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Villanova’s Comeback Keeps Big 5 Alive in NCAA Tourney

Scottie Reynolds drives to the hoop against Clemson in first round of the NCAA tournamentIronically, the last Philadelphia school to get in the 2008 NCAA tournament is now the only team to survive the opening round.  Villanova beat Clemson 75-69 in one of the last games of the night – and it was a great one.

Villanova struggled to handle Clemson’s relentless pressure in the first half committing the bulk of their 19 turnovers in the opening 20-minutes.  That helped the Tigers get up on Nova by as much as 18 and took a 12-point lead into the half.  The Wildcats are no strangers to halftime deficits, trailing at the half in 15 of their 33 games this season.  But Nova has Jay Wright, the “King of the 2nd Half Adjustments.”  He has been able to make the right changes and motivate his guys to come out focused in the second half to finish the game strong.  In those 15 game where Villanova trailed they have come back to win 6 times (40%).  And they did just that against Clemson.

Keys to the Second Half Comeback

  • Handling the pressure down the stretch.  Nova settled down, limited their turnovers and was able to break the press for scores in the 2nd half. 
  • Solid defense and rebounding.  The Wildcats held Clemson to 30 points in the second half on 7-29 from the field and out rebounded the very athletic Clemson Tigers 31-28.
  • Scottie Reynolds – No matter how much we hate his often erratic play and questionable shot selection this guy is the leader on Villanova and he showed it last night.  Reynolds scored 21 points shooting 7-12 from the field and was the catalyst for the comeback.
  • Free throws – The numbers say it all: Nova shot a fantastic 24-29 from the line while Clemson’s Achilles heel hurt them again only shooting 14-23.  You can’t win in the hyper-competitive NCAA tournament shooting that poorly from the line.

With #13 Siena upsetting #4 Vanderbilt, Nova is in a good position to reach the Sweet 16.  This coming after all the speculation Nova wouldn’t even get in the tournament this year.  But please don’t think I am overlooking Siena, they scare me a little bit.  The Vandy isn’t even the best team they beat this season.  Siena beat Stanford by 12 early in the year.  But it looks like Nova will finally face a team they are a little bigger than inside.  Siena’s tallest starter is only 6’7 and they only bring in a 6’9 kid for minor minutes. 

NOTE: The last time Villanova played Siena was in the NIT tournament in 02′ – 03′.  They lost in that first round game 74-59.

I heard by far the best Scottie Reynolds play-by-play quote ever last night:  “All these baskets are coming Reynolds wrapped.”  Love that!


Villanova beats Syracuse in a Battle of the Bubble Teams

Villanova’s Shane Clark Dunks against SyracuseThis was a game which undoubtedly would decide the tournament fate of both Big East teams.  Villanova and Syracuse were sitting either squarely on the bubble or on the outside with their faces pressed firmly against the bubble looking in.  Somebody wouldn’t be dancing next week.

Villanova started the game tentative and off from behind the arc and managed to remain only one down going into halftime.  In the second half, on the other hand, a completely different team showed up.  I don’t know what Jay Wright told the Wildcats at half time (probably shoot the damn ball and stop hesitating), but they clearly got the message.  Villanova came out in the second half and blasted Syracuse to the tune of 55-35.  I guess Pete and I picked the wrong half to watch during our lunch break.  That explosive 2nd half of basketball gave Nova an 82-63 win and ensured that they are still in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid.

Undersized Villanova dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Orangeman 34-20.   And in the second half Nova finally found their shooting touch, ending the game connecting on 48% of their shots and 52.4% from three.  Scottie Reynolds, as usual, lead the team in scoring with 22 and also dished out 6 assists.  But the real story was the Wildcat bench, led by Cory Stokes (18 points) and Shane Clark (11 points) outscoring the entire ‘Cuse bench 29-8.

Great performance by Villanova in a must-win game.  But there is still a lot of work to be done.  Next up is the overrated Georgetown Hoyas, but they have been playing much better basketball lately. 

With the recent upsets by San Diego over Gonzaga and Middle Tennessee State over South Alabama in the mid-majors, there are fewer at-large bids available meaning Villanova, as well as Saint Joseph’s and Temple, will need to make an even stronger case for themselves in their respective conference tournaments.  Nova took the first step today beating up on Syracuse, but I don’t think that alone is enough.  One more win, a signature win against the Hoyas, will likely move the Wildcats from outside the bubble into the field of 65.  Let’s just hope the refs don’t @#$% Villanova this time around.


Big Win Keeps Villanova’s NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive

Just when we thought the big five was dead, the Villanova Wildcats step up with a huge 67-65 victory in a well-played, hard fought contest against Big East foe, the #13 Connecticut Huskies.  The win makes it 3 in a row for Jay Wright’s club and ended Uconn’s 10-game winning streak.Villanova was lead by Corey Stokes hot outside shooting in the first half, leading 33-27 at the break.  Stokes finished with 18 points in the game.  The second half was all Scottie Reynolds who scored 15 of his 18 points after the break.The Wildcats were able to overcome a big size disadvantage and 38-22 rebounding disparity in similar fashion as they have all year – with quickness.  Nova forced 13 turnovers including 9 steals that lead to many easy buckets.  Add the 9-20 three-point shooting and that is a winning combination for the Wildcats.Key plays in the last minute:

  • With 39-seconds and a two-point lead Scottie Reynolds coming off pick from Dante Cunningham drives to the basket with 7′ 3 Hasheem Thabeet on his hip and puts up a right hand floater high of the glass, ala Allen Iverson to give Nova a 4-point lead.
  • A.J. Price had a chance to tie the game with 6.9-seconds but missed the first of two free throws.
  • Dante Cunningham at the line with 4.9-seconds to go, missed the front end of a 1-and-1.  Antonio Pena tipped the miss back to Cunningham, secured the most important rebound of the afternoon.  He was fouled again with 2.3 seconds remaining and Cunningham hit the first free throw and missed the second.  Leading 67-65 the desperation heave from half-court proved fruitless for Uconn.

In my opinion this was the first of three straight must win games for Nova to be considered for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.  With a mediocre overall record (17-9) and .500 in the Big East conference (7-7) it’s clear the Wildcats need to rack up some quality wins down the stretch to build their resume for the selection committee. Up next, they face #24 Marquette at home then go to #23 Louisville next Sunday.  Those are the two tough games left on the schedule that Villanova really needs to win.  They finish up the regular season with South Florida and at Providence.If they can win out their resume looks like this going into the Big East Tourney:

  • 21-9, (11-7 in the Big East)
  • 8-4 in their last 12 games (last 12 is the new measure since seasons are longer)
  • Quality wins: Marquette, Louisville, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, George Mason
  • Bad loses: Rutgers, DePaul

I think that is good enough to make them at the very least one of the last 4 in.  Throw in a few wins in the conference tournament and they are a lock for the big dance.  For now, Jay Wright needs to have them fully focused on Marquette.

Pesky Villanova Wildcats Turn Pitt Over in Win

Villanova's Malcolm Grant's quick hands knocks the ball loose from Pittsburgh's Ronald Ramon.Dante Cunningham’s 2 clutch free throws may have sealed the win for Nova, but it was 22 forced turnovers that made the difference for the Wildcats.  10 seconds left and a chance to win the game Pitt went to its bread and butter end-game play (see the win vs. Duke).  But without the playmaking ability of Levance Fields and against the quick hands and feet of Villanova, that play ended the same way the entire game played out for Pittsburgh.  With a turnover. 

This was a great bounce back win for Nova coming off a disappointing loss to DePaul in their Big East opener.  The Blue Demons shot 51% in that game, and it was apparent from the start of today’s game that Jay Wright had his team pick up the defensive intensity against Pitt.  Full-court pressing and trapping most of the game combined with a depleted back-court for the Panthers resulted in 11 steals and 22 points off turnovers for Nova. 

That suffocating defense and 39-7 bench scoring difference was just enough for Villanova to overcome a poor shooting day (33% from the field & 27% from behind the arc) and a sub-par game from leading scorer Scottie Reynolds (1-6 fgs 4pts).  With the game on the line, Reynolds did make a great pass that ultimately lead to Cunningham‘s game-winning free throws. Freshman Malcolm Grant picked up the scoring load with a career high 22 points on 6-12 from the field while suffering leg cramps late. 

“He’s incredible. He’s a freshman but he’s the heart and soul of our team,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said about Grant. “I try to diminish that but I can’t. He’s really energized our team since he’s gotten here.”

Pittsburgh got another monster game inside from freshman DeJuan Blair (12pts & 15 boards) who gave the Panthers their last lead of the game with a fall-away shot after being bumped in the lane.

This was the Wildcats 5th straight victory over Pitt in the last 5 meetings at the Pavilion.  Hopefully Nova, currently ranked 16th in the country, won’t drop far in the rankings, having redeemed themselves after the DePaul loss against a tough, 13th-ranked conference foe.