Much like Robert Morris, not many Villanova fans have gotten a chance to see St. Mary’s play this season. Here’s a look at who the Gaels are:
1) Who are they?
St. Mary’s is located in the small town of Moraga, Ca. The Gaels play in the West Coast Conference, where they won the postseason title after finishing second in the regular season standings. Their head coach is Randy Bennett, who in nine seasons with the Gaels has compiled a 207-107 record.
The Gaels starting lineup consists of freshman guard Matthew Dellavedova, junior guard Matthew McConnell, sophomore forward Clint Steindl, junior forward Ben Allen and senior center Omar Samhan.
2) How did they get here?
St. Mary’s went 27-5 this season and had an 11-3 conference record, which gave them a second place finish in the WCC. It knocked off top-seeded Gonzaga 81-62 in the WCC final to earn the automatic bid. St. Mary’s has won six straight games and 12-of-14 overall. Against NCAA tournament teams, St. Mary’s went 1-2 against Gonzaga and defeated Utah State, San Diego State and New Mexico State. It also suffered a two-point loss to Vanderbilt.
In the first-round, St. Mary’s easily defeated Richmond, 80-71.
3) Who to watch:
The Gaels best player is senior center Omar Samhan. He is one of just two players in Division I this season to average at least 20 points per game and 10 rebounds per game. The 6’11” California native had 29 points and 12 rebounds in the team’s first-round victory. Against Vanderbilt, the only other major-conference team the Gaels have played, Samhan had 25 points and 19 rebounds. He could be the biggest test of the season for the Villanova frontcourt.
4) What the expect:
The last two seasons, Villanova has played strongly in the second-round, defeating Siena and UCLA. This year’s second-round opponent is perhaps its best of the three. St. Mary’s has a great combination of inside play by Samhan and outside shooting by McConnell, Dellaverdova, Allen and Steindl. Defending all of its weapons will be a real test for the Wildcats. They will need to slow down Samhan with Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton.
The Gaels are a relatively strong defensive team, but this will be the best offense they have faced all season. If Villanova is going to advance to its third straight Sweet 16, it will need to connect on the open shots it missed yesterday.
Down by eight points with 3:57 remaining, Villanova seemed destined to become the fifth 2-seed to fall to a 15-seed. Then, for perhaps the first time this season, the Wildcats got stops what they needed on defense against Robert Morris. Villanova rallied, forced overtime and eventually won its first game in over two weeks to advance to the second round.
“Phew,” said senior guard Scottie Reynolds. “I forgot what that felt like.”
It seemed like a cursed day from the start for Villanova. Head Coach Jay Wright decided before the game to bring Reynolds and junior guard Corey Fisher off the bench as a teaching point. What they did was not discussed after the game, but Reynolds tried to summed it up in his own way.
“You have to be excellent all the time,” said Reynolds. “You can’t have any of flaws.”
Reynolds’ team had many flaws in its first round game. The Wildcats were outrebounded 21-10 in the first half and trailed 28-22 at the break. Reynolds, Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena and Reggie Redding combined for six points in the first half.
The game was put in Reynolds’ hands in the second half, particularly when the team was trailing by eight with 3:57 remaining. Despite shooting 1-for-14 from the field, Reynolds was able to get to the line consistently in the final few minutes, hitting seven-of-eight free throws. Overall, Reynolds made 15-of-16 free throws and finished with 20 points.
Freshman guard Karon Abraham, who finished with 23 points, had all the answers for Robert Morris. When Villanova was rallying, Abraham hit every big shot the Colonials needed, including a layup to break a tie at 56 with 1:07 remaining.
On the next possession, freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, hit a layup to tie the game.
Abraham missed a chance to take the lead with 39 seconds left, and the Wildcats were able to take the shot for the win. Reynolds held the ball for the majority of the clock, but he missed the layup, and it was tipped out of bounds with 0.9 seconds remaining. For the win, Villanova ran an alley-oop inbounds play to redshirt freshman center Maurice Sutton, but he was unable to to connect.
In overtime, Villanova quickly took control, scoring the first six points. While it controlled the game for most of the overtime, Robert Morris battled back and found themselves down three points with 39 seconds remaining. Villanova inbounded the ball to Stokes, but Colonials senio guard Mezie Nwigwe stole the ball from him and hit a layup to cut the score to 68-67.
Yarou, Redding and Reynolds hit five-of-six free throws, and Robert Morris trailed 73-70 with nine seconds remaining. Unable to get the ball to Abraham, the Colonials settled for a desperation three-point attempt by Nwige that was off the mark.
The loss was tough to swallow for the Colonials.
“My insides just got torn out,” said Robert Morris head coach Mike Rice, who was fighting off tears after the loss. “I’m just proud to coach them.”
His team, who played the role of David well against the most recent Goliath, received a standing ovation from the Providence crowd as he left the floor.
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
Villanova got handled by Syracuse on the national stage on Saturday night, and with its fourth loss of the month, it is only natural to question whether this team is as good as it was supposed to be. There’s plenty of time this week to get in to that, so here we will just focus on the Syracuse game and what went wrong:
- Villanova played very well early, jumping out to a 23-14 lead with 11:33 remaining in the first half. Then the Wildcats fell apart, hitting just one field goal in the next nine minutes. By the end of that time span, Syracuse led 36-33 and never looked back.
- Scottie Reynolds started off on fire, hitting two 3-point attempts and would have had a third if Antonio Pena wasn’t called for a 3-second violation. However, Reynolds only hit one more basket the rest of the half. He finished with 16 and outplayed Wesley Johnson, which perhaps gives him the Player of the Year in the conference, but it was clearly not enough. Amazingly, Reynolds did not attempt a free throw. Let’s get in to that…
- The foul differential was in Syracuse’s favor 25-14. The free throw attempts were 33-18 for Syracuse. After the game Jay Wright had had enough. He said, “I watched the fouling for six or seven games, and I don’t think it’s our fault. I’m adamant. It’s not our fault.” After missed calls, no calls and incorrect calls for a month, he has finally made public his feelings about the officiating. We will expand on this later in the week.
- Taylor King looked terrible at times, missing badly on a handful of 3-point attempts. If it wasn’t for the foul trouble, I think Wright would have pulled him. He finished 2-for-7, but did grab 8 rebounds.
- Reggie Redding started the game for Villanova, played 18 minutes and did not take a shot. For a senior leader who is looked towards to get his team going and be an offensive threat, that is unacceptable.
- Perhaps the lone bright spot for Villanova was the play of Mouphtaou Yarou. Starting in place of Corey Stokes, Yarou shot 6-for-8 from the field and finished with 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks. Perhaps most promising was that he was hitting jump shots. It would have been interesting to see what he could have done were it not for two early fouls. With the performance, he may get another start on Tuesday.
- With the loss, Villanova can finish no better than second in the Big East. It will do just that if it wins its final two games. If it splits the two games, it could finish as low as fourth.
– David Cassilo
After receiving a citation from authorities for public urination early Thursday morning, it was unclear whether Jay Wright would elect to start Corey Stokes against Syracuse. Lineups show that Mouphtaou Yarou will start over Stokes.
– David Cassilo
It is somewhat rare that a highly anticipated game lives up to its hype. To find an example, all you have to do is go back to earlier this month when Kansas played Texas. Before the season started, this was the game everyone circled. It was supposed to be a battle between top-five teams, both of whom would possibly be undefeated at the time. Instead, Texas was a reeling squad entering the game, and Kansas rolled to victory.
Saturday night’s game is different. It is the game that live up to the hype. It is Vilanova and Syracuse. It is the Big East’s top two teams with first place on the line. It is 34,616 screaming fans at the Carrier Dome. It is the biggest game of the regular season in college basketball.
There is little time let for anticipation because the game is just hours away. Here are the questions that will determine who wins the game:
1) How will Villanova attack Syracuse zone’s defense?
Rather than answer it myself, I’ll let Scottie Reynolds do it. Here’s what he had to say on Friday:
“They like to get in passing lanes so you always have to look to score first. The passes will open. If you are looking to pass first, you will have a lot of turnovers. You just have to attack the zone. Don’t look for passes. Look for your shot first and hopefully everything will open up.”
It will need to rotate quickly, and try to trap him any chance it gets. Reynolds has shown all season that he can hit the open shot if it is given to him. Against a zone defense, Reynolds will have his opportunities to score from beyond the arc. Syracuse must know where Reynolds is at all times because he is the only Wildcat that has consistently connected from long range this season.
3) How does Villanova stop Wesley Johnson?
Villanova’s defensive stopper this season has been Reggie Redding. He shut down Dominique Jones on Wednesday and did the same to Da’Sean Butler earlier in the season. Redding will likely be matched up with Johnson, but Villanova switches often on defense. It needs to make sure that Johnson does not see many smaller defenders or he will be able to shoot over them.
4) What challenges does Syracuse’s frontcourt present?
On Friday, Jay Wright said that Syracuse’s frontcourt was the best he has seen all season. The Orange keep Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku on the block and allow them to do their work to get open and offensive rebound. The Wildcats will need to deny entry into the post, while also being focused on limiting offensive rebounds, something that led to their demise against Pittsburgh. With Mouphtaou Yarou coming off a strong performance on Wednesday, look for him to be given a chance to neutralize the Orange’s bigmen.
5) Will the large crowd have any affect on Villanova’s younger players?
The Wildcats have been lucky enough to already play at West Virginia and Pittsburgh before Saturday’s game, but the Carrier Dome is a different animal. It will be large, loud and unlike anything the younger players have ever seen. While the Carrier Dome is a unique environment, Villanova has played well there, winning its last two trips to the building. Villanova will come ready to play, and while it may take the younger players a few minutes to soak in the environment, eventually it will just become a basketball game. Today, Corey Stokes summed up the team’s take on the atmosphere:
“We’re basketball players. We love playing in front of the big crowds when the lights are on. Everybody lives for that.”
Basketball fans live for it too. Saturday night is almost here.
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.