Game 19: St. John's vs Villanova - ...Viewpoint Preview

I asked three Villanova bloggers questions about their team. Before I post my pregame, three separate posts, one for each blogger, with their answers to the following in full:

1- Villanova's 16-1, with an elite offense and a high ranking... are they really the #4 team in the country? Is this level of play sustainable? Can they be better?

2- When Villanova loses again, what's going to be their downfall? What are the Wildcats' weaknesses?

3- Defensively, who is the best Wildcat player? Who are the weak links?

First is Villanova Viewpoint with three answers. Thanks for the response - please read his responses below. And take a look at my responses to his questions on the Villanova Viewpoint site.

1- Villanova's 16-1, with an elite offense and a high ranking... are they really the #4 team in the country? Is this level of play sustainable? Can they be better?

Answers.

Are the Wildcats really the #4 team in the country?

If you had asked me that back at Thanksgiving, I would have said no. And even in mid-December, after the loss at Temple, I would have said no. Here's why-

Our first three meaningful contests were in the Puerto Rico Shoot-out over Thanksgiving. We won the tournament (which was a good feather in the team's collective hat), but we did not dominate play, at all. We trailed George Mason by double-digits before we rallied to win. We beat Dayton and Mississippi, but we did not annihilate them. Playing on neutral courts, in a field in which we were clearly the best team, we won three games but were not dominant, overall.

That having been said, a lot went right in the pre-Big East schedule.

We got through the other three Big Five contests (at St. Joseph's in the Palestra at Penn, Penn at home, and La Salle at the Pavilion), unscathed. That was a plus.

We beat Maryland, @ the Verizon Center (i.e., a road game for us, quasi-home game for the Terrapins.

Then we lost at Temple. It was at Temple, who was unranked at the time, and of course, the Philadelphia Big Five games are always a battle (the Philadelphia axiom that "when it's Big Five games involved, throw the records out the window", is often accurate.

However, now I'd say that we are the #4 team in the nation. Or, at least, in the Top 10.

Here's what's happened as well:

We have two wins over Marquette, including a very tough victory on the road.

We now have a victory @ Louisville (very good team, in a very hostile environment, during a season when they're closing Freedom Hall, and the crowd's even more into it than normal.)

We had a triumph over Georgetown at the Wachovia Center, a ranked team that had beaten us five in a row.

And we had no trouble blowing out DePaul and Rutgers - granted, they're two of the worst Big East teams, if not the worst, but we didn't struggle with them. Our bench played a lot, too, in those games, so we're very deep and we're getting them some experience. The second team played almost the entire second half in both.

And so, at the risk of appearing immodest, I think that the polls describing us as the #4 team is not inaccurate, or implausible.

Is this level of play sustainable?

I don't think that we're going to make it through the rest of the regular season (we have no nonconference contests remaining), unbeaten, although we're in first place right now as the only unbeaten one, now that Pitt lost last night.

We still have to play West Virginia twice, and obviously, those road trips to WVU are arduous (they crushed us there last year). We still have the return game at Georgetown. We haven't played Connecticut or @ Pitt or @ Syracuse yet. Any one of those is a potential loss. We've already played the two weakest teams, too.

Plus, any Big East contest is an adventure, so especially with DePaul and Rutgers off the schedule, we could conceivably lose to any opponent, especially on the road.

Can they be better?

This question permits a neat segue into your second question of -

2- When Villanova loses again, what's going to be their downfall? What are the Wildcats' weaknesses?

The single biggest weakness that the Wildcats have, is the lack of a true, dominant big man on the roster, and the quality and depth of players who do have to play the "five" position. In Wright's eight-plus seasons here, we have never had a healthy, dominant, properly-sized player at the "five" position". Jason Fraser was supposed to fill that role, but his tenure was unfortunately decimated by injuries. As a result, Wright decided to go with a four guard offense, especially after wing forward Curtis Sumpter missed an entire season, and we've been guard-dominated to this day.

We only have three big men. One is Antonio Pena, who is really a "four" - he's a big guy but not as tall of a big man as you'd like to have. He came off the bench last year, and he's really improved as an offensive player in the low post, passing the ball in transition to a speedy guard, and can rebound really well. His big weakness is foul trouble.

Another is Mouph (Mouphtaou Yarou - but everyone just calls him Mouph), a freshman. He has a lot of potential, but he missed six weeks (between Puerto Rico, through Jan. 2) due to contracting hepatitis. He's been back for a couple of weeks now, but he's really a 15-minute player. He's a decent defender and rebounder, but not a scoring threat.

The third is Maurice Sutton, a redshirt freshman. He's now the last scholarship player in the rotation. Although he played a great deal in calendar 2009 (especially during the time when Mouph was out) he hasn't played much recently. His main role is to defend and absorb five fouls that we can't afford to have Pena or Mouph commit). Nowadays, Sutton plays, generally, only if the game is out of reach, or if Pena and/or Mouph are in foul trouble. We had a 20+ point lead over Rutgers for most of the second half last night and Sutton only got six minutes.

3- Defensively, who is the best Wildcat player? Who are the weak links?

Clearly, the best defenders underneath are Pena and Yarou. (Sutton leads the team in blocks, but many were accumulated against smaller opponents in calendar 2009). On the wings, it's off-guard Reggie Redding (the best overall defender on the team). Redding is a senior, whom we didn't have for the first semester, due to his suspension. The team's defense is very much improved, when he's on the floor. Freshman Isaiah Armwood, partially due to his size, is often shuttled in as a defensive replacement at crunch time down the stretch.

Scottie Reynolds isn't a bad defensive player - far from it, he's tied for the team lead in steals - but since he isn't big (the reason he didn't leave after his junior year), that's a problem for Wright at crunch time. Sometimes he'll take him out for a defensive possession and try to get him back in on offense for ballhandling, shooting, and free throws.

Some general observations, since you like to divide it up into three sections, position by position:

Wright is comfortable with a ten-man rotation, sometimes eleven, if you count Sutton, so we're really deep and we substitute a lot. Wright likes to try some traps and 3/4 court pressure. The depth also helps, because we can afford to risk some foul trouble.

Point Guards

If we get a substantial lead in the second half, it's often difficult for an opponent, because we have three point guards that we can trust with the ball (Reynolds, junior Corey Fisher, and freshman Maalik Wayns), and nearly every player (especially the point guards) are good foul shooters. (Wayns is the fastest guard we have, and is often the fastest player on the court, and he's a real spark off the bench.)

Reynolds isn't a true point, he's a combo guard, Fisher and Wayns (especially) are true point guards, although Fisher can play the "two" if necessary.

Wing Players

Redding, a senior, is primarily a defender and rebounder, who isn't expected to score, since Villanova has so many other weapons. But he is capable of filling it up. This year, despite missing a full semester, he's averaging 10 points per contest, the best of his career.

Corey Stokes, a junior, is known as the Bayonne Bomber, due to his accuracy and hometown. Stokes' specialty is perimeter shooting.

Of the two freshman wings, I discussed Armwood earlier. Dominic Cheek is another valuable bench player. He only averages 15.6 mins per game, but he had a career-high of 17 points against Rutgers on Wednesday.

The X-factor in any Villanova contest is the 6-6 wingman Taylor King. He''s playing as a sophomore, after playing at Duke as a freshman and sitting out a transfer year last year. King is fast enough to create mismatches at the four position, as a lot of "fours" can't cover him, and King can also play more than one position, so that creates defensive mismatches, also. He also is a good rebounder and has a knack for diving for loose balls (if you see a pileup on the floor, odds are King either caused it or is right in the middle of it.)

The Frontcourt

I discussed Pena, Yarou, and Sutton already....

All that having been said, we're far from invincible. In the Temple loss, we permitted the Owls to shoot 54% from the floor, 50% from beyond the arc. Free throws are a big part of our offense, and we only took 11 free throws (although we made nine). And they absolutely destroyed us on the boards, 32-24.

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