Editor’s Note: Patrick Ciapciak contributed to this piece.
So Villanova has lost again and now we are scrambling to pick up the pieces. Already having as many regular season losses as last year, it seems that this team might be heading down the wrong path. Preseason pollsters had us convinced this was a top ten caliber team, but the recent performances have us reconsidering. This results is an identity crisis. On one hand, this team has the senior leadership and young talent combination to be an all-era team. On the other hand, this team has failed both of its non-conference challenges, therein waking up the haters who remind us of recent March exits.
It’s already late December, but this was the first real road game for Villanova. The game against Oklahoma was contested on a neutral court, and the game at St. Joe’s was only five miles down the road. Yesterday, the Wahoos who packed John Paul Jones Arena made every effort to create a road game atmosphere for the visiting Main Liners. Southern hospitality it was not. Despite the hostile environment though, Villanova kept it close through to the final minute. However, keeping it close was not the goal these Villanovans set out to achieve when they set out for Charlottesville. This was our chance to prove the worth of this team, and the Big East as a whole.
The game started off on quite a good note as Kris Jenkins knocked down an open three. This is something that we have not seen from often maligned Jenkins this year. It was at this point we were saying “Hey, maybe things will be different”. Well that would not be the case. Jenkins (more on him later) and the rest of the Villanova squad continued their shoddy shooting from deep. While it is was much improved from the Oklahoma game, this team still cannot hit from deep when we need it most. I don’t expect them to shoot 40%+ every game, but in games like these you have to hit these shots.
To me, the turning point of this game was a series of events that sum of the Villanova offense to a tee. Up by two, nearly half way through the second half, Josh Hart drove toward the basket. Hart was unable to convert the layup, but at least he drove to the basket, something that Villanova fans have been clamoring for all year. Hart recovered his own shot, went back up strong and due to some bad luck the shot rimmed out. However, Hart grabbed another offensive board and kicked it out to the point, where Jenkins put the ball on the floor and shot a floater that did not have a chance. The Wildcats once again got the offensive board, kicked it out to a wide open Mikal Bridges for three, and it hit off the back rim only to be recovered by Virginia. The Wahoos promptly went on an 14-0 run to put the game out of reach. My point is here is that this team is having trouble knocking down the open shots, is unlucky when it comes to the easy shots, and have the tendency to take terrible shots. All three of those aspects were on display during that possession, and must be fixed to have a shot during the rigors of Big East play.
On top of the bad shot selection, the defense did not do this team any favors. Poor position and slow switch offs led to easy points for the Cavs. What made it worse was that the defensive assignments were blown late in the shot clock making it frustrating to watch. What was even more frustrating was that this was a constant theme throughout the game. Forcing a shot clock violation is always a momentum turner, just look at how loud and enthusiastic the Wahoo faithful got during their elongated defensive stretches. On top of this, the Cavaliers shot absolute lights out from deep. While there were some defensive lapses on the perimeter, it wasn’t entirely on the defense, as it just felt like the Creighton effect.
Speaking of the defense let’s talk about the rebounding. No one boxed out. No one went up strong to grab the ball. You don’t even have to look at the stats to know that Virginia dominated the glass. Virginia held an advantage on the boards all day long. Yes, Villanova isn’t the tallest team in the land and we shouldn’t expect to grab every board. However, when you are playing the team that you can match inch-for-inch there shouldn’t be that big of a disparity. The one play that stuck out to me the most was when my former Don Bosco Prep classmate and now current Virginia Cavalier Mike Tobey out muscled Darryl Reynolds for the ball. Tobey went up stronger and with more aggression was able to get around the box out of Reynolds and put it back for the easy deuce.
I think we all agreed that Jay Wright’s gameplan of shooting too many threes had to change after the Hawaii embarrassment on national TV. There was marked improvement on that front in yesterday’s game, but obviously not enough. Then again, Virginia’s performance cannot be downplayed. UVA represented the cream of the ACC of the past two years, and certainly played like it as well. Respect is due to the Cavaliers, I just wish Villanova could’ve matched them.
It’s not so much panic as it is knowing that these are the types of teams that the Wildcats will meet in March and will have to beat if they want to make it far into the tournament.
As much as this second loss has me feeling like the season is doomed, this is Christmas time so I need to finish by saying some nice things.
Phil Booth played great early on. He provided some much needed offense on a nice steal and ensuing coast to coast layup, further continuing a strong sophomore campaign. Daniel Ochefu looked comfortable in the post during most possessions and showed off some strong moves to the basket. I wish his first instinct will be to enact one of his post moves instead of looking to kicking it out to the perimeter more often, but that’s the breaks. Lastly, Jenkins really stepped it up in the second half and helped the Wildcats attempt to claw back into the game late. He was able to get hot from deep and his stat line did not look as bad as we all thought it possibly could in the first half. He was also able to get to the line nine times, while converting eight. It was nice and refreshing to see someone get to the line since JayVaughn Pinkston’s departure. He also put up a career-high 23 points.
It wasn’t the worst performance but it wasn’t the best. Here’s to the ‘Cats playing better moving forward.