Good Wins: Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Marquette.
Bad Losses: None. West Virginia was disconcerting only because of the margin (19 points).
1. Bravery. Led by Scottie Reynolds, the Wildcats never recoil their claws. Small as a Scottish Terrier, this diminutive Scottie is much more pugnacious. He darts into the lane every night. He can shoot wildly and even haphazardly, but his boldness cannot be undervalued. Jay Wright’s troops follow Reynolds’ lead. Because he never shrinks from a challenge, neither does anyone else. Dante Cunningham has planted his feet in the driving lane of some powerful, heavy young men. He never ducks a barreling menace, likely the conference leader in drawn charges. By necessity Cunningham does not jump for every rebound but his positioning tends to be superb. When able, DC climbs to the rooftop of the vertical scrum.
2. On ball defense. Nova gets into your shirt. They intentionally overplay the passing lanes. Banking on their ability to slide, no Nova guard gives an inch of respect. Even if Reynolds or Corey Fisher get beat off the dribble the forwards immediately close the gaps like zealous linebackers. Cunningham especially leaves his man prudently when the ‘Help!’ scream comes. The Wildcats do a great job at challenging first attempts simply by being close. Despite differing intentions the maxim remains the same for both the Wildcats and hopeful bar guy…proximity is everything.
1. Rebounding. Stereotypical as it may be, with Villanova its true; short teams rebound poorly. West Virginia got four shots at the hoop on one possession in their trouncing of the lofty Wildcats. Unfortunately, it’s not an unfamiliar site for the scrappy, yet undersized Nova. They are simply put helpless on the glass once offenses converge on misses. Dante Cunningham is a fierce competitor with boundless energy. Even so at the end of the day he is a 3-4 forced into the center position. And he shares the foxhole with Shane Clark, a small forward. This won’t hurt the Wildcats until round 3, when they will get two bigs per opponent. From facing lone oaks to redwood forests the stark difference could affect the sauntering ‘Cats.
2. Easy Buckets. Villanova is mostly relegated to a jump-shooting team. This can have disastrous ramifications in a tournament setting. Tired legs, unusual shooting backdrops, or more intense defenses can all dramatically affect shooting performance. The Wildcats shoot a lot better when Scottie gets to the basket. He has the quickest first step in the Big East. And as the ancient Chinese proverb says, A journey of a million miles begins with a single step.
Bench: In Corey Stokes, Dwayne Anderson, and Reggie Redding, VU owns a seemingly endless supply of shooting guards. A great shooter, Stokes is certainly top 5 of his craft in the Big East. Against Connecticut he scored 12 first half points on 3 field goal attempts and 3 free throw attempts. All buried. About 50 NCAA Tournament coaches would start Stokes, but instead only wish they had him in their holster.
The Departing: Three seniors of note. Cunningham, Clark, and Anderson are wrapping up a slightly above average careers. Like Marquette and Notre Dame, the Wildcats are one talented center away from unsheathing an unforgettable Tourney run. League coaches are not going to host a pity party for Nova though, as Jay Wright has begun quite a legacy of guard play in the last decade. This trio does have a grit to them Philly fans can be proud of. The question is how much longer can the Nova Nation indulge.
In early February Villanova showed it could win six games in a row. At its core an NCAA title is six consecutive victories. These feisty cats can beat a #1 seed should they land on the right 4-5 line. With the right draw Villanova is an Elite 8 team. Likely Sweet 16.