Monday, December 2, 2013

Villanova Stuns Kansas, Goes on to Win Battle 4 Atlantis

This past week Villanova traveled down to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. The Wildcats' journey through the tournament led them to a Friday night semifinal showdown against second-ranked Kansas. I love Villanova basketball, and even I thought that the Cats had a 0% chance of winning that game. Kansas was just too talented, and especially too big, for the Wildcats to have a shot to compete with the Jayhawks.

And five minutes into the game, my lack of confidence was being justified. 'Nova trailed 11-2 and was something like 0-7 from the field. I was prepared to take in a long, frustrating game. Even though I had no expectations for the game, it is never fun to watch your team get completely out-classed and overwhelmed.

But then things started to change. A couple buckets went down. The team seemed to settle in a little bit. Slowly you could feel the tide start to change, and that change was reflected on the scoreboard. That early 11-2 deficit turned into a 29-22 Villanova lead at the half. As cold and out of sync as 'Nova was to start the game, Kansas was to end the half.

Much credit goes to coach Jay Wright for the turnaround. For much of the half, Villanova played a hounding, smothering, three-quarter court trap. The trap was effective at forcing turnovers, and even when it didn’t force a turnover, it never allowed Kansas to get into the flow of their offense. Stan Van Gundy, who was calling the game for NBCSN (and who did a fantastic job by the way), mentioned how Kansas is used to teams sagging off of them and allowing them to move the ball freely and shoot the jumper, choosing to force them to make jump shots rather than give their incredible athletes an opportunity to drive to the basket or to dump the ball into their post players, where against many college teams they have a sizable size advantage. Sizable size advantage, that sounds weird, but I digress.

Villanova would have none of that, instead pressuring to the max, making Kansas work to get the ball up the court and guarding super tight, which forced freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins into several traveling turnovers.

So at halftime, my whole perspective changed. My team had a seven-point lead. I certainly wasn’t putting the W in the bag, but I was feeling confident and letting myself entertain thoughts of an upset.

The second half was a half of runs, with the teams taking turns bursting and then answering. 'Nova had managed to increase its halftime lead to 11 with about 7 minutes remaining, but the lead evaporated following a 13-1 Kansas run. The Wildcats looked out of gas, and with the frenetic defensive pace they were playing in the first half, no one could blame them.

With the lead relinquished, I had lost all hope. In the end, Goliath was too big, too strong. My team had put up a valiant effort, acquitted themselves well, given hope for the rest of the season, but an upset was not in the cards. I won’t let such doubt absorb me when it comes to this team anymore.

With 13 seconds remaining, Villanova was inbounding the ball from its offensive baseline. Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis had been the best outside performers for the Cats all night, so I expected the ball to go to one of them and let them make a play, or send it inside to JayVaughn Pinkston. Instead, sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono (who hadn’t made a shot from the field all night and had just one point on a free-throw in the opening minutes) curled off of a couple screens to come free near the corner. He caught the pass, rose up and drained a three-pointer to give Villanova a two-point lead. I was going wild, but there were still 10 seconds left and a plethora of talented Kansas players who could make a play. But Frank Mason missed a three-pointer, James Bell got the rebound, and he iced the game with two clutch free throws with just seconds left.

It was an incredible game, and I was going wild. Villanova is now 4-1 in its last five games against top-5 opponents.

One other tactical move I want to point out besides the trap is the decision to front the post most of the game. Villanova was outsized at two and sometimes three positions the entire game. Obviously there would be times where Kansas tried to exploit that. And on countless occasions, you would see a Kansas guard holding the ball, looking into the post. And you would see a smaller Villanova player fronting his man, denying an entry pass. It proved to be effective throughout most of the game, and I thought it was another great call by coach Wright. And props to freshman Josh Hart, who spent much of his night doing the dirty work down in the post defensively, and who did a great job.

Villanova moved on to face 23rd-ranked Iowa in the championship game. I didn’t know what to expect after the energy that had been expended the night before. After a solid start, turnovers started to plague the Wildcats and they fell behind.

Somehow the Wildcats were able to erase a 15-point second-half deficit to force overtime and managed to pull out a gutty overtime victory to claim the Battle 4 Atlantis championship.

Villanova fans have to be incredibly proud of the toughness and energy their team was able to show in two hard-fought games on back-to-back nights. It is a great asset to have two quality wins, including a signature win, just seven games into the season. With their great run in the Bahamas, Villanova has gone from unranked to 19th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 14th in the AP poll. The rest of the season should be pretty damn exciting.

1 comment:

  1. I was saying today, it seems like with little expectations and less notoriety this season, Jay Wright is just back to coaching basketball. Since that Final Four run, he's been all over the place doing press and getting pulled in every which way, rumors of moving to the NBA, etc. Now with Nova having less buzz and his name popping up less, Wright is focusing on what he's so good at - coaching basketball. Certainly looks like this team has great chemistry and knows how to play. Should be fun to watch.