UConn Not Ready to Go Quietly. Connecticut 84, #3 Villanova 75. Does every men’s conference in the Northeast have ADD? Is it the snow or maybe a mid-winter funk? Most likely a number of very good teams have begun to believe their season-long press clippings, while a number of other good teams have taken a hard look at their resumes, the one the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will review in about four weeks. And they don’t like what they see. They are down to their last chances. Villanova may have been reading their press clippings. And Connecticut may have taken a hard look at their resume. UConn bounced back from their worst performance of the season (a 60-48 drubbing by Cincinnati on their home court) with what might be their best performance of the season, as the Huskies downed the #3 Villanova Wildcats 84-75 in front of 18,123 loyal Wildcat fans at the Wachovia Center in downtown Philadelphia. Leading by one at the half, UConn broke the game open with a 16-9 run in the first five minutes of the second half. Villanova shaved UConn’s lead to five several times over the last 15 minutes, but could get no closer. Kemba Walker scored a career-high 29 points on 6-10 FGs. “We had no answer for Kemba Walker. He just had a great night,” noted Coach Jay Wright in the postgame press conference. Scottie Reynolds scored a team-high 18 points for Villanova, on 8-14 shooting. Villanova did not match up well on the inside against the Huskies’ frontcourt rotation of Alex Oriakhi, Stanley Robinson, Charles Okwandu, Gavin Edwards and Jamal Coombs-McDaniels. Antonio Pena was saddled with two first half fouls, and fouled out of the game at the 3:44 mark of the second half, having played only 18 minutes. Backup center Maurice Sutton fouled out in nine minutes of play, leaving freshman Mouphtaou Yarou to finish the game. In all Villanova committed thirty fouls, putting Connecticut on the line for 44 free throw attempts. The Huskies did not squander their opportunities, outscoring the Wildcats from the charity stripe to the tune of +19, well beyond the margin of victory. Fouls have become an issue for Villanova, but in most games they have been able to negate their opponent’s free throw opportunities with their own. In all three of their losses this season they have conceded many more FTAs to their opponents than they have been able to earn themselves. Losing the battle on the boards by 10 further confirms the Wildcats could not compete on the inside. “I think Villanova is good enough, if they don’t get overwhelmed on the inside to go to Indianapolis.” Put simply, tonight they were overwhelmed on the inside.
The Case For Kansas. #1 Kansas 59, #23 Texas A&M 54. We’ve noticed a bit of revisionist history among media types when they make the inevitable comparisons between the 2009 and the 2010 seasons. How often have you heard someone say that “there is no team that stands above the rest” when discussing this year’s grouping of teams, especially when contrasted with the alleged dominance of the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels. Last year’s UNC team was really, really good — don’t take this the wrong way — but to hear it told after the fact, you wonder if any other team (say, UConn) ever had a chance. The Heels were 27-3 in the regular season (13-3 ACC) and held the #1 ranking for nine weeks last year. By comparison, the 2010 Kansas Jayhawks are sitting at 25-1 (11-0 B12) and have already held the top spot in the polls for twelve weeks this year. After tonight’s gutty win at Texas A&M and with five regular season games left (including three at home), KU is well-positioned to enter the postseason at 30-1 holdin one of the more dominant regular season resumes we’ve seen in a number of years. So why do we continue to hear that the field is wide-open this year, and any number of teams have a great chance to win it? Hogwash. This Kansas team is every bit as good (or better) than last year’s ‘prohibitive favorite’ Tar Heels and from our perspective it will be a major upset if the Jayhawks are not the team cutting down the nets in early April. Once again, Kansas showed why they’re such a stalwart favorite by gutting out a hard-fought victory in a hostile environment (Bob Knight called it the best home crowd he’s ever seen, and sounded serious…) through big plays in the clutch. Down four late in the game, Bill Self’s team stayed calm and relied on their defense and foul shooting to finish the game off with an 11-2 run, sealing another win and further cementing the perception that this team can win games in any number of ways. A poor game from Sherron Collins (7/1 asst on 2-9 FGs) allowed A&M a fighting chance, but when it came time to play or fold, Collins made several key plays including a steal leading to a layup that tied the game just before Kansas made its final push. Cole Aldrich had his usual 12/10/5 blks, including control of the boards during the stretch run, and Xavier Henry had 12/6, mostly from the line. Furthermore, the KU team defense held Mark Turgeon’s two Aggie stars — Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis — to 8-27 shooting for a total of only 19 points. Kansas has the #2 most efficient offense and #4 most effecient defense in America according to KenPom: It’s going to take a tremendous game by any one team to defeat this Jayhawk-naut.
Other Games of National Interest.
- Maryland 85, Virginia 66. This was a makeup game as a result of last week’s inclement weather in the greater DC area, and Virginia probably wishes that the reschedule had been set for another night. Because on this night, Maryland couldn’t miss, hitting 70% in the first half en route to a dominant performance over the surprise team in the ACC this year. Greivis Vasquez had 25 of his 30/8/5 assts in that half, and with the win, the Terps move into a three-way tie at three in the loss column along with Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, one game behind Duke.