The Villanova Wildcats were unable to stretch their winning streak to three after coming off their improbable week of knocking off #5 Louisville and #3 Syracuse.
If you would have asked any college basketball fan back on November 25th what they thought of Villanova they would have likely been confused as to why you were even mentioning Villanova. At the time they were coming off losses to Columbia and La Salle. Villanova was supposed to struggle this year, but not have a hard time with Ivy League schools type of struggles. So it goes without saying that if you were to tell that same person that this team would beat the #5 and #3 team in the same week in mid-January that they would have assumed that the end of the Mayan calendar and whatever repercussions were to come with that came to fruition.
I considered writing a blog post earlier in the week discussing how far they have come from that mid-November fiasco, but I wanted to watch one more game -- this time a road game; which also happened to be against a good opponent.
Notre Dame is no Louisville or Syracuse, but they are a good team and especially good at home. And while the game did come down to the final moments to be decided, I still came away not knowing how I felt about Nova.
On one hand I was encouraged. Villanova led for a large portion of the game, and when they did get down they continued to battle back just as it looked the Irish were going to go on a big run to put it out of reach. It took a barrage of three pointers from Jerian Grant and Cameron Biedscheid in the second half to grab and maintain a small lead. Their resolve was good to see. I was also surprised with how well Mouphtaou Yarou and Daniel Ochefu played in the low post with Jack Cooley and Tom Knight all over them. That’s what kept the Wildcats in the game because…
I was discouraged with how difficult it was for Villanova to get open shots. Part of this has to do with the play of Ryan Arcidiacono. He had a rough game. He took many forced and awkward shots and was nonexistent running the point often. His play aside, there still wasn’t much happening along and just inside the perimeter from the rest. JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell and Darrun Hilliard hit their shots here and there, but nothing came easy for them. Notre Dame is one of the worst defensive teams in the conference, so this should not have been the case.
Jay Wright made comments and hints in the preseason that this year’s team was young and was bound to struggle. Youth and inexperience doesn’t tend to prevail in the Big East, especially when it loses to an Ivy League school in its first few games. However, Wright made a few comments recently stating that his team is beginning to click and has become much improved. Clearly that’s easy to say when you beat the likes of Louisville and Syracuse in the same week. But Villanova does look better – you could see it in the last few minutes of the Syracuse game when they were playing with swagger and confidence. But there is a lot more improvement to undergo, as Wednesday night’s game showed.
Their next three games are winnable, and for a team that just crept into the bubble discussion they are ‘must win’ games – vs. Providence, at DePaul and vs. South Florida. Villanova has improved seemingly every game since November, and they must not become complacent with their recent success. I still feel that the jury is still out on the Wildcats, but we’ll find out soon enough if their big wins were a fluke or a sign of better days.