Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On the See-Saw: Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher

One goes up, the other goes down. One plays well, the other disappears.

Yesterday, I detailed that the root cause of Villanova's problems has been the failure of Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher to play well at the same time. And guess what? That trend continued yet again last night in the 93-72 blowout loss at Notre Dame.

Rebounding from his back-to-back dreadful outings, Corey Fisher led Villanova with 22 points. But just as Fisher had a bounce-back game, Corey Stokes went missing again, finishing with just 9 points on 3-8 shooting. Uncoincidentally, Nova lost yet again. Like I said, both Coreys have to play well for this team to win, especially against tough opponents.

To be fair, the Wildcats didn't just lose because the two senior guards can't get on the same page. Far from it. Notre Dame ran Villanova right out of the gym from the opening tip on. Before you could blink, the Irish were up 20 points, and the lead grew to 30 at times. Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough combined for 60 points, each netting 30, and that performance by Hansbrough just may have won him Big East Player of the Year.

Not only did Hansbrough have 30 points while shooting 8-12 from the field, 7-10 from three and 7-7 from the line, but he added 10 assists and 5 steals. Beyond that, he was the one who set the tempo. Hansbrough came out aggressive and took it to Nova, and the Irish followed suit. The enduring highlight of the game — a game in which Notre Dame made a record 20 threes (11 in the first half) — to me was Hansbrough nailing a deep three from the shamrock right in Maalik Wayns' grill. It must have been 30 feet out. And he drilled it no problem.

His performance had the makings of the POY, no doubt about it. I know Dwight Hardy has been fantastic. I just watched Hardy and Hansbrough lead blowout wins against Villanova, and both the Irish and the Red Storm are in a position no one thought they'd be in. Hell, back before the season started, St. John's and Notre Dame weren't ranked and were nothing but afterthoughts in the Big East with teams like Pitt, UConn, Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown getting all the preseason love. But largely because of Hardy and Hansbrough, St. John's and Notre Dame are in prime position for the double bye in the Big East Tournament.

I think after watching both Hardy and Hansbrough light up Nova in a span of three days, I'd give the edge to Hansbrough. Notre Dame absolutely had to win to have any shot at the regular-season Big East title, and they had to do it against a Villanova team that desperately needed a win of any kind. And Hansbrough just blew Nova out of the water. If ND takes care of business at UConn Saturday and Pitt falters in one of its last two games — at South Florida and vs. Villanova — the Irish get the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament. Hansbrough is the biggest reason why.

He certainly set the tone last night, and he helped illuminate Nova's weaknesses even further. Beyond Stokes and Fisher failing to get on the same page, Villanova simply isn't playing Villanova basketball. Under Jay Wright, the Wildcats have been a gritty defensive team that attacks on offense. All of that has vanished as the losses have piled up.

Nova can't defend anyone right now. During this three-game losing streak, Nova's opponents are shooting a combined 49 percent from the field and 49 percent from three. In the last two, they've surrendered 30 three-pointers, with St. John's and Notre Dame making 56 percent from distance combined. The defense has been completely embarrassing.

And the lack of defense has been compounded by lazy, inconsistent offense. Villanova has built its offense under Wright on penetrating, getting to the line and kicking the ball to open guys. Anymore, all Nova does is launch contested jumpers and play one-on-one, rarely penetrating and rarely getting to the line. Further, Antonio Pena has completely disappeared, reverting back to the player he was before this year. That surprising jumper that he was making with regularity early on is nowhere to be found. Mouphtaou Yarou, after a stretch of really strong play, has been limited, and he's making a habit of getting dangerously close to 3-second calls.

Maalik Wayns has been streaky ever since his injury. James Bell basically sucks. And Dominic Cheek still hasn't been able to nail down the shooting stroke he had in high school.

With all that going on, Nova needs Stokes and Fisher more than ever. They're the seniors. They're the scorers. They're the guys who are supposed to be taking these young players and putting them on their backs. But that simply hasn't been the case.

There's a lot wrong with Villanova right now, but it starts with Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. This team takes their cues from those two seniors. If the Wildcats have any hope of turning things around and salvaging what began as a great season, Stokes and Fisher have to both play well. If they do, the others will more than likely follow suit.

They have just one more chance in the regular season, but it's the type of opportunity that could turn everything around. A win at Pitt could put all these late-season troubles behind them and propel the Wildcats for strong Big East and NCAA tournament runs. And the only way they'll win is for Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher to set the tone and play to their capabilities. Otherwise, this runaway freight train is bound to derail.


  1. I won't use last night as a glaring example of what's been wrong with Villanova this year. By your own admission, they were behind so quick that even if Stokes and Fisher did play well at the same time, they woulda got their asses whooped anyway. ND was just that good last night.

  2. Yeah, last night even if Stokes got hot, ND was too good. But if you look back during this streak, Nova has only lost two times when Stokes and Fisher each get in double figures. That's telling, especially when you consider those two really set the tempo for the team.

    If Stokes and Fisher are playing well, the rest of the team usually plays well too. They gotta get going at the same time or else Nova is cooked.