Monday, February 9, 2009

Philly's Best NCAA Tourney Hope

Two seemingly inconsequential acts stood out in Villanova’s 94-91 Big East conference win over Providence last Thursday. The first occurred at halftime, just after a Friar slipped past a flat-footed Nova defender, grabbed the rebound of a desperation three-point heave, and scored a buzzer-beating layup.

Nova led, 49-34, but that didn’t stop one Nova player from giving his lazy teammate a quick, disapproving basketball-shove to the chest (it happened quickly and the cameras didn’t linger long enough to identify the two).

Then, early in the second half, Scottie Reynolds was sprinting upcourt on a secondary break when he slowed down to milk the clock, a beat before coach Jay Wright signaled him to do the same thing. What do the two plays reveal? These players are thinking for themselves on the court, playing aggressive but smart basketball, and not overly reliant on their coach.

Those are the teams that make noise come NCAA tourney time. And, if Nova’s recent tourney history is indicative, that noise will come late in the tourney.

Villanova’s current run of four straight tourneys is the school’s longest since the Wildcats went to seven tourneys between 1980-86, a run that included the ’85 title. And in three of the last four, Nova lost to the eventual national champion: Kansas in the Sweet 16 last year, Florida in the 2006 Elite Eight, and North Carolina in the 2005 Sweet 16.

History aside, this team is built for tourney success now. At 19-4, 7-3 in the Big East, Nova wins with an aggressive defense and a varied inside-outside offense led by hard-to-match-up 6-9 forward Dante Cunningham, and equally tough-to-stop junior guard Scottie Reynolds, both of whom have lit up opponents for 30-plus points. They have a solid seven- to eight-man rotation full of scorers with double-digit potential.

Three of their four losses have come to teams currently in the top 10 (UConn, Louisville, and Marquette). The Wildcats won’t beat themselves and they stay close with good teams: their four losses are by an average of less than six points.

Tuesday’s game against visiting No. 10 Marquette is the toughest test remaining for No. 13 Nova, which has won 25 straight at the Pavilion. If the Wildcats win, they’d be favored in all of their remaining games and could finish the regular season with 13 straight wins and a likely 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA tourney.

Put it all together—smart players, aggressive defense, inside-outside scoring, a deep rotation, recent tourney success, and a possible high tourney seed—and you’re looking at a Final Four contender.


Kurt said...

With their two 100+ point games in a row, I'm wondering if they've been watching some old UNLV films.

I agree that the rest of their schedule is favorable (Depaul, a floundering ND and G-town) but I can see them having to bring at least a B+ game on the road to WVU and Syracuse, especially the latter.

As for their NCAA tourney seed, I think to get a 2 seed they'd have to be in the Big East Final. Hence, I think a 3 seed is more likely.

Kurt said...

Also, not that I doubt she did, but what 2 games did Gray pick correctly? I thought she banished herself from such matters.

John Roach said...

Gray predicted basically that we wouldn't have much to talk to our wives about after the sports were over, and that we spend way too much time following sports.

John Roach said...

Wow--just noticed you made a good call on the WVU game, Kurt.

Now that they've lost, I think you're right about Nova needing to be in the Big East final to get a 2 or 3 seed.