Villanova’s 2010-2011 campaign is starting to look a lot like the 2009-2010 campaign.
After shooting lights out and beating Syracuse on January 22nd to go to 5-1 in the Big East and 17-2 overall, the Wildcats have lost 6 out of 10 (all Big East games), and are once again limping into March. Just a year ago, Villanova lost 4 of it’s last 6 going into the Big East tournament, where they were ousted in the first round by Marquette, survived the first round of the NCAA tournament against 15th seeded Robert Morris, and were eventually eliminated in the next round by 10th seeded Saint Mary’s.
Star players are slumping at the worst time, the offense is stagnant, and what used to be there is just not for a Villanova team that was top 10 nationally to start the season. They were ranked 6th nationally to start the season, and in the latest “Bracketology” by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, he has Villanova receiving just a 6 seed.
Villanova’s latest disappointment came Saturday as they were man handled by a red hot St. John’s team who has skyrocketed into the top 4 of the Big East as well as the top 15 in the National polls. The Red Storm can now add Villanova to their list of wins against ranked opponents that already has Georgetown, Uconn, and top 10 opponents, Notre Dame, Duke, and Pitt. Makes you wonder how the Johnnies ever lost to Saint Bonaventure and Fordham in back to back games. Fordham is yet to win a game in the Atlantic 10.
The Wildcats have struggled mightily as off late, but still came into Saturday’s game only a game out of the top 4 in the Big East and the 2 day bye in the Big East Tournament. In a game they had to have, against a beatable opponent, in their own gym (sort of, the game was played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philly), Villanova came out flat right from the start (much like the silent Villanova crowd) and was out-hustled, out-manned, and straight up out-played by a veteran St. John’s team who’s top 6 players in minutes played are all Seniors.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, two of Villanova’s senior leaders, Corey Fisher and Antonio Pena, who hail from the Bronx and Brooklyn respectively, had possibly their worst games of the season, combining for 7 points, on 3-15 shooting. Fisher was 1-10 and 0-8 from three point range on his way to 2 points for the game.
The Red Storm came out strong right out of the gate, opening the game on an 18-4 run, moving the ball beautifully hitting seemingly every open shot. Every time Villanova got a bucket in the first half, St. John’s killed them in transition and found an open shooter as the Wildcats looked lost on the defensive end.
As natural, and beautiful as St. John’s offense looked throughout the game, Villanova’s looked slow and lost. Constantly settling for jumpshots, the Wildcats had no rhythm and consistently dribbled out the shotclock only to launch another three that clanged off the rim.
The Red Storm played outstanding defense throughout the game forcing Villanova into contested jumpshots all day. St. John’s fullcourt press into matchup zone confused the Wildcats and pushed the tempo, causing costly turnovers in the process. When Villanova finally looked like they had solved it and got the ball into the middle of the zone, they could not do anything with it, much like the previous loss against Syracuse.
St. John’s pressured the guards all over the court and packed it in near the rim, giving Villanova open looks in the lane (mostly Antonio Pena), and some open threes, but the Wildcats just could not connect. For a team that has struggled so much from the field as of late, one would think attacking the rim early would be favorable, but Villanova opened the game with jumpshot after jumpshot after brick after brick did not smell the paint for most of the game.
The brightspot for Villanova continues to be the play of senior Corey Stokes. After sitting a couple games with turf toe, he has been the only consistent scorer in their last two losses. He had 24 points against Syracuse in a losing effort and added 20 points on 6-10 shooting from three in the latest loss to St. John’s.
Maalik Wayns also played well for the Wildcats, and seemed to be the only Wildcat willing to venture into the paint on his way to 19 points including 9-11 from the free throw line.
The real star of the day was St. John’s Senior and possible Big East player of the year Dwight Hardy. A week after hitting the game winner in the Garden against 4th ranked Pitt, Hardy went for a career high 34 points including 5-9 from three. He got wherever he wanted to on the court and hit back breaking shot after back breaking shot every time Villanova made a run.
Every time Villanova cut the lead and the consistently dormant Wildcat crowd rose to their feet, Hardy answered. First with a pump fake on a 3 pointer that led to 3 free throws that pushed the lead back to 9 after Villanova had cut it to 6. Later on in the game it was an array of step backs, layups, and floaters that kept the Wildcats at arms reach until they finally ran away with it at the end.
For Villanova, it looks as if they just can not get everyone on the same page. When Stokes is injured, Fisher explodes for 34 against Depaul and Maouph Yarou is the beast inside that Villanova had hoped he would be. At times Antonio Pena looks automatic from 15 feet and in. Stokes comes back from injury and plays great, but Fisher can’t find the hoop, Mouph looks lost, and Pena all of the sudden can’t hit the mid range jumper he seemed to have perfected. When Corey Fisher plays great, Maalik Wayns seems to struggle, and likewise the other way around.
It seems if Villanova can ever get everyone playing well at the same time, they could be something to contend with come tournament time. For now however, they are a team that in late February, still has yet to find their identity.
After the loss to St. John’s, Villanova finds itself on the outside looking in at a log jam in the middle of the Big East. Hoping for a two day bye before the game, they now find themselves a couple of losses (at Notre Dame and at Pitt) away from having to play in the first round of games in a brutal tournament.
With such parody this year in College Basketball, all is not lost for Villanova. They have a chance in these last two games and into the Big East tournament to play well against good teams on the road and go into the NCAA tournament with some momentum. As we all know, anything can happen in March, and it can take the smallest of sparks to propel a team through the tournament and into the Final Four.
For the Wildcats, the new season starts tonight against a Notre Dame team that they have played well against over the years. Win, and you keep yourself in the hunt, but more importantly you get some momentum.
At the very least, Villanova must play with a sense of urgency. Every game from here on out must have the feel of an elimination game. This is a last go round for Senior’s who have had superb careers at Villanova, it’s time to start playing like it.
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.