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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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At 9:00 AM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best 2 players on the team??? Dante is our most crucial player hands down. Game after game he is the only player you know will show up. The last two games of foul trouble were largely the fault of the blind zebras anticipating calls. I like Fish at point and Reynolds 2 gaurd, but come on without Dante we are a .500 team at best fighting for an NIT bid. As Fish becomes a true offensive threat Reynold's offensive decisions could turn into our achilles heal.

At 9:37 AM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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."

Agreed. Give him about 8 advil and sit his ass on the bench.

At 10:20 AM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

blind zebras! What a novel turn of phrase!

At 10:39 AM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"... Jay Wright's trademark sloppy start to the game..."

You make it seem like Jay Wright was on the floor missing shots and turning the ball over for the first 10 minutes of the game. And you also directly attribute some missed foul shots to Wright? They didn't shoot their best game last night; but 'Nova is still the best free throw shooting team in the Big East. He hasn't failed to "maintain Villanova's previous success with free-throw shooting."

You gave him his props, so I recognize that you're at least forcing yourself to give credit where credit is due; but it seems to me you're still grasping at straws with these nits you're trying to pick with Wright.

At 11:03 AM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fish really does open things up ... it is immediately apparent when he comes on the court. I am a fan of liberal substitution to keep legs fresh - especially with this much talent on hand. I agree that he can play alongside Scottie - the whole team will benefit. It doesn't have to be either or but there was an advantage last night in the substitution package....both Scottie and Fish were fresh and energetic when on the court (as was the whole team).

At 12:22 PM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you really blaming the coach for the team's free throw shooting? Come on dude. The coach can tell his players to get a proper routine down at the line, and might be able to coach form, but you simply can't coach execution from the free throw line, you can't coach concentration. Sometimes I think you are too quick to point the finger at Jay while it's really nerves and a lack of concentration that are to blame.

At 1:16 PM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"After Jay Wright's trademark sloppy start to the game"

"How Wright hasn't been able to maintain Villanova's previous success with free-throw shooting is beyond me"

I forgot Jay Wright is out there playing. You are ridiculous; how can you honestly say he is to blame for free throw shooting? Last time I checked, they still have the highest percentage in the Big East. Get off Jay's nuts.

At 1:48 PM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on guys, at least this time his criticisms, over the top and incorrect as they are, have at least some grounding in logic. Unlike, say, the notion that the fact that Villanova does better in the second half of the BE schedule than it does in the first half is indicative of a failure on Wright's part (for "failing to properly prepare the team" in the first half of the season).

That aside, the Fisher obsession remeinds me of the dreaded Malcolm Grant obsession. Even if you think Fisher deserves more playing time (arguable), calling him one of the top 2 players on the team is absurd. Similarly, you can argue that Wright made some mistakes with Grant, but if you listened to Pete you would think that he was a future player of the year candidate.

Ironicly, if Pete had his way last year and Grant played more, the person who would have the most playing time would have been ... Fisher.

At 1:51 PM, January 29, 2009, Blogger pete said...

@1:48 -- I don't think it's an obsession with any given player. I think it's just that I believe it is important to have a true PG playing.

At 3:36 PM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought it was a typical Big East game. Its virtually impossible to play a pretty game against Pitt, but what 'Nova did do was man up and go toe to toe and that showed me something. Making their free throws down the stretch should prove to be a confidence booster for the team. I do think that playing Fisher and Reynolds together can work, especially because with the types of defenses 'Nova plays, it won't really be a liability on that end of the floor. Their guard play has been inconsistent, but its a good trend that Redding continues to play better and better, particularly on the offensive end. Either way, this was a huge win for 'Nova obviously.

At 3:48 PM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To put the Fisher issue in some perspective, he is averaging 25 minutes a game, which is third on the team. Since Reynolds plays 31 minutes per game, simple math will tell you that they are on the floor together for at least 16 minutes per game.

At 7:52 PM, January 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only this site could celebrate the negatives of a win over by a #21 against a #3.

At 8:00 PM, January 29, 2009, Blogger pete said...

@ Pete loves dudes

I think you are mis-using the phrase "get off [his] nuts."

Someone who is "on someone's nuts," is likely to have too high an opinion of the person whose nuts he is accused being upon. Clearly, your meaning is the opposite of that; or at the very least you want me "off Jay's case." A proper usage of "off his nuts," keeping in line with the criticism I receive in these comments, would be with regard to Corey Fisher or Malcolm Grant.

If you're going to hurl out homophobic insults, at least get them right. THINK, don't just vomit back what you hear.

At 10:25 PM, January 29, 2009, Blogger Name said...

Cunningham, Pena, Reynolds, Redding, Anderson

A true nut flush.

At 10:36 AM, January 30, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete loves dudes got SERVED.

At 11:22 AM, January 30, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wasn't at the game, but I heard that after the national anthem, Dajuan Blair sprinted towards the nova team, pounding his chest, yelling, "LETS GO!!!" Is this true? Because if it is, its hard to respect such a jerk like that.

At 3:09 PM, January 30, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete Loves Dudes,

You just got owned. In your world, "Get off Pete's nuts."

At 8:01 PM, January 30, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete loves dudes,

man, after getting your a$$ handed to yourself via peter, i expect you will no longer show your shameful self ever again...in life even! no more blogging for that guy!

At 10:35 AM, January 31, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As critical as I've been of Pete's weird obsession with Wright't percieved faults, which leads to some incredibly illogical criticisms, I've tended to think that the "negativity" criticisms are a tad overblown. His hatred of Wright does color his evaluation of the team, but aside from that his take isn't that unreasonable.

That said, I decided to look at Pete's recent predictions and compare them to the actual results. In the last 5 games, Pete has been off by an average of 12 points per game - in every case underestimating Nova's performance.

In fairness, he was overly optimistic for the first two BE games, predicting a win over Marquette and a much easier win over SH.

At 5:28 PM, January 31, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hahaha I knew it Pete!


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