Days after making easy work of a young UCLA squad in the semi-finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Madison Square Garden, the Villanova Wildcats came up short against Bruce Pearl’s Tennessee Volunteers. The way Pearl’s team defended Villanova’s star studded backcourt, one would have thought it was the Wildcats in the middle of an NCAA investigation. Coming into the game averaging 80 points per game, and playing in a familiar building, Villanova could not consistently score against a tough, athletic, defensively minded Tennessee squad, and were defeated 78-68.
After a career-high 26 against UCLA, Nova’s leading scorer, Corey Fisher, could only muster 3 points on 1-10 shooting. Fishers backcourt mate, Maalik Wayns, also struggled, scoring 11 points on 3-11 shooting. Tennessee used a tough, athletic defense that packed the lane and forced the usually penetrating guards into contested jump shots. Scotty Hopson scored 18 for the Volunteers, but it was his long rangy defense that bothered the two leading scorers of Villanova. Senior guard Melvin Goins was in Fisher and Wayns face from the tip until his game sealing steal and layup in the final minutes.
On the bright side for Villanova, big men Mouph Yarou and Antonio Pena scored 15 and 14 points respectively, adding some inside scoring for a team that will need it. However, it is clear that as Fisher and Wayns go, so do the Wildcats. Though the formula to beat this Villanova team seems to be shut off the lane and force two of the best driving guards in the nation to shoot contested threes, you still need the players to do that. With the athleticism and length of Tennessee’s team, they were able to frustrate Villanova and force them into tough shots. Combine that with some timely shooting, and you have a recipe to beat a top ten team.
For a Tennessee team dealing with NCAA investigations and the 8 game SEC suspension of their coach, this was a win that could go a long way in preparing them for a run in March. This may be an underrated Volunteer team who is coming off an elite 8 appearance a year ago. The only challenge left in the month of December will be a trip to Pittsburgh on the 11th, another top 10 Big East team, before starting conference play in January. They’ve got veteran leadership at the guard position in Hopson and Goins, and if you add one of the best freshman in the country Tobias Harris, this may be a team who can surprise some people come tournament time.
As for Villanova, do not expect both Fisher and Wayns to be shut down in the same game too often, as not many teams boast the size and athleticism at the guard position as Tennessee. However, the blueprint has been laid on how to defend this Wildcats team. Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns are stars, but until this team finds a consistent third option, Villanova fans may not be happy come March. Though I am not one to ever consider a loss as a good thing, there are lessons to be learned in losing, and there is no doubt Jay Wright will waste no time in finding them.
Next up for Villanova will be “The Holy War” at home against St Joes on Friday December 3rd.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.