile, Reggie Redding led the team in minutes.
  • While there was a bad call here and there, the fouling generally went in Villanova’s favor for what seemed like the first time in a month. Cincinnati committed two more fouls (24-22) and sent the Wildcats to the line 14 more times (35-21). It was only the second time in the Big East that the Wildcats had a +10 differential at the line.
  • The Wildcats used a 12-1 run to open up the second half and seize control of the game.
  • Villanova fans were feeling good about their team when it led 66-51 with 6:08 remaining, but a 14-0 run by Cincinnati over the next 3:26 made it a game again. Much of that run came with Reynolds on the bench, highlighting the strange rotation that Villanova had for most of the game. Reynolds, who has been well-rested all season, played 29 minutes.
  • Reynolds once again had a strong second half, scoring all of his 17 points there. He took just one shot in the first half, and finished 3-for-6 in the game.
  • The Wildcats almost gave the game away with turnovers by Stokes and Maalik Wayns in the final minute, but the Bearcats were unable to work their way back.
  • Cincinnati took 22 more shots than Villanova (66-44) and made just 7 of 30 3-point attempts.
  • Yarou once again started and looked strong. He finished with 10 points and seems to have carved out a role in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season.
  • Pena fouled out for the eighth time this season, while Taylor King did the same for his fifth time.
  • The Wildcats basically went eight deep tonight as Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood played a combined six minutes.

– David Cassilo

Cats Win, but Are They Fixed?

February 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Last night was the best game that the Wildcats have played since the win at West Virginia. Villanova dominated from the opening tip, seized control and always responded when South Florida got close. It was a 74-59 win, and the Wildcats got 21 points from Scottie Reynolds on Senior Night. Funny how easy it is at The Pavilion.

Even better for Villanova was that Pittsburgh lost to Notre Dame, meaning that even if the team loses on Saturday at Syracuse, it will still hold the 2-seed in the Big East tournament.

To analyze just how good this win was, let’s look at each area that struggled against Pitt and see how it fared Wednesday night.

  • Fouls: The Wildcats looked very disciplined on defense, picking up just 17 fouls. Even more important was that very few of those fouls would fall into the category of “stupid” or “unnecessary.” Reggie Redding was the only Wildcat that dealt with foul trouble, and the team was able to overcome his absence. Overall, it was a very low combined foul total (35) for a Big East game, and I’m not sure if the credit should go to both teams or the referees. Either way, it was a step in the right direction for Villanova.
  • Half-court offense: While Villanova got its fair share of points out of the fast break, it also looked very comfortable in the half-court. The reason for this was that Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena both played well, giving the Wildcats more scoring options and giving the Bulls more players to defend. The team wasn’t constantly relying on one-on-one  moves and looked better for it.
  • Bench: One of the main reasons Villanova won was the play of its bench. From the scoring side of it, Dominic Cheek looked fantastic. He finished with 8 points and also added some stellar defense. From the defensive side of it, Mouphtaou Yarou was asked to play a pivotal role, and he did not disappoint. The freshman played 24 minutes and limited the South Florida starting frontcourt to just 12 points. With 4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks, Yarou was a major contributor. Taylor King also looked better shooting the ball, hitting both his shots for 5 points.
  • Be Aggressive: Perhaps the only area that Villanova did not remarkably improve was in this one. The Wildcats got to the line just 19 times. However, the game was a blowout and the officials let them play more often than not. Still, the Wildcats would like to see that number up around 25.
  • Defense: Ok, we didn’t look at this against Pitt, but it’s worth noting because of the team’s struggles all season. This was arguably Villanova’s most complete defensive game of the season. It held South Florida to 49 points, 38.1 percent shooting and just 42 total shots. It was a complete 40 minutes of defense. Villanova has now put together back-t0-back solid defensive performances, and this might be the sign of things to come.

Although Villanova played great, this was not its perfect game, and I think that’s the most promising part. Throw in a better performance from Corey Fisher, who finished with just 7 points, and add a greater impact from Redding, and this team is firing on all cylinders.

Wednesday was exactly was the Wildcats needed to see, and they seem poised for a strong effort Saturday night at Syracuse.

-David Cassilo

Where They Stand: Wildcats Have Four Games Left

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

With back-to-back losses for the first time in two seasons, Villanova has hit that rough stretch that so many experts predicted would arise due to the team’s difficult February schedule. The losses have brought doubt to a team that just two weeks ago had so little.

A season ago, Villanova went through a similar stretch losing three of its first  five Big East games before winning six straight games. As a team that has been in the top-10 all season long, the talent is obviously there and perhaps the only positive from this streak is that it happened now and not in March.

With four games left, including two against top-10 teams, here is a look at the Wildcats major areas of concern:

  • Fouls: It seems to be a weekly discussion, but after the Pitt game it is worth revisiting again. Overall, Villanova did a better job limiting fouls against Pitt and was hurt by some questionable officiating. However, the Wildcats still have a knack for picking up unnecessary fouls. The team needs to play smarter. As mentioned yesterday, there is no reason Corey Fisher should have put himself in the position to pick up his second foul on that blocking call. Taylor King does not need to set an illegal screen to free up a driving Scottie Reynolds. Realizing the situation and acting accordingly will only help the Wildcats goal to limit their fouls.
  • Half-court offense: One of the common threads between the UConn and Pitt losses was the way the game was slowed down. Consequently, Villanova saw it’s fast break points limited and were forced to run its half-court offense more. For a high-scoring team, Villanova looks very uncomfortable in the half-court. It seems like the players are waiting for Reynolds and Fisher to make a play rather than trying to make their own. The exception is Antonio Pena, who has been very aggressive down low lately. This sit-and-wait offense can be highlighted by the fact that Villanova had just one assist in the first half of Sunday. The key to this is getting Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding more involved. They need to look to shoot more, and if they are able to capture their offensive rhythm again, it will make the rest of the team more dangerous.
  • Bench: The Wildcat bench has all but disappeared lately. At times Taylor King, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek have all shown flashes of offensive talent, but none have been able to sustain that success lately. That coupled with the struggles of Redding and Stokes have the Wildcats running a lineup that too often features just one realistic scoring option. A year ago, this was a problem as well because there were times when Redding, Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson offered very little offensively. Eventually, Anderson stepped up, and the season took off. If this year’s Wildcats can get that boost from a player off the bench, they will become the top-5 team again that they had been for most of the season.
  • Be aggressive: For most of the season, Villanova did a great job getting to the foul line. With their own foul problems, the team’s struggles to get to the line have been hidden. While the Wildcats are second in the conference in free throw attempts, the last two games they have went to the line 20 and 18 times, respectively. Meanwhile, their opponents have taken 42 more free throws over that time span. Considering the Wildcats lost those two games by a combined 14 points, it is easy to see the difference. The Wildcats are a smaller, quicker team than most of its opponents and they need to use that to their advantage by attacking the basket and making bigger opponents try to make a play.

The common thread among all these problems is that they can be corrected. With four games remaining, those corrections need to be made quickly. Wednesday’s game against USF is clearly a must win, but it will be important to see if there are improvements in these areas. The Wildcats can beat USF by correcting none of these, but they will be sitting ducks against Syracuse.

– David Cassilo

‘Nova bounces back, knocks off WV 82-75

Villanova got the signature road win it needed and recovered from its loss to Georgetown with a very strong performance.  The win was also sweet revenge for a 93-72 loss in Morgantown last season.  Here are some of the interesting notes from the game:

  • With the win, Villanova has not lost back-to-back games since Mar. 2 , 2008 when it fell to Louisville after losing to Marquette.
  • Corey Fisher, who is quietly have a very strong season, set the tone early for the Wildcats and finished with 17 points.  Were it not for foul trouble, it could have been a very big night for Fisher.
  • Scottie Reynolds led the team in scoring against, with 21 points.  With 19 of those points coming in the second half, he has been one of the best second half players all season.  I am trying to find out where his second half scoring average ranks nationally.
  • The other three starters stepped us for Villanova, as well.  Specifically it was Antonio Pena who looked great, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds.  Whenever he plays well, it greatly enhances Villanova’s chance of victory.
  • The Wildcats got very strong contributions from Isaiah Armwood and Dominic Cheek, who had eight and seven points respectively.  Both have earned the right for more minutes, mainly because of their work on the defensive end, as well.
  • Mouphtaou Yarou did not get into the game, and Maalik Wayns played just three minutes.  It remains to be seen what the reason for this was, but I suspect it has to do with being more consistent defensively.
  • Speaking of the defense, the Wildcats played a lot better in that area, holding West Virginia to a 4-for-21 start from the field.  Villanova eliminated its press, and it seemed to help.
  • Against the much bigger West Virginia team, the Wildcats won the rebounding battle, 37-27.
  • Villanova was helped out from the free throw line as it made 19 of 22 attempts while West Virginia made just 18 of 32.
  • Taylor King continues to struggle to find his stroke, missing all six attempts he had from the field.
  • Da’Sean Butler, who had 43 points last time these two teams played, finished with just 13 after making 2 of 12 shots from the field.
  • West Virginia actually outscored the Villanova bench, 22-19.

– David Cassilo

What was exposed against Georgetown?

February 7, 2010 1 comment

Many reasons are being tossed around for Saturday’s 103-90 defeat at Georgetown.  Among them is the travel problems, wide foul discrepancy, hot Georgetown shooting (specifically, Jason Clark) and the poor Villanova shooting in the first half.  Now that Villanova has lost again, let’s examine some of the problems that have been exposed:

1) Fouls

While many will point to yesterday’s high foul total as partly the referee’s fault, the fact remains that Villanova is fouling at an extremely high rate.  The Wildcats have attempted the second most free throws in the conference in Big East games with 271 (USF leads with 273).  However, they also have allowed their opponents to attempt 287 free throws, including the 50 that Georgetown attempted on Saturday.

Limiting fouling is a complicated task because you do not want to limit your team’s aggressiveness.  However, the main reason that Villanova’s defense has struggled is because its opponents are getting so many chances to score with the clock stopped.  Perhaps it is a result of running such a small lineup, but the fact is Villanova needs to stop having its players get in foul trouble and consequently, allowing other teams free points.

2) Disappearance of the third scoring option

We know Scottie Reynolds is having a fantastic season, and that Corey Fisher is a great No. 2 option and one of the most underrated guards in the country.  What we don’t know is, who is that third option?  Here are how many times the rest of the team has scored in double-figures in the ten games of Big East play:

  • Antonio Pena: 3
  • Taylor King: 1
  • Corey Stokes: 4
  • Maalik Wayns: 4
  • Reggie Redding: 2
  • Dominic Cheek: 1

The fact is that Pena, Stokes and Redding need to improve their offensive outputs if this team is going to reach its potential.  They are the team’s veterans.  For example, Redding attempted just two shots on Saturday.  That is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, Wayns and King have to find their groove that they had earlier in the season.  They need to become like Fisher was last season for the team, where he came off the bench and gave them instant office.  Cheek will have more chances to score because he has been playing strong defense and that will earn him more minutes.

Does Villanova need seven guys in double-figures every night?  That would be nice, but a bit unrealistic.  Does it need a consistent third option?  Absolutely.  Don’t forget that last season, while Dante Cunningham and Reynolds were carrying the team for most of the season, it wasn’t until Dwayne Anderson found his offensive groove that the team became its most dangerous.

3) Defense

As different as this team is from last year’s, the 2010 group could learn a little from last year’s team.  Let’s rewind back to Feb. 13 of last season, roughly a year ago.  After winning six straight games, Villanova suffered a beat down at the hands of West Virginia, 93-72.  Much like this year, that loss was in the middle of a terrible defensive skid that saw the Wildcats give up 80+ points in six straight games from Feb. 4 to Feb. 22.

On Mar. 2, the team traveled to Notre Dame and shut down the Fighting Irish offense, allowing just 60 points.  From that game until the end of the season, Villanova’s defense was drastically improved.  In fact, it was perhaps the main reason the team went so far in the tournament.  Just ask UCLA and Duke, who were kept under wraps by the Wildcats all game long.

The lesson?  There is a lot of time, and quite honestly, Jay Wright would probably admit this team is further along than he would have imagined.  There are six new additions to this year’s team, and the hardest thing to get a young player to figure out when he comes from high school is the defensive adjustment that he now must make.  Wright stressed it early in the season and continues to stress it.

Eventually, his young kids will have to figure it out for this team to get back to the Final Four, and if that is on Mar. 2 again, we will once again being saying,”Just in time.”

– David Cassilo