Villanova has officially hit rock bottom.
After finally looking like the team they were expected to be, in the first half of their first round game of the Big East tournament against South Florida Tuesday night, Villanova blew a 16 point halftime lead and lost to the 2nd worst team in the conference. It was the 5th loss in a row for the Wildcats who look like a mentally broken team and are beyond limping into the NCAA tournament.
Throughout the first half Villanova looked like the team that was picked to finish 2nd in the Big east in the preseason. They had a certain bounce in their step and a swagger that Nova fans hadn’t seen since early January. Corey Fisher looked healthy and sprightly. Maalik Wayns had found his jumper. Corey Stokes was back healthy and started the game 3-5 from three on his way to 16 first half points. They shot 59% in the first half, 58% from three, and didn’t miss any of their 10 free throws. Finally, they had found their game. This would be the game that propelled them through the Big East tournament and into the NCAA tournament. Then came the 2nd half.
South Florida slowly chipped away at the Wildcats lead, and with each possession got closer and closer. As the Bulls drew closer, Villanova got tighter. The game slowed down and the Wildcats lost their mojo.
Villanova managed only 4 field goals in the second half, but was still in a legitimate position to win the game with under a minute left. Then it really fell apart.
After starting the game 20-20 from the line and up 3 with 48 seconds, Wayns went to the stripe for one and one. Then ESPN displayed the Kiss of Death, “No team has ever gone perfect from the line in the Big East tournament.” On cue, Wayns missed the front end and the Bulls had a chance to tie.
It seemed Villanova would find a way to lose another one, but South Florida then turned it over and it looked like the Wildcats’ luck was changing. Still up 3 with now 37 seconds left, Corey Stokes, Villanova’s best free throw shooter, was fouled and went to the line for one and one.
Another miss on the front end and a bucket by South Florida and Nova was still up 1 with 27 seconds left. All Villanova had to do was inbound the ball and make free throws and they would still escape with the victory.
However, with 23 seconds left and Villanova clinging to the one point advantage, Wayns threw the ball away right under his own basket and South Florida’s Anthony Crater picked it up and made a go ahead layup. It looked as if the sophomore would make up for it after he was fouled with 11 seconds left and made two free throws to put the Cats back up 1.
It was too much time though, as Crater took the ball and went right by Dominic Cheek for the easiest uncontested game-winning layup a player could see in a Big East tournament game.
Wayns’ desperation 3 went off the back of the rim at the buzzer and Villanova had managed to lose another one in stunning fashion.
Wayns ended the game with 24 points. Fisher, after 11 first half points, managed only 4 in the 2nd half and Stokes, after 16 first half points, failed to score a point in the 2nd. In fact, only 3 Villanova players managed to score a point in the 2nd half.
After 49 first half points, Villanova scored 20 in the 2nd half.
“When it rains, it pours. I think that’s what’s happening. We’ve just got to fight through it,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We’ve got to keep our heads up.”
Villanova has lost 10 of it’s last 15 games to end the season and after looking like they’d be contending for a top 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, they are now solidly on the bubble and are looking at a possible 11 seed, if they get in at all.
The comeback for South Florida is the largest halftime deficit overcome in the Big East tournament’s history. To add injury to insult, at the end of the first half, center Mouphtaou Yarou came down hard under South Florida’s basket and didn’t return to the bench until later in the 2nd half, when he appeared with stitches in his cheek and ice wrapped around his ribs.
For Villanova, where do you go from here?
How does Jay Wright possibly regroup this team from an epic collapse to even thinking about making a run in the NCAA tournament?
Step one. Get them away from basketball. With almost a week until Selection Sunday, and a week and a half until a possible first round game, Villanova needs a break. They need to hit the reset button. Go bowling. Go camping. Go to Disney World. Go somewhere where they don’t have to think about basketball for a little. Where they don’t have to hear discussion about their ridiculous finish to the regular season and conference tournament.
Step two. Don’t let anyone watch any video of any game during this low point of the season. Go back and watch what worked in the beginning of the season. Allow them to remember how to play the basketball that made them so good earlier in the year, or even last year. There are good players on this Villanova team, and they didn’t forget how to play basketball, they’ve just lost every bit of confidence they had. Comparable to a kicker in football. He misses one, no big deal. Then he misses another and it’s in his head for every field goal from that point on. Confidence is everything, and the Wildcats have lost it.
Step three. Go back to what made you so good. Watch the first half of that South Florida game. Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns were getting to the hoop at will and used that to open up the outside game, instead of the other way around. Stokes, who has been consistent pretty much all year, continues to hit the open (and contested) three, but works better as a compliment to the driving Wayns and Fisher, not as the leading scorer. Senior Antonio Pena needs the confidence he had to knock down the 15 foot jumper he had perfected earlier in the season, that he has since forgotten lately. Villanova is a team run through the guards, so they must get star efforts out of their star guards. Wayns and Fisher must get to the hoop and get to the line to open it up for Stokes and to free up Yarou and Pena for layups.
For the Wildcats, they’ve got one more chance to salvage their season. Assuming the selection committee grants them an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, they will probably get at best an 8 seed and at lowest an 11 or 12. For a team that has beaten the likes of Louisville and Syracuse, they know they can hang with the best teams in the country, assuming everyone is healthy (which is a risky assumption at this point). With a good enough draw, the Wildcats have a real chance to make a splash in the tournament and alter their place in Villanova history.
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.