I really wanted to not care about this game. I had convinced myself that this game did not matter: win or lose we would still be winning the Big East tournament, end up a #1 seed, and go deep in March. Win or lose, the Haters (a very real alliance of ESPN, online commenters, and college football fans trying to watch basketball) would still doubt the legitimacy of our high ranking. They would still point out our recent March miscarriages until we advance to the promised land of the second weekend.
But then I watched my team fall apart in a big game, again. It was then that I realized that this game not only mattered, it was frighteningly indicative of our performance in games against equal or better opponents.
What scared me the most was seeing the Villanova basketball team I thought I knew unravel out of control. The mistakes began innocently enough: missed layups, clinking threes. Then they began to add up, with a missed dunk in between for good measure. Let’s not forget the unforced turnovers and steals we gave up under our own basket. For all these mistakes though, somehow we stayed in it for most of the game. Maybe that’s heartening.
As with any Villanova loss, the threes were not dropping either. Per usual, once the team found themselves down by a few buckets, shots from beyond the arc increased in a futile attempt to stage a comeback by failing means. Why we revert back to our old offense when we are behind baffles me.
The major contributor to Wednesday night’s defeat was a lack of Villanova defense. Even when Villanova had played sub-par games this past season, the defense was always there to bail us out. At Xavier, however, our defense was laughably bad. It became clear sometime in the first half that the refs felt whistle-happy in this particular game. For every Xavier drive to the basket, a foul was called. The consequences were twofold: first, our best players found themselves in foul trouble early. Second, Chris Mack adjusted his offense when Jay Wright did not. Mack switched his usual shooting offense to a paint-centered offense, and it paid dividends for the rest of the night. Our defense was too afraid to challenge any charging Musketeer to the point that we would literally take a step out of the way for fear of fouling. Perhaps if Coach had urged his players to drive to the paint instead of shooting beyond the arc, the game could have been more competitive.
The harrowing thought I could not get out of my head by halftime, and especially after the final buzzer, was that I have not seen this team so out of character since the infamous NC State game. We looked spooked in repeatedly missing shots I’ve never seen us miss. I have always been the utmost defender of Villanova basketball whenever some ignoramus suggests my team will not make it far in March. The truth is, the team I know will make it to the Final Four. However, if for some reason we make uncharacteristic games a habit, the prophesy spoken upon us will come to fruition. I rue that day.
If you want some positive takeaways from this game, I can muster a few: first, this is good for the league. The Big East will probably have two #1 seeds now, so no matter how many other league teams get the Invite, our conference will be accepted as truly one of the powers. Second, Villanova played one of its worst games of the year and still kept it competitive until the end. Lastly, maybe this loss will fire up a team that had been comfortably winning for so long. From here on out, every win will be a true accomplishment and must be worked for as such.
In closing, it is apparent that this team still has serious work to do before it becomes a Final Four squad. The bench needs to step up. Adjustments need to be made on the fly. Take one look at the calendar and you too know that this is crunch time. Luckily for us Villanovans, the changes necessary are not drastic. The tools are all here: now is the time for this team to apply them like the masterpiece it is.