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12 January 2009

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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At 8:26 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8:43 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk about a "the sky is falling" post! Am I terribly disappointed about the loss? Of course! But, I think a little perspective is in order for throwing our Sweet 16, Elite 8, Tourney, Sweet 16 coach to the curb. Were there mistakes? Yes. But, did we still have a chance to win it (even if you're going to harp on Louisville's cold shooting as the only factor)? YES

At 9:30 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fire Pete and Jay Wright

At 9:43 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The St. John's game is at the Pavilion NOT MSG as you noted.

At 9:52 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know how much you love Five Star players Pete, so I thought you might find it interesting that Villanova only had two 5 Star players on their team to Louisville's three. Plus the average height was 6-9 to Nova's 5 star average height of 6-3. To top that their average weight was about 30 lbs heavier. If you add it all up there is only one logical conclusion one can make...

1. Villanova never had a chance

Wait a minute...but if Louisville has more 5 star players but they lost to 2 shitty teams and one possibly good Minnesota team does that make Jay the better coach?

Wait a minute...but Redding MISSED the tip in at the end so Pitino is a better coach. I get it.

But wait...Jim Boheim's team did not make the tournament 2 years in a row with top level talent so he is a terrible coach right?

I'm getting so confused...Pete, explain again how I can go about judging ability to coach.


At 10:24 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah pete....explain how all the above points are totally irrelevant to every thing you said?

At 10:31 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually read Pete's comments and quickly dismiss them as premature panic. And to a certain extent, I'm doing the same with this post. However, he is absolutely correct that this was the classic example of Jay Wright's inability to make in-game adjustments. Why it took him 32 minutes before he decided to apply his three quarter press is beyond me. That pressure sparked Nova's late game comeback. As far as preparation, I also agree with Pete's rant. Nova looked completely surprised by Louisville's press. That's the equivilent of playing Syracuse and expecting to face man to man defense.

All of that said, this team is not NIT bound. One hallmark of Jay Wrigh teams is that they tend to play their best ball around the middle of February. I still think this team has a realistic shot of going 11-7 in conference play. So your rant is justified Pete, but hold don't hit the panic button. This team and its coach are going to be fine.

At 10:42 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why are you such a jay hater?

At 11:11 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it has to be Jay's bull...

At 11:11 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jay looks great in a suit

At 11:34 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To give Pena an F is absurd. Although he missed free throws, he was the reason that we were even in the game at the end. He outplayed Samuels, a top 3 freshman in the country, and Jay Wright even said that they would be a top 10 team if he played like the way he did for the rest of the season. He will work on the free throws, I dont understand how you could have thought he played bad besides that point.

At 11:59 AM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

S Clark played defense well against E Clark. He is not very good offensively but I was actually upset when Jay pulled him after shutting down E Clark a couple times in a row. He was a perfect size to guard him. Having said that...Redding + Clark at the same time can definitely be painful. I think Redding has been reading too many blogs. He is deathly afraid to shoot. There were 2 times where he was 8 feet from the basket with nobody in front of him and he just showed zero intention of shooting. He at least has to use that space to create separation for someone else.

Oh...and personally I think this team is overachieving right now and has been for about 2 1/2 years. They were rebuilding last year and snuck in to the 16. This year they are much improved but still not a great team by any stretch. Good news is they have no bad losses and could easily change everyones perception with a couple good wins (2 would suffice, though not ideal). Last year a blowout to Rutgers did not surprise me. This year, a blowout by any team would surprise me...WE CAN BUILD ON THIS!!!

At 12:26 PM, January 12, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

Thanks for the correction about the game location

At 12:28 PM, January 12, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

Gregg did you read the Pena blurb? I admit he played well in the game prior to the free throws.

At 12:53 PM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not one to agree with Pete...in fact I come here solely to disagree. But missing 5 of 6 (2 of 2 to tie/win) is an F. He could have had 55 pts and 25 rebounds and that still turns his A to an F (maybe a D+ with 55 and 25).

I think I blame Fisher more than Pena though. You cannot pass that early, to a running big man, struggling from the line, with 4 seconds to go. While Scottie is not as quick, gifted a ball handler, or as good a finisher, he would have turned that run out into 2 pts 98% of the time.

That being said, if Pitino was better at coaching the loss would have been more tolerable. Unfortunately he allowed an outlet pass to a 1 on 2 with 7 seconds left... which led to a bad pass... missed free throws... and 3 missed tip-ins. I prefer my losses straight up.

At 12:55 PM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We got no guts. Bottom line if you're a Division I basketball player you have to hit those free throws or the tips at the end. Truth is we're not that good. Any chance we could recruit a real center sometime soon?

At 3:29 PM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't think the press adversely affected Villanova that much. It's more a matter of focus and more awareness from the skill players that they are not able to overwhelm a good big east team as Jay says. More attention to the details of offense against a good big east team would help though even as the defense points the team in the right direction.

At 4:03 PM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you think pena played well, then don't give him an f that he didn't deserve. not even the cruelest of teachers will destroy a students grade based on one mistake. It sucks that pena didnt make those free throws, but he's immature and not a great ft shooter as is, it's expected that he'd crack under the pressure. It sucks to have lost this game, but don't be sour. And don't blame Jay's coaching. He couldn't have made pena make the freethrows. He couldn't help that dante and reg missed the easy tips.

At 4:37 PM, January 12, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But missing 5 of 6 (2 of 2 to tie/win) is an F. He could have had 55 pts and 25 rebounds and that still turns his A to an F (maybe a D+ with 55 and 25)"

I agree.

What are stats if you still lose the game?

F minus. Sink em-they're free for God sakes....

At 4:41 PM, January 12, 2009, Blogger pete said...

Wow, Larry -- Did you read my post closely? My single point was that Jay's coaching was so bad it put the team in a position to have those fluke missed layups and Pena's missed free throws matter.

At 9:33 AM, January 13, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I was at the game, and did not have the issue of listening to the announcers. Pete, I think you are off on a couple things:

1) The team was flat at the beginning, and was a step slower than Louisville from the start. Especially Reynolds, who looked like he was recovering from being out on a bender from the night before. It wasn't the press that "exhausted" him, because he was slow from the start.

2) Wright did make good in game adjustments, he benched Reynolds and played Fish through the critical part of the game where Villanova pulled themselves back into it in the second half. A fellow Jay Wright hater, like Pete, had told me that this was the best game he had seen Jay Wright coach. I believe that is a bit of hyperbole, but the fact is, with 15 minutes to go in the second half, Villanova was 8 points down and was showing no signs of getting back into the game. Wright made the necessary changes (including sitting his golden child, Scottie, for multiple minutes) to get the team back in a position to win. The fact that they didn't execute when the chips were down, cannot be put on Wright.

3) Redding's defense is completely ignored in the above grade. His defense was key late in the game. He also threw a perfect inbounds pass (which has not been VU's strong suit this year) with 4 seconds to go. In fact, with the exception of Dante's grade (who I agree with Pete, needs to stop taking 19 footers when the baseline is wide open) all of the grades read like they came straight from the box score, and not from actually watching the game.

4)Pena's F is a grade that sounds like it would come from a petulant child who is angry that they have to eat their peas before they can leave the dinner table.

5) I've been watching Villanova basketball as an alumni at the Corestates/Comcast/FU/Walk-all-ova-ya/Wells Fargo center for 15 years now, and we NEVER shoot free throws well there. I don't know if it's the difference in space behind the basket, but personally, it drives me nuts that we play important games there. The noise from our fans doesn't even get close to what it is in the Pavillion. I can't think that the amount of extra revenue is THAT much higher to justify playing in that piece of crap.

At 2:18 PM, February 07, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT BLOG ENTRY!!!! omg couldn't say it any better


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