In Part I, we saw our hero (the Villanova basketball program) stumble out of the gates to a relatively disappointing 9-4 start to the season. With the debacle that was the 2012 season still on everyone’s minds, the final Big East regular season was about to begin and no one really knew what was ultimately going to happen.
THE LAST HURRAH
St. John’s (W)
Just like in his first game at the Pavilion, Ryan Arcidiacono brought the noise. He finished with 32 points including a 7-13 effort from 3. While JVP dropped 26 on 9-13 from the free throw line. In case you really have missed this season, Villanova has the best FTrate in the country. This is largely because JVP gets fouled on almost every single shot attempt, and we are absolutely the best team in the nation at pump faking. The game did go to OT, but a win is a win, especially at this point.
And then it happened. Freshmen big man Ochefu replaced Senior Mo Sutton in the starting lineup. Since this time, Sutton has barely seen the light of day, and he has played only 10% of the available minutes in Big East play, while Ochefu plays 46%. The swapping of Ochefu and Sutton’s minutes is probably the key to the entire season. Maybe Jay was looking ahead to next year when both Yarou and Sutton will be gone, or maybe he was simply waiting for Ochefu to understand the basic offensive and defensive principles better. Either way, since the change was made we have been a completely different team on the defensive end. Sure, everyone has improved and our rotations are much crisper but Ochefu’s presence simply makes everyone else’s job easier.
With Ochefu getting more minutes we have held opponents to 41.6% shooting from 2 during Big East play, the 2nd best mark in the conference. But the often overlooked aspect of Ochefu’s game is his ability to get steals as well. On the season he ranks second on the team in stl% at 2.7, and his increased minutes has helped us accumulate the 3rd best conference mark for creating turnovers on defense.
@Syracuse (L), Pitt (L), and @Providence (L)
After winning 7 games in a row and our first two big east games, it seemed as if everyone had some quiet excitement about this team. We got out to a 2 point lead at half, but Syracuse pulled away in the 2nd and won by 11. It was a classic strong first half showing coupled with a second half meltdown, where you could tell it just hadn’t quite clicked for us.
In our next game, Pitt just beat the crap out of us. We collected only 1 offensive rebound off of 30 missed shots. That’s literally insane. I think for this reason alone, I may or may not have made a bet with someone saying that Pitt will make the Elite 8. They scare me and since it’s Pitt so does that bet.
We then traveled to Providence where it always seems like we lose. Turnovers killed us, as we coughed it up on over 30% of our possessions. But while we held them to only 40% shooting from 2 and 14% shooting from 3, we allowed them to rebound over 40% of their misses – granted they are the 29th best team in the country at that.
THE BEST WEEK IN A LONG, LONG TIME
Before the Louisville game, we had a record of 11-7 overall with a 2-3 mark in the Big East. Our last win against a top-5 team probably happened when W was still President. But everything kind of fell into place against Louisville, and we held Russ Smith to just 8 points on 2-13 shooting. There was no stand out statistic; it was simply a well rounded, complete game where we came up with key plays when in the past we have fallen apart.
I don’t know about you, but I just can’t stand Syracuse anymore. I used to like Boeheim, and I disliked Calhoun. Then I realized that Syracuse produces easily hated players like: Erick Devendorf, Scoop Jardine, and Rick Jackson; while UCONN produces a lot of guys who are likable: Rudy Gay, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, or my personal favorite growing up Khalid El-Amin. In any event I’m now in the Calhoun camp and in the anti-Boeheim camp, even though Calhoun is now gone. Throw in the whole realignment mess and Syracuse’s role in it, and I cant remember a regular season game I have been happier to win. It felt absolutely fantastic, and totally validated our victory against Louisville at the same time.
While Arcidiacono hit the game tying 3 to send us into overtime, I would be remiss if I didn’t take a second to acknowledge the work of someone who I have been pretty hard on. Stand up and take your bow Mr. Hilliard. He finished with a game high 25 points on 5-5 shooting from 2, 3-6 from deep, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 0 turnovers. (clap, clap, clap).
THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
@ND (L), Providence (L), @DePaul (W), USF (W), @Cincinnati (L)
After two court storming worthy efforts, Villanova was staring at the meat of our schedule. A stretch of 5 games that all seemed winnable, but were stuck right in the middle of the grueling Big East regular season. It’s the time of year when Conference play is beating you up, the season could go either way, and the finish line seems an eternity away.
A loss at Notre Dame is nothing to be ashamed of, but it still would have been a good game to have. A 2nd loss to Providence on the other hand really hurts in retrospect. We even turned the tables on them in the rebounding department as Providence only brought down 29% of their misses while we grabbed 40% of ours. However, our little 3 point defense problem reared its ugly head again, as Providence went 10-15 from deep and won by 3. Oh irony.
After taking care of business on the road against DePaul and at home against USF, it was time once again to face a top tier team in Cincinnati. And we feel flat on our face, surrendering yet another remarkable effort from 3 by the opposing team, as Cincinnati made 12 of their 25 3 pointers in a rout. Seems like a trend to me.
The loss to Cincinnati put us at 16-10 overall and 7-6 in Big East play. The idea of us making the tournament was there, but our up and down season so far left it really in doubt.
@UCONN (W), Rutgers (W)
The win at UCONN and the lack of a let down against Rutgers meant that our tournament hopes actually held water. Arcidiacono led the way with 25 points, while JVP did his usual JVP things, putting up 14 points and 7 offensive rebounds. We rebounded over 50% of our misses against UCONN, which still seems weird to write on paper. While not a great team this season, UCONN is still pretty good and a road win with one of weirdest and craziest fanbases is good enough for me.
While most people will point to the Louisville and Syracuse games as the signature victories of the season, it’s this win that really turned the season downhill in the direction we are currently in. For one, the pressure was on, as everyone knew that we pretty much needed this game if we were going to go dancing; and because of our earlier wins there was no way Marquette was taking us for granted. We executed our game plan to perfection, and played about as clean of a game as is possible for this team, turning over the ball on only 15% of our possessions.
But most of all, the characteristic that has defined this team showed through: we just flat out, outworked them. We forced turnovers on just shy of 30% of their possessions, and we lifted our season average on winning 50/50 balls to 73.2% - that’s not a real stat, but Arcidiacono leads the country in diving after loose balls and is literally on the ground for 35% of our possessions. Ok, that’s not a real stat either.
REMEMBER WE ARE A BUBBLE TEAM FOR A REASON
@Seton Hall (L), @Pitt (L), Georgetown (W)
A lot of people were upset about our loss at Seton Hall, and I think Joe Lunardi even knocked us out of the bracket for a whole 27 minutes before putting us back in – they do those stupid bracket updates too frequently. But people forget the reason we are a bubble team and not a 4 seed is because of these silly losses. They happen because we are not a finished product. Remember our little defensive problem from earlier? Yeah still there, as the Hall shot 13-21 from 3.
I’m not ready to talk about the Pitt game yet. I just can't. We had that game, and Pitt is right up there with Syracuse on my “Hate” list.
We will never know if we really had to win against Georgetown to get into the tournament. Most people will say yes, but I’m not so sure. In any event, we did beat Georgetown, holding the unanimous Big East player of the Year Otto Porter to 6 for 16 shooting. But the real story was the turnovers we caused on defense, forcing G’Town to cough it up on 35% of their possessions.
WE ARE BETTER THAN WE THOUGHT WE WERE
Anyone who tells you that they knew/thought we would make the tournament at the beginning of the season, is a person you should cut out of your life. That person cannot be trusted. So, yeah we have greatly exceeded expectations, but the best part is how we did it. We have gotten better every week, and we are one scrappy team. Jay has gone from on his way to getting run out of town, to maybe his best coaching job since he developed Foye et al.
The final ‘real’ Big East tourney awaits, and in all likelihood so does the NCAA Tournament. That just sounds good to say, doesn’t?