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
I’m here at the Carrier Dome, anxiously awaiting tipoff. After perusing the stat sheets supplied to the media, here are some notes that caught my eye:
- Syracuse is 6-0 vs. ranked teams this season
- Syracuse’s 26 wins are currently tied for the most the team has ever had in the regular season.
- The Orange have posted a higher field-goal percentage than its opponent in all 26 victories.
- Villanova is 12-13 all-time at the Carrier Dome.
- Scottie Reynolds is 36 points behind Keith Herron for second place all-time in Villanova scoring.
- Antonio Pena is shooting 57.8 percent from the field this season (fifth best in the Big East).
- Arinze Onuaku leads all Big East players in field goal percentage at 66 percent.
- Andy Rautins leads the conference with 2.07 steals per game.
- Syracuse and Villanova are the top two teams in scoring margin in the Big East with 16 and 11.9, respectively.
- Syracuse leads the conference in field goal percentage at 52.2 percent.
- Villanova leads the conference in free throw percentage at 75.7 percent. Syracuse is 11th at 67 percent.
- Syracuse’s opponents have shot 38.9 percent from the field.
- The Orange lead the Big East in assists with 19.5 per game.
- Syracuse and Villanova are the top two teams in the Big East steals per game with 10.21 and 8.07, respectively.
– David Cassilo
We are off the Carrier Dome for tonight’s game. Follow us on our twitter (twitter.com/novansports) for all updates of tonight’s showdown.
– 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.
About a month ago, I made a post declaring that the Big East was a two-team race. While those two teams (Villanova and Syracuse) remain atop the Big East standings, Pittsburgh has joined the hunt by winning five straight contests after losing four of its previous five. Even better for Pittsburgh is that it has already beaten Syracuse and Villanova, meaning it needs to only tie for first to earn the Big East tournament’s top seed. Before we get into what may happen, let’s look at each team’s remaining schedule:
Syracuse (26-2, 13-2)
Feb. 27: vs. NOVA, Mar. 2: vs. SJU, Mar. 6: @ LVILLE
Villanova (22-4, 11-3)
Feb. 24: vs. USF, Feb. 27: @ SYR, Mar. 2: @ CINN, Mar. 6: vs. WV
Pittsburgh (21-6, 10-4)
Feb. 24: @ ND, Feb. 27: @ SJU, Mar. 4: vs. PROV, Mar. 6: vs. RU
Immediately looking at those remaining schedules, Pittsburgh has the easiest finish and should end the season win four more wins to being itself to 14-4. Meanwhile, Syracuse and Villanova have two potential losses on their schedules, which includes the game between each other and their regular season finales.
For Villanova, it looks pretty simple. A win Saturday against Syracuse is the team’s only chance of the 1-seed. If it pulls off the upset, it controls its own Big East destiny. Oddly enough, it will most likely either be the 1-seed or the 3-seed for the Wildcats. If they lose to Syracuse, they will be tied with Pittsburgh and will need to win out and hope Pittsburgh trips up to get the 2-seed.
First though, Villanova must get on track with a win tonight against USF. If that doesn’t happen, it won’t matter what seed they are because the Wildcats will be headed nowhere fast.
– David Cassilo