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03 March 2007

'Cats top 'Cuse in regular season finale

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
3/03/2007 06:13:00 PM

Villanova 78
Syracuse 75

Syracuse: 21-9 (10-6 BE) RPI: 50; SOS: 48.
Villanova: 20-9 (21-9, 9-7 BE, 4-0 B5) RPI: 18; SOS: 7.

Next game: BET R1, vs. DePaul or West Virginia (TBD), 03.07 @ Madison Square Garden.

Villanova closed out its regular season today with a big win over the Syracuse Orangemen at the Wachovia Center. The victory gave the Wildcats 20 wins versus Division I competition, and inked the team's final conference record at 9-7. The win also will likely ensure a higher NCAA seed for Villanova, assuming the Wildcats can get at least one win at the Big East Tournament in New York City.

The game itself today was fairly physical and rough. The game was marred by two ugly technical/intentional fouls and generally poor officiating. After coming out of the gate hot, the Wildcats fell behind in the middle of the game, only to make a comeback and take a large lead of their own. The Orange had one last run in them that was greatly assisted by two dumb plays by Villanova's front line, and one even-dumber intentional foul call with 3.9 seconds left. Despite these setbacks, Villanova was able to hang on to the win.

Many Villanova fans watching the game probably needed a hearty dose of Tums after the way things unfolded at the very end. After Scottie Reynolds sank two free throws with 8 seconds left to give the 'Cats a 6-point lead, the game seemed to be all but over. Syracuse raced up the court and Josh Wright drove into the lane to try a quick lay-up. In what may be the worst decision by a Villanova player I have ever seen, senior Curtis Sumpter stepped in to try to take a charge. Instead, he was whistled for a blocking foul, and 'Cuse was awarded two foul shots with 3.9 seconds on the clock. Wright made both free throws, and then things got crazy.

As the second foul shot was going in, Villanova's Dante Cunningham was jockeying for position on the blocks with Syracuse star Demetrius Nichols. Cunningham attempted the murkily illegal "swim-move" box-out, and his flailing arms grazed Nichols's head. Nine times out of 10, Cunningham's arms would have grazed Nichols's abdomen, but Nichols had lost his balance after moving inside Cunningham for the rebound.

Incredibly, the referee blew his whistle and called a technical foul on Cunningham, which was later amended to an intentional foul. The result, however, was the same: Syracuse would get two free throws and the ball, down 4 with 3.9 seconds left.

Luckily for the 'Cats, Nichols only made one of the free throws, and the Orange could not sink either of the two three-point attempts they managed to fire before the buzzer. Had Syracuse tied or even won the game on a 6- or 7-point possession in under 4 seconds, however, it would have been one of the greatest collapses/comebacks in the history of American sports.

In my opinion, the intentional foul call on Cunningham was tremendously incorrect. By definition, an intentional foul is, well, intentional. Anyone could see that Cunningham had made inadvertent and immaterial contact with Nichols. At worst, it should have been a regular foul. At best, it's inadvertent contact and a non-call. What it certainly should not have been, however, was a chance for Syracuse to make up 6 or 7 points in one trip down the floor in a game that had been over.

I really admire the way Jay Wright handled the incident. As soon as the technical foul was called, and the arena exploded into stunned silence, Jay had the presence of mind to calmly call his team over to discuss the situation. When the buzzer sounded and the win was intact, however, Wright sprinted down the sideline to confront the offending official. Rather than face Wright, the official cowered behind security personnel, who then ushered him into the tunnel amidst the boos, curses, and popcorn raining down. Did the official really believe Jay Wright was going to hit him?

This 90-foot dash by Jay somewhat stunned his players, who were momentarily confused before they finally formed the usual handshake line. By the time Jay made it back down to the North side of the court, his team was already engaged in the traditional v-sign salute to the student section.

Next up for the 'Cats will be either DePaul or West Virginia at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Though Villanova lost to both those squads in the regular season, the Wildcats would likely now be a favorite over either of them on the neutral Garden floor.

Villanova's opponent hinges on the results of Sunday's game between St. John's and Providence. If St. John's wins, Villanova will get a #9 seed in the BET and be paired against #8 DePaul Wednesday at noon. If Providence wins, Villanova will be the #10 seed and will play the 7 p.m. game Wednesday against #7 West Virginia.

On to the player grades. As always, click "READ MORE" below for player performance grades and analysis.

  • Scottie Reynolds (S, 40 min)

    Scottie followed up his 40 points at UConn with another spectacular game today. After struggling early to overcome an Orange 2-3 zone that seemed intent on denying him any look at the basket, Reynolds put the team on his back in the second half. Scottie led the team in scoring with 22 points on 6-19 shooting. He was 2-8 from the three and a perfect 8-8 from the line. He grabbed 3 rebounds and co-led the team in turnovers with 5. His best stats of the day, however, were his 4 steals and 6 assists. Reynolds was flying all over the court on offense and defense, mucking up Cuse's offensive plans and setting up his teammates for easy baskets. Though he struggled a bit with his three-point shooting and with the turnovers, Reynolds once again did what was needed to win. It should be noted that with Nardi injured for much of the game, Reynolds also assumed primary ball-handling duties, in which he excelled. Let me be among the first to ask Scottie to stay at least one more year!
    Grade: A-

  • Curtis Sumpter (S, 40- min)

    For 39-plus minutes, it was the kind of performance from Sumpter that Villanova fans had been waiting for. Curtis was dominant in the paint today. Sumpter scored 20 points on 6-15 shooting, including 2-5 from the three. He was 6-9 from the foul line. He led all rebounders with an incredible 15 boards. He also had 2 blocks. The only negatives were his 5 turnovers, co-leading the team, and the foul with 3.9 seconds left, described above. His in-game performance grade before that foul was an A-, but I'm docking a full letter grade for that boneheaded play. A senior leader like Curtis should know game situations, and there is no excuse for being anywhere near the paint in the path of a driver while up 6 points with 4 seconds left. It nearly cost the 'Cats the game.
    Grade: B-

  • Dante Cunningham (S, 34 min)

    Cunningham exploded offensively today, pretty much taking over the second half at the foul line. Dante scored 21 points on 5-13 shooting, and was a remarkable 11-11 at the free throw line. He pulled in 8 rebounds, blocked 2 shots, and had 1 steal and 1 assist. He committed 2 turnovers. Cunningham also made a great heads up play on the opening tip, taking advantage of Syracuse defenders confused as to the direction of their basket, to open the game with a monster dunk. His performance for the first 39:56 was a solid A, but as with Sumpter, I have to deduct a full grade for what occurred in the last 4 seconds. True, the official over-reacted, but there is no reason Cunningham should have been that aggressive in the first place, in that game situation. Objectively, Cunningham's swim-move should have been a regular foul, which still would have placed the game in peril unnecessarily.
    Grade: B

  • Reggie Redding (25 min)

    With Mike Nardi suffering from a twisted ankle and possible back spasms, Redding was once again conscripted into emergency guard duty. Redding played 25 minutes of good basketball, especially on the defensive end, where he almost single-handedly shut down Nichols, the conference's leading scorer. Redding also looked great passing the ball. He routinely found the open man, setting up several scores with his passing. Two areas where Reggie underperformed were ball-handling and shot-taking. Reggie got trapped in the corner after giving up his dribble a couple of times, which is patently against basketball fundamentals. Redding also passed up a few open shots that he should have taken. Redding finished with 0 points on 0-2 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, and 0 turnovers. Overall it was a good, solid performance by Reggie.
    Grade: B

  • Will Sheridan (S, 24 min)

    Sheridan played decently today. Though he was customarily quiet on offense (5 points on 1-1 shooting), Sheridan looked good on defense. He also was fair on the boards, grabbing 5 rebounds. He did turn the ball over 3 times, which is too many for a big man playing only half the game. He added 1 block and 1 steal.
    Grade: C

  • Shane Clark (23 min)

    Clark played a good complementary game today. He scored 8 points on an efficient 3-4 shooting performance from the field and a perfect 2-2 mark at the foul line. He added 4 rebounds, 2 assists, a block, and a steal. He committed no turnovers and played good defense.

  • Mike Nardi (S, 13 min)

    Nardi injured his ankle early in the game, and was also said to be suffering from painful back spasms. He was not effective today, probably due to the injuries. Nardi scored 3 points on 1-5 shooting, and had 1 assist and 1 turnover. His status for the Big East Tournament has not yet been determined; the sprained or twisted ankle was apparently of the low variety, which is a good sign. I would not be surprised, however, to see Mike sit out Wednesday as a precaution, especially with the 'Cats' NCAA dance card already stamped. I'll try to update the site with Mike's status early this week as we learn more.
    Grade: NA

  • Note: Villanova radio reported that reserve forward Casiem Drummond was serving a one-game suspension for a minor violation of a team rule.

  • Incomplete grades:
    Bilal Benn
    (1 min).

  • Did not play:
    Casiem Drummond
    (1-game suspension), Dwayne Anderson (CD), Frank Tchuisi (CD), Ross Condon (CD), Andrew Ott (RS), Antonio Pena (RS).

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At 1:50 PM, March 04, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quality analysis. Keep up the good work. I read you guys after every game.

At 7:33 PM, March 04, 2007, Blogger Pete said...

Thank you. It was a rough day for Let'sGoNova but I think I have everything sorted out.

Thanks for reading!

At 8:05 PM, March 04, 2007, Blogger Matthew said...

I read LGN as often as I can. Great analysis. I can't wait to read your reviews of the BET. Will you be in attendance?

At 8:05 PM, March 04, 2007, Blogger Matthew said...

I read LGN as often as I can. Great analysis. I can't wait to read your reviews of the BET. Will you be in attendance?

At 10:24 PM, March 04, 2007, Blogger Pete said...

Hi Matt --

Right now I am trying to get some tickets for Wednesday. Villanova U denied my request for a media credential this fall, so I have to go to each game and take notes on my own dime!


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