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31 January 2009

Villanova faces Cincy in Super Sunday match

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/31/2009 02:42:00 PM
#21 Villanova (16-4) vs. Cincinnati (13-7)
12 p.m., 1 February 2009 at the Pavilion

TV: SNY (NY) / WPHL (Phila)

Line: Villanova -TBD

Villanova follows up its biggest win of the season on Wednesday with a home game against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Cincinnati is 13-7, fresh off a victory over Georgetown. Prior to that upset, the Bearcats' best win was an early December victory over UAB.

While the Bearcats can put points on the board, Villanova should be the heavy favorite, especially at the Pavilion. Kenpom gives the Wildcats an 87 percent chance to win, predicting an 11-point margin.

Check out VBTN, IBBW, VUhoops, and Nova News for their previews.

Predict the final score in the comment section below for a chance to be mentioned in a future blog post!

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29 January 2009

'Nova upsets Pitt in big win

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/29/2009 03:17:00 AM

Pittsburgh 57
Villanova 67
(box score)

#3 Pittsburgh: 18-2 (6-2 BE)
#21 Villanova: 16-4 (4-3 BE)

Eighteen-thousand people braved pouring rain, gusty winds, mountains of dirty slush, and a jam-packed parking lot to witness the final college basketball game at the Philadelphia Spectrum. The building was loud and hot and full of fans hoping for an upset.

They weren't disappointed.

Villanova defeated cross-state rival #3 Pittsburgh, beating its highest ranked opponent since Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Allan Ray took down #1 UConn across the street three years ago.

But in many ways, it was bigger than that for these Wildcats. Without a "quality win" in twenty games, Villanova needed this victory less as an exclamation point than as a main entry on its resume. With one month remaining in the regular season, this win will go a long way in bolstering the Wildcats' NCAA tournament chances.

Villanova improves to 1-4 against ranked teams on the year, with plenty more opportunities against top-25 opponents remaining in the Big East season.

After Jay Wright's trademark sloppy start to the game, the Wildcats trailed by 10 points early and faced an uphill battle against a Pittsburgh team built to sit on a lead and yield nothing. Wright, however, made the proper adjustments, and Villanova outscored the Panthers by 20 from that point forward. I have to commend Wright, especially, for sticking with his pressure defense that forced the 17 Panther turnovers that were the keys to the victory.

As a come-from-behind win against the third-ranked team in the nation, this game answered some lingering questions about the Wildcats. Could they finish out a game? Could they overcome the adversity of a slow start against a legitimate team? Could this team possibly survive past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament?

Yes, yes, and yes.

The win was not perfect, and there were some concerns from the game. Villanova missed far too many free throws, including front-ends of crucial single-bonus attempts. How Wright hasn't been able to maintain Villanova's previous success with free-throw shooting is beyond me, especially since there are no new players in the rotation this year.

Villanova also committed two ill-advised fouls under the three-minute mark when the Panthers were trying to claw their way back into the game. The fouls didn't come back to haunt the Wildcats this time, but they have to be more careful in future close games.

Finally, Jay Wright seems steadfastly opposed to playing Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds at the same time, which is a real shame, since they are the two best players on the team. The benefits of playing Fisher and Reynolds together have been chronicled ad nauseam in this space, but I cannot emphasize it enough: this team will win more games if Wright allows the two ball-handling guards to work together.

Troubling bits aside, this was a huge win for the Wildcats, who are now in the driver's seat for an NCAA bid.

Next up for Villanova is a home date with Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon. The Bearcats are fresh off their own gigantic win over Georgetown.

Congratulations to reader Gregg for most closely predicting the game's final score.

On to the player grades. "READ MORE" below for player performance grades and analysis.

  • Dwayne Anderson (S, 35 min)

    Anderson led the team in minutes and generally played well. He was active all over the court, but only managed to make 2 shots on 7 attempts. The good news is that both of those shots were huge threes. Anderson had 2 steals, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, and 4 rebounds, doing a little bit of everything. I would prefer to see Anderson come off the bench, but he has earned his way into the first six regardless.
    Grade: B-

  • Dante Cunningham (S, 34 min)

    Cunningham got back to his bread-and-butter of efficient scoring and energetic defense, and the result was the toppling of the #3 team in the nation. Cunningham shot a good 6-10, and did not take many unwise outside jumpers. Cunningham played largely mistake-free, committing zero fouls and zero turnovers. He finished with 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. Aside from the bad performance from the foul line (3-6), it was one of the best games of the season for Dante Cunningham.
    Grade: A-

  • Reggie Redding (S, 34 min)

    Redding exploded tonight, unveiling an offensive game long held in potential. What's more, he did it in the judicious fashion that has made Redding a mainstay in the rotation. Redding led the 'Cats in scoring with 18 points on excellent 4-6 shooting, and he was a perfect 10-10 from the foul line. Redding also managed to co-lead the teams in rebounds, with 7, and steals, with 2. He finished with 2 turnovers, 1 block, and 2 assists. Redding's smart brand of basketball and good perimeter defense justifies his spot in the starting lineup.
    Grade: A

  • Scottie Reynolds (S, 24 min)

    Reynolds played just 24 minutes tonight, but he did have 4 fouls. Looking at his line in the box score (3-11 shooting, 10 points), it would be easy to miss the impact each of those three field goals made. Reynolds buried two absolutely momentous three-pointers, shifting the flow of the game. He also led the team in assists, with 3, and added 2 steals, a block, and 2 turnovers. Reynolds needs to see more minutes, regardless of fouls, and it is imperative that Wright allows him to play the two-guard alongside Fisher more often.
    Grade: B

  • Corey Stokes (24 min)

    Stokes played a quiet 24 minutes. I had to double-check the box score to see if 24 minutes were indeed correct. Stokes is still trying to find his way in the offense. He shot 2-3 to score 6 points, but once against proved he cannot create off the dribble. As I have said again and again, Stokes needs to work on moving without the ball to get himself open threes, where he is pretty much automatic.
    Grade: C+

  • Corey Fisher (18 min)

    It is a travesty that Corey Fisher is not seeing more minutes. Fisher needs to start in the backcourt alongside Reynolds, and he needs to play the majority of his minutes with Reynolds instead of spelling him. Fisher's line in the box score is deceptively mediocre. He was 3-5 from the field and 2-4 from the foul line, scoring 9. He led the team with 4 turnovers, and added 1 steal and 1 assist. But that really wasn't the story. The team, and the offense in particular, just plays better with Fisher in there. His excellent ballhandling ability allows the offense to get into rhythm in the half-court much more quickly than normal. Fisher also seems to have a habit of making the first pass that leads to an assist or an easy bucket. Finally, he plays with the kind of energy, creativity, and abandon that is missing from these Wildcats when he is on the bench. In the past two seasons, Jay Wright seems terrified to leave two 6-footers out there simultaneously, which is richly ironic considering Wright achieved his greatest success and coach of the year honors with a 4-guard lineup. Wright's Villanova may no longer be Guard U (Wright seems now to prefer Swingman U), but that doesn't exempt the coach from his responsibility to field the best possible lineup. Clearly, that lineup includes Fisher.
    Grade: B-

  • Shane Clark (17 min)

    Clark got extended time tonight thanks to his excellent crashing of the boards, particularly on the offensive end. Clark finished with 7 rebounds, 4 on offense. The problem, though, was that once he got those rebounds, he often had little idea of what to do with the ball, which killed a few possessions. Clark did not score, missing his only shot from the field and both of his free-throw attempts. Clark played with a lot of tenacity tonight, but I would still like to see his minutes restricted to the single digits, as his liability to the offense is too great.
    Grade: C

  • Antonio Pena (S, 14 min)

    Pena started the game but wound up with just 14 minutes. I can't say I disagree with that decision much. Instead of playing Pena for 14 and Clark for 17, I would have played Pena for about 20 and Clark for 10. But Villanova won the game anyway, so it's moot. Pena shot 1-3 from the field and managed to grab just 1 rebound. Pena is a rare character in that he is a streaky big man. Unlike most forwards whose offensive games are largely plug-and-play, Pena seems to need to get into a rhythm to really get going. Pena added 2 assists, 1 turnover, and zero blocks or steals. Pena is a versatile, athletic player, not a stiff, and should improve.
    Grade: C-

  • Incomplete grades: None.

  • Did not play: Frank Tchuisi (CD), Jason Colenda (CD), Maurice Sutton (CD - RS?), Russell Wooten (CD).

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28 January 2009

'Nova looks for first good win v. Pitt tonight

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/28/2009 03:50:00 PM

#21 Villanova (15-4) vs. #3 Pittsburgh (18-1)
7 p.m., 28 January 2009 at the Wachovia Spectrum

TV: ESPNU (Justin.tv likely will have the online stream of the game.)

Line: Villanova +3.5

Villanova returns to action tonight with a Wachovia Spectrum game against third-ranked Pittsburgh. The Wildcats are still looking for their first quality win on the season, and the Panthers would certainly qualify.

I will be attending the game, so if you'd like to read my live updates from my mobile phone, refresh this site and keep your eye on the top right sidebar.

Pitt is an intimidating opponent. Pittsburgh is 18-1 on the year, with its only loss coming to a red-hot Louisville team in Kentucky. Since then, the Panthers have won two straight, completely demolishing Syracuse and West Virginia in the last nine days.

Villanova has been struggling, notching a 3-3 record over the past six games. The Wildcats have been able to pick up wins against the basement dwellers South Florida, Seton Hall, and St. John's, but have not won a game against anyone likely to make the NCAA tournament all season.

VBTN, the new IBBW, VUhoops, and Nova News (all linked at right) also run previews for the game. Evan Dorey of Collegehoopsnet pens a nice, long analysis of the game from a non-partisan viewpoint.

Kenpom gives 'Nova a 38 percent chance to win tonight, predicting a 3-point loss to the Panthers. Oddsmakers have installed Pitt as the 3.5-point favorite.

Try to predict the final score of the game in the comment thread below. If anyone guesses the exact score of the game, I will stop criticizing Jay Wright for one week, at his or her request.

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27 January 2009

Possible serious Wayns injury

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/27/2009 12:26:00 AM
Just a short post to address the latest rumor: Villanova commit Maalik Wayns, one of the top PGs in the nation, may have suffered a possibly serious knee injury.

Details and official confirmation have not yet emerged, but if this is true, it could set back Wayns for much of his senior season.

Hopefully, the injury is a minor one. This post will be updated when details are available.

Update: As of Tuesday morning, an injury to the ACL has been ruled out, which is good news.

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24 January 2009

'Nova faces USF as road favorite

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/24/2009 01:35:00 AM

#20 Villanova (14-4) at South Florida (7-11)
12 p.m., 24 January 2009 at the USF Sun Dome.

TV: SNY (New York) / WPHL (Philadelphia)

Line: Villanova -6

Villanova travels to Tampa, Fla, this weekend to face the South Florida Bulls at noon on Saturday. Villanova needs a win to get to .500 in league play and keep the Wildcats' NCAA hopes remotely alive.

USF is trying to avoid a losing record for the season, and finds itself 4 games under .500 at 7-11.

The Bulls own a pair of wins over DePaul this season, but haven't beaten anyone else remotely decent. USF did stick with West Virginia in Morgantown, losing by three.

KenPom predicts gives Villanova a 70 percent chance to get the win on the road, predicting a 65-60 victory.

Take a look at all four of the blogs linked at the right sidebar for previews.

Try to the final score in the comment thread below. Congratulations to a reader named "Pete Bangs Men" for most closely predicting the final score last time.

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21 January 2009

Villanova-UConn live blog and Lost premiere discussion

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/21/2009 04:19:00 PM

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Live blog for UConn tonight

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/21/2009 12:01:00 AM

Get ready for the biggest live blog event of the Villanova basketball season tonight as the 'Cats face #3 UConn.

Join us at 7 p.m., and have your snarky comments and snarkier fake usernames at the ready.

#20 Villanova (14-3) at #3 Connecticut (16-1)
7 p.m., 21 January 2009 at the XL Center.


Line: Connecticut -9.5

Facing hugely talented and third-ranked Connecticut, Villanova gets perhaps its toughest opponent of the entire season tonight. Will the Wildcats be able to get their first quality win of the season? It will be a tough task.

UConn boasts one of the best backcourts in the nation, featuring Jerome Dyson, AJ Price, and Kemba Walker. The Huskies' front line, with Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, Stanley Robinson, and Gavin Edwards, isn't exactly chopped liver, either.

KenPom predicts a 9-point win for the Huskies, giving Villanova just a 17 percent chance of victory.

Nova News, VUHoops, VBTN, and the all-new IBBW all run breathless previews.

Predict the final score in the comment thread below, and don't forget to stop back here for the live blog at 7 p.m.

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19 January 2009

Villanova handles St. John's

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/19/2009 02:02:00 PM
St. John's 57
Villanova 76
(box score)

St. John's: 10-7 (1-4 BE)
#20 Villanova: 14-3 (2-2 BE)

Next game: at #3 Connecticut, 21 Jan. at the XL Center.

Villanova played two solid halves to put away an outmatched St. John's team. Four starting Wildcats -- Dwayne Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Antonio Pena, and Corey Fisher -- scored double digits, and Scottie Reynolds finished with 9.

I was not able to catch this game, so please take a look at the post-game reports from VBTN, IBBW, VUhoops, Nova News, and Johnny Jungle.

With the win, Villanova posted a 1-0 record on the week, enough to jump up three spots in the AP poll to #20. The move was almost certainly more due to attrition than to the victory over St. John's.

Congratulations to thevoice, who most closely predicted the game's final score in our never-ending reader contest.

Next up for the Wildcats is a major test against the #3 UConn Huskies in Hartford on Wednesday.

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17 January 2009

Villanova returns to face St. John's

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/17/2009 11:53:00 AM

#23 Villanova (13-3) vs. St. John's (10-6)
12 p.m. 18 January 2009 at the Pavilion.


Line: Villanova -TBD

Villanova basketball resumes tomorrow with a game against St. John's after an 8-day layoff. The Wildcats have lost two of three, and desperately need a win to get back to .500 in the Big East before the schedule really gets tough next week.

The Red Storm will likely finish toward the bottom of conference standings, but St. John's has just one really bad loss so far this year, a 14-point home pasting at the hands of Virginia Tech. The Red Storm also have an impressive win over Notre Dame.

Take a look at JohnnyJungle.com for a very nice preview from the St. John's perspective. Also be sure to check out the four other Villanova blogs for their previews.

Kenpom predicts Villanova will win by a score of 72-58. Let us know your prediction in the comment thread below. Winner gets her name in bold-face, as always.

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15 January 2009

Jason Fraser to teach brave inner-city team the true meaning of basketball

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/15/2009 01:23:00 AM

Just when you thought the Jason Fraser saga couldn't get any stranger!

When we last heard about Fraser, he had broken his finger on a solo practice dunk and was flying home to America.

Before that, he was dominating the New Zealand basketball scene while playing for a parking garage branded with AOL-speak.

Well that's all in the past! Jason Fraser is now back in the United States, and will join one of the most prestigious basketball teams in the country.

Greg Cerillo, coach of Fraser's former New York Wizards team, explains:

The New York Wizards are pleased to announce that two of their former players have signed to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. Amityville and Villanova standout Jason Fraser will be appearing for the Globetrotters as Apollo Fraser at events throughout the country. [...] The loss of both these players is big to our club yet the pride we feel in their accomplishments and in what they are doing offsets any personal loss to our Team (sic).

Jason is even listed on the Harlem Globetrotter Web site under the frightening Hellenic moniker "Apollo Fraser." It's practically Facebook-official!

Yes, Apollo "Jason" Fraser, the former Villanova center who was once ranked #1 in the nation in high school, has joined the Harlem Globetrotters.

Fraser will wear the number-42 jersey in an apparent tribute to Frank Tchuisi.

At press time, it is unknown how the Globetrotters will incorporate Fraser's amazing ability to pump fake, travel, and commit a three-second violation all in the same possession into their crowd-pleasing repertoire.

One thing's for sure: the old water bucket-filled-with confetti gag is going to suffer if Fraser pump fakes three times before throwing it.

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12 January 2009

Ha, ha, ha: AP ranks 'Nova #23

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/12/2009 02:35:00 PM

And the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll ranks Villanova at #22.

Both these rankings come after a week when the Wildcats needed overtime to beat a bad Seton Hall team and then lost at home to Louisville, which shot 3-25 from the three-point line.

I guess the AP voters and coaches are also not subtracting much for the residual effect of Marquette's complete domination of Villanova last week, dropping Villanova's record in the last three games to 1-2.

Villanova remains without a win over a likely NCAA tournament team, and now is 0-3 against any team with a pulse.

The Wildcats do have some talent, but there is no way this team is top-25 right now. I would predict this is the last week Villanova will be ranked, but the only game this week is at the Pavilion against St. John's.

Even I am not delusional enough to think that Jay Wright could lose at home to St. John's.

Could he?

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Nova, Wright somehow find way to lose to UL

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/12/2009 05:12:00 AM
Louisville 61
Villanova 60
(box score)

#23 Louisville: 11-3 (2-0 BE)
#18 Villanova: 13-3 (1-2 BE)

Next game: vs. St. John's, 18 Jan. at the Pavilion.

A dangerous but inconsistent Louisville team came into the Wachovia Center Saturday and shot colder than the swirling snow and sleet blanketing Philadelphia outside. The Cardinals were an astounding 24 for 62 from the field, and it was almost as bad from the foul line, where Louisville managed to make just 10 of 17 attempts, or 58.8 percent. But it gets better. The Cards shot an absurd 3 of 25 from the three-point line -- 12 percent! This includes making a magnificently awful 1-of-11 threes in the second half.

With numbers like that, it's safe to assume Villanova won by 20, right?

Wrong. No matter how easy the task, no matter how clear his path, no matter the inherent advantage of facing a team shooting NINE PERCENT from the three in the second period, Jay Wright and his stubborn, petty, ham-handed, and reactionary brand of coaching will find a way not to win.

Not that Villanova's one-point loss was an unfortunate turn of events, its late-game collapse an undeserving denouement of a masterly duel between two Hall of Fame coaches. Many -- most -- of Louisville's missed shots were open looks. Had Pitino's Cardinals shot even a reasonably below-average percentage from the three or field, Villanova would have lost by double digits.

What may be forgotten in the aftermath of the Wildcats' blown endgame chances was how many times Louisville could have put Villanova away for good. Had Wright and Villanova not been bailed out continually throughout the game by the herculean efforts of Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham, Louisville wouldn't have ever had a chance to lose, even with its once-in-a-decade bad shooting performance.

Where did it go wrong? After all, it takes a special effort to lose to a team that misses 22 three-point shots. First things first. In what can only be attributed to ill preparation, Villanova once again quickly fell behind at the start of the game. To say this is a trend is an understatement; against any reasonable opposition, Villanova's slow starts out of the locker room in the Wright era are more like iron-clad scientific law.

At the start of this game, Louisville jumped out to a 6-0 margin, and eventually led by 11 in the first 10 minutes of the game. How did that happen, considering the Cards shot less than 39 percent in the half?

Villanova managed to turn the ball over 4 times in the game's first 5 minutes, as the Wildcats instantly withered under the stress of Louisville's press. When the 'Cats didn't turn the ball over, they took rushed, pressured shots, unable to get into play what few offensive sets they prepared.

But could anyone have predicted that the Cards would have pressed to begin the game? It's not as if Rick Pitino is world-famous for his full-court pressure defense, his very name synonymous with the press. Give Wright a pass on this one; it would have blindsided anyone.

OK, so Pitino shocked the world and opened with the press. Surely, after calling a timeout when down 0-6, Wright would make the proper adjustments and focus on improved ballhandling to break the Cards' press.

Wright, of course, had other plans, benching Dwayne Anderson and the point guard Corey Fisher for Reggie Redding and Shane Clark, whose respective ballhandling skills can only be described as worse and worser. Before long, the 'Cats were down by double-digits.

Let's make a quick jump ahead to the game's closing minutes. Amidst a furious Villanova comeback, Wright played a game of chicken with the clock, holding an exhausted and limping Scottie Reynolds on the bench for as long as prudently possible -- actually, far longer -- in a move that befuddled even the game's television announcers. Why would Reynolds, a highly conditioned athlete coming off several days' rest to play this home game, need to catch his breath in a crucial moment like this?

Maybe it's because Jay Wright thought it would be a good idea to leave Reynolds out there for much of the first half as the sole Wildcat ballhander against a Louisville press that is annually regarded as among the most intense in the nation. Reynolds's exhaustion was the direct result of having to break Louisville's press often with no help whatsoever in the backcourt.

It's almost like bizzaro basketball. A team jumps out to a quick lead thanks to its smothering press, and the opposing coach reacts by subbing out his best ballhandler (Fisher) for a human turnover machine (Clark), leaving just one guard against five pressers. This would not play in CYO basketball.

Wright's substitutions were pretty much the exact opposite of the proper coaching move, and while that has a certain appealing irony considering Wright's seven-figure coaching income, it won't be of much consolation to a team now facing an uphill battle to .500 in conference play and an NCAA tournament berth.

The rest of the game was filled with other coaching atrocities, not the least of which the continual reactionary yanking of Corey Fisher if the sophomore so much as looked at Wright wrong. After witnessing Fisher's emergence, which was precisely caused by Corey's increased confidence, Wright was forced to insert Fisher into the starting lineup.

Fisher, you may remember, was Villanova's top recruit two years ago, and started several games last season. So all of a sudden, according to Wright, Fisher was not good enough to start at the beginning of this season, until he was. Brilliant.

After Fisher scored 20-plus points in consecutive games, even Wright could not justify keeping him on the bench at the opening tip. It's like player-evaluation by random lot; like choosing your bet on the craps table by which number came up last.

But even starting Fisher hasn't stopped Wright from yanking him from the game almost arbitrarily. Fisher played just 18 minutes Saturday against a Louisville team that places the aerobic harassment of opposing guards at the core of its basketball philosophy. Jumping at the chance to bench Fisher at first opportunity, Wright used Fisher's cold shooting start against Seton Hall as his apparent justification for playing him just 16 minutes in that game.

The mistake of leaving Fisher on the bench for most of the Louisville game, causing Scottie Reynolds to literally limp from exhaustion and the Cardinal press, was alone enough to cost Villanova the game.

Another decision that left many Villanovans screaming at their television sets, and sending angry text messages to this Web site, was Wright's reliance on Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson for a combined 34 minutes. During that time, Clark and Anderson collectively shot 1-7 from the field, and combined for just 1 assist, even though both were playing on the wing.

A crucial part of breaking a strong press like Louisville's is exploiting it via the center court and getting easy buckets as a result. These are areas where, typically, a team's shooting guard or wing will excel, and it should go without saying that Clark and Anderson have never fit that description.

How about a ridiculous 24 minutes for big guard Reggie Redding, while Corey Fisher languished on the bench? (And Malcolm Grant sunned himself on South Beach, and Bilal Benn enjoyed breathtaking views of Niagara Falls.) Redding was held scoreless, shooting 0-3 from the field and missing a huge front-end of a 1-and-1 at the foul line. Redding did manage to turn the ball over 3 times, but, hey, he does bring "size" over smaller, better players like Fisher.

How about just 21 minutes for Corey Stokes, fewer than Redding and equal to Anderson. Stokes is not known for his dribbling, but can handle the ball well, and did handle the ball competently against the Cardinal press, notching 2 assists and 0 turnovers. And it's no coincidence that Villanova's slow comeback at the end of the second half came when Wright finally subbed in Stokes.

How about the simple observation that every move made by Wright seems to be reactionary, slow-witted, and wrong? How about in the modern power-conference milieu, an ever-escalating arms race of preparation, Wright's team show almost zero signs of any prophylactic strategy?

How about the idea that even Pena's legendary choke job at the foul line, and Reggie Redding's inability to put in an open follow-up, were both rendered meaningless by Wright's terrible coaching the 39 minutes prior?

Or perhaps that's wrong. Maybe Pena's free-throw woes and the two missed layups at game's end were infused with meaning solely because Wright could not out-coach a team shooting 12 percent from the three. Had the game gone at all reasonably before the last minute, Pena's missed free throws might not have meant anything at all.

And don't even get me started about leaving in for the game's closing possessions a player who'd missed 3 of his last 4 free throws, 6 of 12 overall at that point.

I could make more points and belabor this issue all day, but this post is already longer than I'd planned. The bottom line is that Wright is by all descriptions a very nice man, and a good recruiter. But he is tremendously bad in the trenches of a close game.

And it's not even one thing. His overarching strategy and philosophy are bad. ("Take-'em offense," anyone?) His preparation is lacking. His ability to react and adjust in real-time is nonexistent. Perhaps most frustrating, though, are the substitution patterns, which at best are baffling, and at worst cost the team wins.

Wright cost his team this game, managing to get outcoached by Rick Pitino even when Pitino's players couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

And make no mistake: Wright will cost the team more games before the season ends, an ending that is increasingly likely to be in the NIT.

Congratulations to an anonymous reader for most closely predicting the game's final score.

The Wildcats have a weeklong layoff until a home game with St. John's on Saturday.

On to the player grades. "READ MORE" below for player performance grades and analysis.

  • Dante Cunningham (S, 36 min)

    Cunningham needs to stop taking outside jumpers, period. He can't shoot from there, and it's costing the team possessions, whether he was open or not. Against the Cards, Cunningham shot 9-19 to lead the team with 21 points. He had 5 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 0 assists, 2 blocks, and 1 steal. He made some very nice athletic plays in transition, but his 10 missed shots were excessive for a player who made his name via efficiency.
    Grade: B-

  • Antonio Pena (S, 34 min)

    Some might think a "failing grade" for this game is too harsh, considering the positive contributions Pena brought to the court before his epic free-throw collapse. Since we are already using an academic metaphor to assign grades, let me take it one step further. Sometimes, if you fail a final exam badly enough, you can fail a course even if you were a solid student most of the year. That's kind of how it was for Pena on Saturday. He played all right for much of the contest, scoring 14 points on 4-8 shooting. He led the team in rebounding, with 8. He made some very nice passes, but was only credited with 1 assist. He did commit 4 turnovers, which is inexcusable for a forward. But the real problem, obviously, was at the foul line. Shooting 6 for 14 from the free-throw line is not acceptable at the 8th-grade varsity level, never mind the Big East. That goes double when the game is on the line, and even more so when the game is against a ranked opponent and your team is looking for its first quality win of a year that's already half over. Sometimes the ball bounces strangely; sometimes players can't hit clutch free throws. But to be a 70-percent career free throw shooter and miss two shots to tie the game is beyond acceptable random variation or late-game jitters. Pena's foul-line fiasco began before the last two misses; in the last 5 minutes of the game, Pena missed 5 of his 6 free throws. When a player misses 3 out of 4 free throws in a close game's waning minutes, that player probably should not be on the court to miss the next (and last) 2 foul shots. That's Jay Wright's fault. No one has been a bigger fan of Pena the past two years than me, and I am not calling for his benching. I am only saying that if Wright keeps Pena in at the end of a close game, Wright is the one who deserves to be benched and sent back to coaching small-time ball at Hofstra whence he came.
    Grade: F

  • Scottie Reynolds (S, 33 min)

    Reynolds certainly left it all out on the court Saturday; his exhaustion and its causes are themselves exhaustively detailed above. He shot 3-6 from the field, scoring 11, including perfect 5-5 foul shooting. He missed both of his three-point attempts; but ideally Reynolds would be taking more long-range shots.
    Grade: B+

  • Reggie Redding (24 min)

    The only positive was that he grabbed 6 rebounds, including 3 offensive boards. The bad news is that one of those offensive rebounds was a missed put-back as the game's final shot. Aside from the glass, Redding was not effective. He was 0-3 from the field and 0-1 from the foul line, though it's more like 0-2 because the miss was the front end of a big 1-and-1. He committed 3 turnovers to go with his 3 assists and single steal. I've always been a fan of Redding's tenacious play, and it's not Redding's fault Wright played him so long, so he (barely) avoids the failing grade here.
    Grade: D-

  • Dwayne Anderson (S, 21 min)

    At least Anderson stopped shooting so much after going 0-2 from beyond the arc early. And he didn't have any turnovers. He finished with 0 points, shooting the unfortunate cycle of 0-3 from the field, 0-2 from the three, and 0-1 from the line.
    Grade: D-

  • Corey Stokes (21 min)

    Stokes played well in his limited minutes, and it's time to get him back in the starting lineup. Corey shot 2-6 from the field to score 5 points. More important was his competent ball handling; Stokes had 2 assists, 1 steal, and no turnovers. He needs to be more aggressive coming off screens and moving without the ball, in order to get more looks and trips to the line.
    Grade: B

  • Corey Fisher (S, 18 min)

    Fisher didn't get a chance to do much in the game, stymied by frequent benchings as described above. He shot 1-4 from the field to score 7 points, perfect from both the three (1-1) and the foul line. His assist-to-turnover ratio was a good 3-to-1, especially considering the Cardinal pressure. He really needs to get more minutes, not only to develop confidence, but simply because he is Villanova's second-best player.
    Grade: B-

  • Shane Clark (13 min)

    Five rebounds in 13 minutes is a positive. Otherwise, it wasn't pretty. If Clark were an underclassman right now and played with the exact same skills, physically and mentally, my guess is that he would be relegated to the end of the bench, somewhere adjacent to Frank Tchuisi and the walks ons. But because he is a senior, and because Jay Wright is stubborn, Clark continues to see significant time, often with disastrous results.
    Grade: D-

  • Incomplete grades: None.

  • Did not play: Frank Tchuisi (CD), Jason Colenda (CD), Maurice Sutton (CD - RS?), Russell Wooten (CD).

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10 January 2009

'Cats, Cards set for high noon snowstorm showdown

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/10/2009 03:56:00 AM

#18 Villanova (13-2) vs. #23 Louisville (10-3)
12 p.m. 10 January 2009 at the Wachovia Center.


Line: Villanova -2

As the Blizzard/White-Out/Light Freezing Rain storm of the century bears down on South Philadelphia, Villanova gears up for its latest test against a good team.

The Wildcats now boast a 13-0 record against likely non-tournament participants, but are 0-2 against Texas and Marquette. Villanova needs this game to finally beat a good team and to avoid falling below .500 in the crucial Big East standings.

Rick Pitino brings his Louisville Cardinals to the Wachovia Center with something to prove, as well. The Cards are 9-3, but have lost to UNLV, Minnesota, and WKU. Louisville has decent wins against Kentucky, Ole Miss, and Ohio under its belt. Pitino will have his team ready to play, as always.

We could be in for a winter classic. KenPom predicts a 1-point Villanova win, while oddsmakers set the 'Cats as 2-point favorites after moving the line 1 point in Villanova's favor.

The game will probably come down to how Villanova's scorers are shooting; if Reynolds can get hot like he did against Seton Hall, Villanova should need just one more scorer (Fisher, Stokes, or Cunningham) to get it going as well. The Wildcats will probably need at least two players to turn up big to neutralize the substantial coaching advantage Louisville brings to the Wach.

All four of the other Villanova blogs linked in the right sidebar run previews of the game. I swear I did not read the headline at Nova News before I wrote mine; this is not the first time our minds have thought alike with regard to headlines, either. Bravo, Nova News.

Congratulations to Pope of the Hardwoods for making it two in a row with his closest guess of the final score last time. Take your shot to dethrone him in the comment thread below with your guess.

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06 January 2009

Villanova-Seton Hall live blog

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/06/2009 06:37:00 PM
The live blog will begin shortly before 8 p.m. Check out the post below to predict the game's final score.

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Live blog for SHU tonight

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/06/2009 02:34:00 PM

As was pointed out in the last post by my dedicated commenter/stalker "anonymous," I was late with the Marquette grades.

Rather than throw them together now and then post a haphazard SHU preview, I've decided to make it up to you with a SPECIAL "LIVE" BLOG for tonight's game against the Seton Hall pirates.

#18 Villanova (12-2, 0-1 BE) at Seton Hall (9-4, 0-1 BE)
8 p.m. at the Prudential Center (Newark, NJ)

TV: SNY / WPHL / My17

Line: Seton Hall +6.5

Live blog starts at 8 p.m. Be there with your witty pseudonyms and emotional comments ready! For previews before the game, check out all four Villanova blogs linked at the right sidebar.

Predict tonight's final score prior to the live blog in the comments below. Congratulations to "Pope of the Hardwoods" and "My Quick Smells Like French Toast" for making the closest guesses last time.

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02 January 2009

Marquette downs 'Nova in league opener

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
1/02/2009 02:44:00 AM
Marquette wins, 79-72, in Villanova's second failed test of the season. Villanova falls to 0-1 in league play, and remains without a quality win on the year.

Hopefully, I will have this post updated with a full recap and player grades by Friday night soon. Until then, check out the archive of my intermittent Twittering of thoughts and observations during the game.

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