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End of December Thoughts

Big EastNow that the out-of-conference schedule is taken care of and the Big East portion of the season is about to begin, this is a good time to re-evaluate what the team has done and what we can expect it to do going ahead.

We are 11-1, and despite that loss to Temple (PANIC!), things are generally looking rosy in Villanova, PA. This isn't the team that we thought we would have right now, but it's a very good team.

We came into this year thinking that Mouph Yarou would not only be playing basketball, but most likely he would be starting (and dominating) in our frontcourt. We thought that the bench included two walk-on players (and the more minutes they get, the larger our margin of victory). Injury and personal concerns have shortened our bench and re-shaped our lineup early in the season.

What went wrong:

Reggie Redding was suspended before practice even started. His off-the-court incident was an example of kids being kids. It made a lot of people unhappy and hopefully he learned something from the matter. He missed about a third of the schedule because of this suspension, including a loss to Temple where he was sorely needed to guard the perimeter and grab some rebounds. Last year Redding was a defensive presence who helped lead the team in playing "Villanova Basketball."

Mouph Yarou fell ill with Hepatitis and can potentially be out for the remainder of the season. In fact, it is most likely that you won't see another minute out of Yarou before November comes around again.

Mouph's injury forced Isaiah Armwood into a bigger role in a number of games, as Mo Sutton lead the team in personal fouls. He's clearly a basketball talent (hitting the game-winner vs. George Mason), and a very good athlete, but like Sutton, his body probably isn't big enough to handle life in the Big East paint just yet.

Defensive struggles... You saw them against Temple, and they really settled in when you read Mike's post about where we ranked statistically. We have continued our tendency to allow a wide open three-point shooter and we were burned by that at least once. With Sutton trending toward a reputation of quickly picking up fouls, we have had to make do without his presence inside, which doesn't help the defense overall. Pomeroy has ranked us 91st so far in defense, and while I don't think it is time to panic just yet, we certainly shouldn't be on top of that list.

Those defensive issues have caused us to allow some teams (George Mason, Temple, etc.) to hang around for too long and ultimately beat us. They have also caused, in my opinion, our offense to try to force shots to come back and cover up for defensive mistakes. That rushed style of play has made us look sloppy and hasn't helped us gain control of games.

Jason Colenda left the team to concentrate on academic concerns. He'll be missed when we really want to rub it in that we're better than DePaul, probably. This wasn't a major moment for most people, because it probably shouldn't be. Colenda earned his spot on the bench by being one of our best practice players, however, and in that capacity he will be sorely missed.

What went right:

Antonio Pena is a completely different player than he was last year. Far more productive, Pena averaged a double-double in the early going of the season and is currently still averaging around 13 points and 9 rebounds per game. Not quite Dante Cunningham (circa 2008/2009), but far more production than most of us expected from him. He's capable of punishing defenses that ignore him and has been a solid defensive presence as well.

Reggie Redding's suspension ended. He's back people! In two games (a small sample size made worse by the fact that we were playing two awful teams), he  is averaging 15.5 points (second only to Scottie), 7.5 rebounds (second only to Pena), 2.5 assists (third), as well as shooting 75% from the floor and perfect from the free-throw line. Reggie is back with a vengeance, and hopefully his success will help carry us through the Big East.

The new guys: Wayns came into this year with a great working knowledge of Jay Wright's system and strategies, and he has been putting that to use since day one. He's still a freshman PG, but coming off the bench allows him some room to grow this year, and he has generally looked good.

Dominic Cheek has had his ups and downs offensively, but had generally seemed to be a solid defender and appears very willing to buy into Jay Wright's defense early on.

Mo Sutton has been starting games, and had a good run of won-tip-offs starting in Puerto Rico. Most of us expected him to be keeping the bench warm for most of the season, but Yarou's illness has foisted him into the starting lineup and he has (mostly) responded well. He still has a ways to go to mature and improve his game, however.

By the way... who knew that Taylor King could rebound? He's third on the team in that category, and if we take Redding out of the equation (since he's only played two games vs. cupcakes) TK is second only to Pena. You have to love what King is bringing to the table so far on the defensive end, and he has shown an ability to be a very capable catch-and-shoot scorer as well. I think he may need to go back to basics on his lay-ups and dunks, but I guess when you can hit a jumper as well as TK, anything less would be uncivilized.

The Triangle-and-2 defense has also been going right recently. Jay Wright is known for his normally unflagging support for man-to-man defense. In fact, last year he rode that defense, and a very intense group of kids, all the way to the Final Four. With that defensive scheme failing from time, however, it appears that Coach has prepared a backup plan. We certainly saw a bit of it against Delaware, and it would seem that Jay is going to be ready to deploy this scheme as needed.

The concept combines man-to-man defense with a zone defense in the middle of the half-court. Two players are assigned to man-coverage on the best two players of the other team. This works particularly well when those two players are guards, of course. By covering those players closely you can limit them offensively, and play to the defensive strengths of players like Reggie Redding. The other three defenders form a triangular zone defense inside the perimeter, with points of the triangle being near the free throw line, and near the edge of the paint on the baseline. If the opposing team has more than two scorers of note, however, this system may not be as effective as a straight man-to-man.

It is not a defense that we should expect to see more than a few times over the rest of the season, but it's deployment in the early going shows that Coach Wright is interested in trying some different schemes when necessary to accommodate different match-ups.

Thoughts and Generalizations:

Is this the Villanova Basketball we remember from last year's tournament run? Clearly it is not. We could go through a laundry list of differences between the two teams, but it is important to remember that this time last year none of us expected a Final Four berth. We suffered a scare against American University in the first round last year before the team finally settled down and played 40 minutes of Villanova basketball.

The more experienced players have looked generally pretty good. The younger ones have made their rookie mistakes. This isn't a veteran team, so we should expect a few more growing pains in the Big East schedule. We will NOT win every conference game.

Can we win a lot of them? Absolutely. Most of them? Very likely. Enough to make the NCAA tournament? Almost certainly... and that's what matters. The Big East schedule will force these kids into shape. By tournament time, they should all have figured out how to play this game the way we did against UCLA and Duke last year. By March they will have seen what happens when you play lackadaisical defense and take too many bad shots. They will learn to appreciate that although athleticism gives them an advantage, that it does not excuse them from fundamentals. They will have learned to have the Attitude of a Champion.™

Don't expect the moon and the stars as you settle down to watch the Big East games, but expect to see a team that will improve with every game. Isn't that all we can really ask for?

Edits (2:15pm): I made some changes on based on comments from Ed '77.