Why last night's game cannot be taken at face-value, what the stat sheet won't show, and why we should still be optimistic.
Well, first and foremost... yikes.
Last night's game against the Firebirds was not pretty. There were some nice plays sprinkled into the mix but the result was largely disappointing, even after it started so well. We were up 15-2 to start the game, it seemed like we were firing on all cylinders. But then the wheels fell off the bus the same way they did the past two seasons. That was not the way freshmen students should be introduced to Villanova basketball. Let's hope it was a fluke.
I was giddy taking that frigid walk to the Pavilion, zig-zagging through the red ropes, handing over my Wildcard, and climbing into those dusty bleachers we call home. The student section was PACKED. Even the nosebleeds. It was incredible to see so many students come out for the game. The Augustinian Army handed out a cheer sheet on the way in, which was a nice idea but poorly executed. I'll quickly reiterate: if the Augustinian Army wants to influence the rest of the student section, they need vocal leaders who can actively convince 2,000 other students that cheering for the basketball team is cool.
We got out to a great start (did anyone else notice the substitution 2 minutes into the game?), but we fell apart just as hard; their zone defense gave us a lot of trouble. I don't see this being a recurring issue as long as we can shoot the ball (fingers crossed). Some of our players seemed tentative to take shots, and as the season goes on that won't be the case.
More importantly, our own defense needs to improve. Our big men got stuck covering perimeter players too often, and we paid for it. Several deep shots were hit over Ochefu. Again, not a huge problem; defense is a team concept that will develop as players get more comfortable with each other.
Dunking is a major issue for our big men. In the first 10 minutes, Mouphtaou Yarou got swatted 3 times because he was trying to lay the ball off the glass. Then he and Sutton started trying to dunk, and they each had an embarrassing miss (classic Mo-Mo). I've never seen such big centers dunk less. My roommate and I watched the Kentucky-Maryland game after we got back, and in a span of 10 minutes there were at least 4 dunks. Last night, we had one dunk. Our centers have to slam it home more if we are going to win (or if you want to get to the NBA, Mouph).
On the bright side, Ryan Arcidiacono looked legitimate. He can handle, shoot, pass - he's the whole package. And he looks like a leader. He was very vocal on the floor, guiding players and running plays. I saw him pull teammates aside on more than one occasion to offer encouragement or explain a play. He's like Dallas Ouano reincarnated but with a jump-shot... and court vision... and dribble penetration...
Darren Hilliard has some swagger this season too. His confidence is back. He doesn't have that killer instinct where you know he wants the ball in his hands, but when he does have it, he looks good and can knock down shots.
Mislav Brzoja also impressed me (although spell-checker hates his name). During his short stint on the floor, he was cool as a cucumber. No nervousness at all. He's relatively big and physical, he has a better handle than I thought he did, and his defense isn't bad. Keep an eye on him going forward.
As every home game ends, we sang the fight song with the team. The looks on the faces of the basketball team showed that they knew they put up a stinker. They knew they have work to do. And in a semi-comical manner, Dylan Ennis was all smiles. He was elated to be a part of Villanova basketball, even in a shirt and tie. As he came out before the game, he paused and stared up at the student section to be greeted by cheers and shoutouts, to which he beamed and waved. That kid is going to be a player next year. He could be the type of Villanova guard we've been missing.
But let's put this all into perspective. While we were up only 9 points against UDC, UConn (in a down-year) was beating the 14th ranked Michigan State by 2. And let's remember that UDC is a D-II team, people. The game did not go how anybody wanted or expected. I saw JW scream at the players more than once (I would be hot under the collar too if I was wearing a 3-piece suit in that arena). It's worth mentioning that we beat Monmouth 91-58 last season, and that was no indication of how the season was going to go. Anyway, this game needs to serve as a wake-up for the team. I know Coach won't let the team be complacent, and I think the (unexpected) leaders will snap the rest into shape. We won't really know what we have until Big East play starts, but Marshall will show us something. Hopefully it's a step in the right direction.
P.S. If you were at the game, I was the guy in the halftime contest. Yes, I missed my layup. Please give me as much flack as possible for that. I played 15 years of organized basketball, I should be better than that. Sorry Coach Silvio.