North Carolina’s No Good Very Bad Ending to Fairy Tale Season

Posted by Matt Patton on April 7th, 2016

There’s no arguing that North Carolina is among college basketball royalty. The Tar Heels are one of only three programs with a truly national fan base (the other two are Duke and Kentucky). They own five national championships and consistently recruit a level of talent that most programs can only dream of. But with the news of a multi-year academic scandal and corresponding NCAA investigation hanging overhead, the carefully-curated lustre of “the Carolina Way” had faded. The uncertainty of the drawn-out investigation resulted in a surplus of negative recruiting and several classes that lagged behind the other national powerhouses.

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (Photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

“When you’re a kid growing up, you don’t dream of missing the last second shot, or a team beating you at the buzzer,” he said. “You dream of having that moment. That confetti. Seeing your family over there crying tears of joy. Hugging guys you’ve had blood, sweat and tears with for four years. That’s what you dream of. We were close to that dream.”Marcus Paige

All of this set the stage for Roy Williams to rebrand his team — one of college basketball’s elites — as a Cinderella despite starting the season as the top dog (preseason AP #1). Some experts quickly left the Tar Heels’ bandwagon after they blew a mid-November double-figure second half lead at Northern Iowa (a team that was ultimately one broken press away from the Sweet Sixteen, remember). A narrative has existed over the last few years — promoted incessantly by Dan Dakich’s egocentric view of history — that North Carolina lacked toughness. The early loss to the Panthers played into that narrative, but it more or less became gospel when the Tar Heels allowed a lesser Duke squad to steal a February victory in Chapel Hill even with Matt Jones injured for most of the game. Suddenly Doug Gottlieb was mentioning that Williams was considering retirement to allow Hubert Davis to assume the helm. Since that loss on February 17, the Tar Heels played with an “us against the world” mentality that we hadn’t seen from them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 77, #1 North Carolina 74

Posted by nvr1983 on April 4th, 2016

RTC is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament again this season. Make sure to follow us @rushthecourt throughout Final Four weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Kris Jenkins Made History With His Buzzer-Beating Championship Winner (USA Today Images)

Kris Jenkins Made History With His Buzzer-Beating Championship Winner (USA Today Images)

  1. A Shot For The Ages. After a lackluster Saturday night of national semifinals we were treated to an excellent game for the first 39 minutes of action, but it was the final 93 seconds during which the game went to another level. It started off with Marcus Paige hitting a deep corner three to cut Villanova’s lead to three, followed by Brice Johnson cutting it to one with a layup. Josh Hart then made four straight free throws sandwiched around a ridiculous Marcus Paige strip/reverse layup to again cut the lead to one point. Hart’s third and fourth free throws made it a three-point game again, leading to Paige hitting an off-balance, double-clutch three-pointer to tie it with 4.7 seconds left. That alone would have been an all-time shot if it hadn’t been followed up by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hitting a buzzer-beating three to win the championship that we are still having trouble believing went down.
  2. Arcidiacono and Booth steal the show. The pair combined to score 36  points (a career-high 20 for Booth and 16 for Arciadiacono) on 12-of-16 from the field including 4-of-5 from three-point range. More importantly, it was the timeliness of their surges that kept Villanova afloat both early (Arcidiacono) and late (Booth). Booth in particular picked a great time to have the best performance of his two-year career on the Main Line, as his career-high in points (20) was the recipe for a success for a team that didn’t get huge nights from its typical offensive stars.
  3. North Carolina’s three-point barrage. Coming into the game it was supposed to be Villanova that would shoot the lights out from the outside. Instead a Tar Heels team that entered the contest shooting a putrid 31.9 percent from three-point range this season managed to go 7-of-9 from beyond the arc in the first half to stake a 39-34 lead (despite being outscored 18-12 inside the paint). They ended up shooting a scorching 11-for-17 on the evening, tying their season-high from three-point range (they went 11-for-20 against Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen), but it wasn’t enough to losing the battle of the paint (their supposed strength) and Jenkins’ dagger.

Star of the Game. Phil Booth, Villanova. We were ready to go with Joel Berry II here — a player who went off with 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting including 3-of-3 from three in the first half — but he followed that up with just five points in the second half. Instead we are going to go with Booth, who came into the game with a career high of 16 points in a game against East Tennessee State (a slightly smaller stage). He poured in 20 points going 6-of-7 from the field including 2-of-2 from three while making all six of his free throws. Unlike Grayson Allen last year, this performance was completely unexpected as he wasn’t a highly regarded recruit and we don’t expect him to turn into an All-American next season. Regardless, this night was his.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 64, #1 Kansas 59

Posted by Will Tucker on March 26th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

And With This Steal, Villanova Was Off to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

And With This Steal, Villanova Was Off to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis peaked too early in the week. Two days after delivering a memorable 27-point performance that had Bill Self philosophizing about his legacy, Ellis was frustrated all night by the defense of Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu, and Mikal Bridges. He went into halftime scoreless with four turnovers, and remained quiet in the second half even after Jenkins went to the bench with four fouls around the 14-minute mark. After the game he conceded that Villanova did a good job trying to “swarm” him in the paint, but equally costly were a few missed boxouts on the defensive end that led to Villanova baskets. Ellis finished with as many turnovers as points – four – but it didn’t diminish from his accomplishments this season or his decorated career as a Jayhawk.
  2. The South Regional finally delivered a close game. Thursday night’s winners romped to victory by a combined 39 points after taking control in the second half. Tonight finally flipped the script with a neck-and-neck nailbiter that came down to free throws and late-game dramatics after Kansas and Villanova exchanges leads five times. It was a welcome reprieve from the Sweet Sixteen, and likely reassured many fans that their trip to Kentucky was money well spent.
  3. Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets (and don’t forget a blanket). It’s getting down to 45 degrees tonight in Louisville, and you might find a few guards from both of these squads seeking shelter under the Second Street Bridge after their teams shot a combined 10-of-40 (25 percent) from beyond the arc for the game. What made the difference was Villanova’s ability to score in different ways: The Wildcats hit 18-of-19 free throws and held a 13-to-6 advantage in points off turnovers. The three-point shooting prowess Kansas demonstrated all season had eluded them during the NCAA Tournament — a concern we noted on Thursday — and that finally came back to bite them when it mattered most.

Star of the Game. Villanova forward Kris Jenkins did a tremendous job shutting down Perry Ellis in the first half and leading the way offensively while Ryan Arcidiacono got it going. He finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists, and although foul trouble limited his effectiveness in the second half, his early impact and perfect free throw shooting was enough to earn the Most Outstanding Player award for the South Regional.

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Villanova’s Josh Hart Is Becoming An All-American Candidate

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

With 17 seconds remaining in Villanova’s 55-50 victory over Georgetown on Saturday, the Wildcats’ Josh Hart delivered the proverbial dagger. In basketball parlance, daggers are typically big shots that put games out of reach, but on Saturday, Hart’s dagger came in the form of a timeout. Sprawled on the floor as Villanova held a a 51-46 lead, Hart signaled to the baseline official for the timeout as Hoyas began to pile on top of him. Moments earlier, the Villanova swingman had skied high for a rebound, his 12th of the game, off a Reggie Cameron missed three-pointer that would have closed the deficit to two. “You can’t teach the guts to just lay your body out and go get the ball like that,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the media after the win. “You see that and you just say, ‘Thank God he’s on our team.'”

Josh Hart is becoming more than Villanova's sixth man. (Associated Press)

Josh Hart is becoming more than just Villanova’s sixth man. (Associated Press)

Hart, a 6’5″ junior, is the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on KenPom’s #1 ranked team, but you won’t find his name on many mid-season All-American lists. The omission is a bit perplexing given that Hart wasn’t exactly an unknown heading into the year. He was the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago, a year in which he also became the first non-starter to win the Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Now, Hart is averaging 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the surging Wildcats. His 15-point, 12-rebound performance against Georgetown is just the latest in a long line of impressive outings this season.

The transition from sixth man to starter hasn’t necessarily been a smooth one, however. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster,” Hart said of the switch. According to him, the biggest adjustment has been making sure that he starts the game well. “Last year, I could watch everything going on and then get into it. Now, I have to jump start the team,” he said after Saturday’s victory. While Hart finished with 12 rebounds against Georgetown, just one of those came in the first half. Luckily for the Wildcats, slow starts don’t seem to bother Hart. At halftime, he said he told himself that “If I’m not going to score, I’m going to rebound, I’m going to help this team.”

That team-first mentality is also a reflection of Hart’s evolution as a leader. The upperclassman has a healthy respect for the Wildcats who have come before him. “I’m a junior now. Now, I don’t have the James Bells, the Darrun Hilliards, the [JayVaughn Pinkstons], the Tony Chennaults,” Hart said in reference to seniors who have graduated during his tenure. “I don’t have those guys to kind of lean on, now I’m going into that leadership role.”

As Hart becomes more comfortable with his role as a starter and leader, he’s also been working hard to improve himself as an individual player. He works with associate head coach Baker Dunleavy “every day” on various aspects of his game. There has been obvious growth in a number of areas of Hart’s skill set since he arrived at Villanova from Sidwell Friends School three years ago, but the talent that he’s improved most is his jump shot. “I think everyone saw my shot freshman year. It was probably one of the ugliest things—had a crazy hitch. It was just atrocious,” he said after Saturday’s win as teammate Ryan Arcidiacono flashed a big smile. Since shooting 31.3 percent from three-point range his freshman season, Hart is an impressive 79-for-190 from deep (41.6%).

Hart opened Saturday's contest with a steal and a dunk. (USA Today Sports)

Hart opened Saturday’s contest with a steal and dunk. (USA Today Sports)

This rollercoaster ride isn’t an accident. Villanova has created an environment for Hart to grow from role player to sixth man to star. He frequently credits his coaches and his teammates with helping him grow the confidence necessary for the improvement. According to Hart, the next step in his personal development is to improve his decision-making when he gets into the lane. “You just have to get the work in,” he said.

While timeouts are rarely remembered as game-changing, Hart’s rebound and call for time against Georgetown was the critical moment of the Wildcat win. It also provided a solid reflection of the ethos of both team and star — Hart and the group he leads have proven quite committed to doing everything possible to help the Wildcats win. Those type of players typically find their way onto “glue guy” lists, but Josh Hart is much more than that. Don’t be surprised if the name of Villanova’s newest leader shows up on All-American lists at the end of the season.

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Villanova’s Success Predicated on Slowing Down Its Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 5th, 2016

To a casual fan, Villanova’s woes appear painfully obvious: The Wildcats are shooting — and missing — too many threes. But approach the issue at the next level and shooting isn’t the problem as much as the quick tempo it produces. Jay Wright’s most successful teams have thrived by forcing turnovers and attacking with a well-balanced offense. In recent years, however, its healthy ratio between points in the paint and from three has faltered, with the Wildcats becoming increasingly dependent on perimeter shooting. The numbers show that Villanova has shot over 40 percent of its field goal attempts from long range over the last three seasons and that share has gotten frighteningly close to half of all of its shots (48.3%) this year. As a result, the team’s overall accuracy (32%) has experienced a sharp dip (from 39 percent a year ago to 32 percent this season). We should expect Villanova’s outside shooting to revert to the mean somewhat, but all signs so far suggest that this year’s squad performs best in a low-possession game in which its offense finds greater balance beyond such voluminous use of the three-point shot.

Jay Wright Has His Team Dancing Once Again, But For How Long? (H. Rumph Jr./AP)

In somewhat of a surprise, Jay Wright’s crew has been more efficient when they have limited their possessions per game. (H. Rumph Jr./AP)

On one hand, Villanova currently leads the country in two-point shooting percentage at 63.1 percent. This is largely a testament to the skill sets of its personnel: Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart are excellent at getting to the rim; Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins are strong mid-range shooters. Despite the team’s relative struggles from beyond the arc this season, opponents still have to respect its shooting pedigree and volume, which opens their driving lanes. As a result, Villanova has proven capable of getting into the lane and scoring. Still, the Wildcats haven’t taken enough of those high-percentage shots, instead often passing it back out to the perimeter in search of an extra point. Despite Villanova’s exceptional 72.1 percent shooting at the rim (ninth nationally), these looks represent fewer than a third (32.4%) of the team’s total shot attempts (273rd in the nation). This aversion to attacking the rim is also revealed by the team’s free throw rate, in which Villanova ranks 314th this season after finishing among the top 100 in each of the last seven years. Needless to say, this squad’s large number of three-point attempts is hurting its offensive efficiency in a number of ways, some more notable than others. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Season Preview: The Contenders (#1-#3)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2015

Over the last two days, we covered the group of Big East teams that are likely to be on the outside looking in (#7-#10) followed by the group of dark horses that could go either way (#6-#4). Today’s group falls under the “almost certain to win” category — in other words, the contenders. While it’s true that there are some strong teams within the middle-tier category as well, a clear, distinctive line exists between the groupings. All three of the league contenders should be in the Top 25 on a weekly basis, and each one has a strong case for winning the conference.

3. Butler

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. (Butler Athletics)

The Bulldogs fall into a strikingly familiar predicament as Xavier, only the impact of their losses is less significant. Gone are starters Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods, both of whom provided a strong defensive presence but neither a game-changing impact. In come two transfers and a 6’10” freshman, Nate Fowler. What does this mean for Butler? Perhaps predictably, more of the same old “grind-it-out” basketball that the program is known for. Leading scorers Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones are back for their senior seasons and center Andrew Chrabascz will be looking to improve upon a breakout sophomore campaign. Moreover, Tyler Lewis, NC State’s former starting point guard, is eligible and should elevate Butler on the offensive end of the floor. Given the team’s experience and offensive versatility at every position, it seems that just about all of the pieces are in place for a successful season. The Bulldogs enter the season nationally ranked (#24) and with two preseason conference first teamers (Dunham and Jones), but it seems as if they’re still being overlooked. Head coach Chris Holtmann will undoubtedly use this to his advantage, but there should be no doubt that shotmaker extraordinaire Dunham and his helter-skelter counterpart Jones will keep Butler in contention all season long. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 69, Xavier 52

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

Villanova won its first Big East Tournament title since 1995 and all but locked up a No. 1 seed at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Dominated the Big East From Start to Finish This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova made a statement tonight. The Wildcats were in control of this game from the start, encouraged by a highly partisan Madison Square Garden crowd. It was a microcosm of Villanova’s season in which it dominated a very good Big East conference with a 16-2 regular season record. Xavier was able to get in a few licks, but tonight was all about the Wildcats. While Jay Wright’s team may be a bit too over-reliant on the three-pointer, it has clearly shown that it can beat anyone in the country. This was also a good tournament for Villanova from an experience perspective. The Wildcats destroyed an inferior Marquette club on Thursday only to be pushed to the brink by Providence the next night. Tonight, Villanova made very quick work of a strong and surging Xavier team.
  2. Jay Wright challenged his team and it responded. After Thursday’s opening win over Marquette, Wright said this was not one of his better defensive teams even after holding the Golden Eagles to just 49 points. Last night the Wildcats limited Providence to 35 percent shooting. Against Xavier, the Musketeers were held to 52 points on 37.9 percent shooting. Whether it was coachspeak or something else, Villanova answered the bell. In watching this team all year, it makes up for a lack of size with an aggressive three-quarter court zone press that falls back into a stifling man-to-man with intense ball pressure. On some night when the threes don’t fall in the NCAA Tournament, it is going to be up to Villanova’s defense to carry it through. And it is capable.
  3. Xavier’s inconsistency was on display again. While Villanova is an incredibly tough opponent to deal with, the gritty play the Musketeers displayed against Butler and Georgetown earlier this week wasn’t there tonight. This loss in particular is not a concern going into the NCAA Tournament, but for a team that has lost 13 times (some against weak competition), it’s worth tracking. Chris Mack’s team is more than capable of reaching the Sweet Sixteen but it is going to have to play more consistently in order to get there. It was a good experience this week in New York for Xavier, but it must get down to business with outstanding focus after the selection show tomorrow night.

Player of the Game:  Josh Hart, Villanova. The Wildcats’ sixth man, of whom Wright said he would not take that role next season, continued to impress. Only a sophomore, Hart totaled an efficient 15 points, making seven of his nine shots in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. His play speaks to the balance and great chemistry of this team. He fits seamlessly in the lineup and his growth is a testament to the incredible player development under Wright’s leadership.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Villanova 63, Providence 61

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

Just Another Night in the Big East Tournament (USA Today Images)

  1. That was an old school Big East battle. Some people like to talk about how the “new” Big East just isn’t the same, but they fail to remember the Big East was a small nine-team league when it developed its reputation as one of the top conferences in the nation. Two of those nine teams battled it out in this game and the result was a throwback to classic Big East games of the past. This was as good as it gets. A tough, physical underdog going up against the conference goliath that is playing as well as any team in the nation. The Garden crowd was electric on this Friday night for a game that more than lived up to its billing.
  2. Providence dominated the boards and nearly overcame poor shooting. The Friars shot only 35 percent for the game but outrebounded Villanova 42-30, including a 19-9 advantage on the offensive boards. Freshman Ben Bentil in particular was great, pulling down six offensive boards and scoring 12 points mostly from second chances. Providence held a 19-6 edge in second chance points but just could not overcome a rough shooting night by most of its better players. LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn and Tyler Harris were a combined 11-of-33 (33 percent) from the floor.
  3. This game was a great test for both teams as they head into the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt that both Villanova and Providence will be participating in the Big Dance next week. Both coaches commented after that game about how much a tough, close, grinding game like this one gives them valuable experience heading into the NCAAs. NCAA Tournament games always seem to be played at a slower pace; although both of these teams are comfortable in transition, getting a hard-fought experience against a quality opponent like here can only help as they transition into next week’s action.

Player of the Game:  Daniel Ochefu, Villanova. Could reasonably have gone with Kris Dunn or Josh Hart in this spot, but Ochefu was dominant inside tonight, especially defensively. Providence was smothered most of the time when it tried to go in the paint and a lot of that credit goes to Ochefu. His five blocks tied a season high. On the offensive end, the Villanova big man totaled 15 points and 13 rebounds, his seventh double-double of the season. Ochefu plays an important role as a true big man on an otherwise undersized team. He will be a valuable piece as Villanova begins its quest for a national championship.

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Firing on All Cylinders, Villanova Looks Scary Good

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 12th, 2015

After his team picked up its 30th win of the season in convincing fashion in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, Villanova head coach Jay Wright said something that should scare any future opponent this March. “This team is not one of our better defensive teams. It’s good, but we can be a lot better,” he said. What’s ironic is that he said this after his team had held an overmatched Marquette club to just 49 points on 0.77 points per possession (Villanova scored 84). “Not as good as I’d like it to be, really,” Wright said again. Well then… ho hum.

 

JayVaughn Pinkston and Friends Just Keep Chugging Along (USA Today Images)

JayVaughn Pinkston and Friends Just Keep Chugging Along (USA Today Images)

After routing Marquette by 35 points, it is safe to say that Wright’s club is playing as good of basketball as any team in the country, and that includes Kentucky. Defense is only half the story. Ranked third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, the Wildcats were able to put that on full display this afternoon. More numbers: Villanova assisted on 22 of 30 field goals and tied a Big East Tournament record with 17 three-pointers. The balance on this team is incredible and Wright has every player buying what he is selling: teamwork, toughness, and high basketball IQ. Chemistry is underappreciated by some people in this sport but Villanova has it in spades. When Ryan Arcidiacono, who averages what appears to be a pedestrian 10.7 PPG and 3.6 APG this season, is chosen as the Co-Big East Player of the Year, you’re doing something right. Individual statistics don’t nearly tell the whole story with this team and nobody embodies that more than the Wildcats’ junior point guard.

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Big East Season Superlatives

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2015

The Big East had an outstanding season, finishing the regular season ranked as the second-best conference in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings as well as the RPI. Let’s take a look at some of the best players and teams from a league that will likely send six teams to the Big Dance on Sunday.

Player of the Year

Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – This award could have easily gone to Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard or Dunn’s Providence teammate LaDontae Henton, but the Friars’ sophomore point guard has dazzled us all year long on one of the Big East’s top teams. Originally a part of Providence’s 2012 recruiting class, Dunn had been beset by injuries up until this season. Finally healthy, he played in all but one regular season game and led the country in assist rate at 49 percent. Also an outstanding defender, Dunn ranks fifth nationally in steal percentage. His best performance of the year came in a home win over DePaul on January 29 when he posted a triple-double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) — it was the first triple-double ever posted by a Providence player in a Big East conference game.

It wasn't an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC's Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t an easy choice, but Kris Dunn earns the nod as RTC’s Big East POY. (USA TODAY Sports)

All-Conference

First Team

  • Kris Dunn, So, Providence (15.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.4 APG, 2.8 SPG) – Our RTC Big East Player of the Year.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Sr, Villanova (14.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 SPG) – As is the case with all of his Villanova teammates, the statistics don’t tell the entire story. The best player on the best team in this league.
  • LaDontae Henton, Sr, Providence (20.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.4 SPG) – Joined Ryan Gomes as the only other Providence player to score at least 2,000 points and grab at least 1,000 rebounds over his career.
  • D’Angelo Harrison, Sr, St. John’s (17.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG) – The Red Storm’s leading scorer led an experienced team to what is likely to be an NCAA Tournament bid.
  • Sir’Dominic Pointer, Sr, St. John’s (13.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 2.5 BPG) – Perhaps the best defender in the conference, Pointer was all over the floor in an impressive senior season.

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Despite Conference Realignment, Syracuse vs. Villanova Here to Stay

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on December 23rd, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

It’s Northeast basketball. It used to be what the Big East was, but it’s still Northeast basketball. It’s a great rivalry. The fans know each other… — Jay Wright, Villanova head coach, 12/20/2014.

Forget about conferences, it's always fun when these two coaches go to battle.

Forget about conferences, it’s always fun when these two coaches go to battle.

Syracuse has played basketball since 1899, but did not join a conference (the Big East) until 1979. Among the colleges and universities across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and the six New England states, stable conferences like the Ivy League (1902-present) were, before the late 1970s, the exception rather than the rule. Schools either remained stubbornly independent (Boston College, Duquesne, Holy Cross, Penn State, Providence, St. Bonaventure, and Villanova, for example) or, like Fordham — which belonged to the Metro NY Conference (1933-34, 1936-39, 1942-43, 1946-63), the NJNY7 (1977-79), the East Coast Athletic Metro Conference (1980-81), the MAAC (1982-90), and the Patriot (1991-95) before finally settling into the Atlantic 10 (1996-present) — flirted with conference affiliations like Taylor Swift dangles musicians and actors. Too many of these conferences — the Eastern Intercollegiate Conference (1933-39), the Middle Three Conference (1949-52), the Little Three Conference (1947-58) and the New Jersey-New York 7 Conference (1977-79) — modeled on Philadelphia’s Big 5 series and little more than commitments to schedule round-robin play — had little in the way of longevity. The NCAA, which began its postseason invitational tournament to crown a champion in 1939, paid little attention to the region’s conference comings and goings. The influence of Marquette’s Al McGuire and CBS Sports changed all of that. Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Villanova Shake Its Doubters?

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 30th, 2014

On Monday night, Villanova came to the Verizon Center ready to play Georgetown. The Wildcats were ranked 4th in the latest AP Poll and carried one of the most impressive resumes in the country — Jay Wright’s team is 4th in RPI, has played the 15th most difficult schedule, and are 10-2 against the RPI top 100 with wins over Kansas and Iowa. Despite all this, Villanova is usually mentioned with a caveat whenever the issue of its ranking comes up; while they are certainly deserving of it given the sterling resume, most pundits do not believe the Wildcats are one of the few best teams in the nation. After a drubbing from Creighton and an escape from subpar Marquette, Villanova had an opportunity to take advantage of the hobbled and sinking Hoyas to show the doubters that they’re for real and to boost their own confidence. Instead, the Wildcats were involved in a back-and-forth game where their offense never seemed to click but ultimately doing just enough to eke out a 65-60 win. So which is the real Villanova? Is it the elite team Villanova appears to portray on paper, or the team the media is waiting to fall back to earth? I looked into the numbers to get a better handle on this question.

Jayvaughn Pinkston (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Jayvaughn Pinkston  is the biggest offensive weapon in the paint for Villanova. (Credit AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

According to KenPom, the Wildcats have an adjusted offensive efficiency of 118.0 points per 100 possessions (9th in the nation) and an adjusted defensive efficiency of 95.0 points per 100 possessions (26th). Villanova has a great inside-outside game, switching between Jayvaughn Pinkston to do work on the blocks, and a strong perimeter corps where James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono can launch it from deep. Forty-five percent of Villanova’s shots come from the three-point line (where the Wildcats are shooting 34.8 percent) and thirty-five percent of their shots are coming at the rim (where they are 63.1 percent from the field). Jay Wright also has them playing excellent man-to-man defense – working in concert to make the correct switches and protecting the weak side. So, what’s the problem? What may be giving writers and talking heads some hesitation is their complete lack of size in the frontcourt and the absence of a premier player who can get buckets down the stretch.

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