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February 20, 2010

Those Villanova bastards had nearly a week to think, plan and get ready for Sunday’s games. To say nothing of  putting last year’s Elite 8 game on loop and sitting down in a dark room with some lotion and a box of tissues. But, I’m not bitter.

Anyways, I was contacted early by two fine ‘Nova blogs: I Bleed Blue And White (which I imagine confuses and pisses off a lot of Penn State fans once they realize it isn’t for Lions) and Villanova Viewpoint. They had nothing better to do since the Wildcats had the rest of the week off.

You can find my answers to their questions here and here. Some of my answers are probably shorter than they should have been, because I had some 13 or 14 questions in total to respond to with very little time. For that I apologize. Here are their responses to my questions.

1. Do you still send Thank You notes to Kelvin Sampson for bailing on Oklahoma and getting Scottie Reynolds? Do you ever consider alternate realities where Sampson stayed at Oklahoma and the different path of Villanova? [Editor’s note: I have a longstanding view that Kelvin Sampson is a 3d-party demon scourge of Pitt. He bailed on Oklahoma to send Reynolds to ‘Nova. His phone call problems freed Ebanks from Indiana to go to WVU. Plus he used those excessive calls to try and lure DeJuan Blair. A devil, I say. A devil!]

IBBW: Kelvin’s mailbox at the start of every hoops season probably floods like Santa’s around Christmas time. I can’t thank that cheating bastard enough for what he has done to my life. It’s still amazing to think about what could have been if that chain of events hadn’t happened.

Believe me, all Villanova fans understand what Scottie Reynolds has done for this program, and there’s even people who think his jersey should already hang in the rafters at The Pavilion. As far as alternate realities go, it’s a scary thought. He was a bridge between great recruiting classes. He carried the program by himself for a couple years.

VV: The counterfactual, what-if, scenario of Reynolds going to Oklahoma and us not getting Reynolds as a result, is a highly intriguing one….

Certainly, had we not ended up with Reynolds, I think that we would have ended up with a decent player, to take up all those minutes in our backcourt. Although this hypothetical player would probably not have been a McDonald’s All-American, who scored over 2,000 points, with an outside chance of surpassing Kerry Kittles as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and a knack for coming up huge at crunch time.

Obviously, I think that the Pitt alternate fate would have been fundamentally altered with this scenario – as we wouldn’t have gotten a #3 seed in the tournament, wouldn’t have lasted as long, and certainly wouldn’t have ended up edging the Panthers in the Elite Eight… A great question, for speculation…

2. Gasaway had an article after the UConn loss discussing Villanova’s propensity to foul. What do you see as the reason for this and how concerned are you over this?

VV: I think that Gasaway makes a valid point, and he’s certainly done the quantitative analysis to back up his conclusions.

As to why we do this – I’d cite the following factors-

Wright likes to play really aggressive defense – even when we don’t have a deep rotation, such as last season. (We really only had eight players in the rotation, despite going to the Final Four.) However, this year, we go 11 deep. Since fatigue is less of a factor, and foul trouble tends to well distributed among so many players, we can afford to make some careless and gambling fouls without killing our chances of victory.

Even outside of Gasaway’s analysis, we are extremely vulnerable to foul trouble in two areas – the frontcourt, and Reynolds. We cannot afford to get Reynolds into foul trouble. Jay will occasionally take him out on defensive possessions, as he’s not an especially good defender, anyway, to try to protect him.

As for the frontcourt – Antonio Pena, the 8th man in last year’s 8-man rotation, has become the go-to guy underneath. He’s the only player in the rotation with the size to bang inside and finish, once we get the ball in the paint. If he gets into foul trouble, that’s a major problem.

We have Taylor King, our sixth man, who is sort of our jack-of-all-trades, who can play more than one position, and create mismatches since he can shoot from the perimeter. But after those two, the quality of the frontcourt falls dramatically. We have a freshman center, Mouphtaou Yarou, but he’s not very polished on offense, and Maurice Sutton, a redshirt freshman, who really is just in there to defend and block shots.

So if you guys get Reynolds and/or Pena in foul trouble, you have a good opening against us.

IBBW: Inexperience is the biggest factor. We were solid defensively last year because we had 4 guys (the seniors and Redding) who were all A+ defenders. This year we’ve got Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena. That’s about it. Everyone else is in scramble mode a lot. Many blame that on the press (which is probably fair).

All in all, I don’t think Jay Wright cares about foul trouble because truthfully, it doesn’t matter as we run 11 deep, but the discrepancy in free throws in our losses is hard to ignore.

3. Villanova plays a lot of guys. Texas has failed miserably at that as the season went on. What has been the secret of ‘Nova’s continued success in playing so many players? Do you see the bench shortening as February closes? If so, who loses minutes?

IBBW: Jay Wright has gotten the players to buy into a certain role. He never promises guys that they’ll show up and be the man. He lets you know that you’ll play, but you have a certain role to fill. Because the players have bought into that, they’re happy and are having fun. Plus, the players are competing against each other for minutes, and that keeps everyone on their toes.

I do see the bench shortening eventually. I think Mo Sutton will lose some minutes, and we’ve already seen Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek losing some minutes recently. I think Mouph Yarou’s will actually increase as we realize we need another big body down low. But I do think we’ll still go at least 10 deep every game from here on out.

VV: I wish I could come up with a concrete answer for that, in terms of the secret. Wright added a blue-chip recruiting class, but all four of the true freshmen have been content with their supporting roles. In addition, King and Sutton became available, after sitting out last season (King was a transfer from Duke, and Sutton was redshirting). So in one season, we’ve added six players, after losing only three – Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark.

But everyone seems happy. There are no complaints about playing time that I’m aware of. I think that in this case, to use the cliche – winning solves everything. If you are only playing 10 minutes a game, but you’re on a Top 5 team, you’re a lot more willing to accept it than if we were on the bubble fighting for a NCAA bid.

In terms of who’s losing minutes – freshman Maalik Wayns, a point guard, has been playing markedly less, recently. Another freshman, Isaiah Armwood, has seen increasingly more minutes, as he’s a 6-7 forward who excels at defense, and Wright has been using him more and more.

4. With only a few losses at this point it isn’t easy to find the weaknesses or “fatal flaws” of ‘Nova. What would you say are the primary concerns you have with the team?

VV: I believe that our central weaknesses are:

a) fouling too much;

b) not having a dominant post player (Pena is the closest thing we have, but he’s really a “four”… and Yarou, although a “five”, is still a supporting player.)

c) lack of depth in the frontcourt (which I discussed in some detail above.)

So the way to beat us is:

a) get our key players in foul trouble;

and/or

b) have a great inside game, based around a dominant post player that we can’t stop, unless we foul him.

Another concern is that our three losses have not been buzzer-beaters. All three of the teams that have beaten us – Temple, Georgetown, and UConn – have dominated the three games that they won. They didn’t have nerve-wracking endings, in any way, shape, or form.

They did not annihilate us, but they were solid victories, in which the opponent had a significant single-digit (and in some cases, double-digit) lead throughout the second half. So it’s not just that we’re not invincible. You can beat us, and actually beat us pretty solidly. Three teams have already done it, without miracle shots.

IBBW: Our defense has been miserable for a while. We foul way too much and against teams that hit their free throws, it puts us in a huge hole. Other than that, it’s the lack of a proven presence other than Antonio Pena down low. I’m not sure how long we can continue to get by with just him. Mouph Yarou, though only a freshman, needs to step up, and we’ve seen some flashes lately.

Oh yeah, and for having two of the most well known snipers in the country (Stokes and King), they’ve been shooting it like they’re blind. Fellas, please find your stroke.

5. Congrats on the 1-AA football championship. Any chance you guys are going to make the leap to 1-A status?

IBBW: Too early to tell. The BIG EAST apparently wants us to, but there are several things that stand in our way. Our stadium is actually big enough for FBS status, but I don’t think the BIG EAST would be happy with a 15,000 seat stadium. And we’re between a rock and a hard place if we want to expand that. We can’t build up because of the town laws, but we could probably get it to 25-30,000 with some endzone seating. Or, rent out The Linc with Temple or build a stadium off campus.

Alumni support is another issue. Would I buy season tickets if we went to the big leagues? Absolutely. Would everyone else? Who knows. It’s definitely being talked about though, but is definitely a few years off from reality. Another national title or two in the next few years and the talk will get louder.

And in case you were looking for a prediction for the game tomorrow, I’ve got 1 technical for Jay Wright, 5 Pitt students ejected, and a Wildcats 71-67 victory.

VV: Thanks for the well-wishes on the football national championship. Andy Talley has run a great program for many years here, after we dropped football completely, and he’s a first-class guy, who has sent Brian Westbrook and Brian Finneran to the NFL.

However, I think – although I can never say never – that the chances that we would ever upgrade to Division I football are very low. There are a couple of long-term factors working against the idea:

a) Temple’s attempt at the revival of big-time football, although it had a great season this year, suffered many years of embarrassing losses and little fan support, playing in front of empty stadiums. I think that there might be a fear of big-time Villanova football suffering the same fate.

We haven’t had big-time college football in metro Philadelphia for a while (except for Penn State partisans, of course). I’m not sure that there’s enough fan interest to make big-time Villanova football competitive in a BCS conference.

b) My understanding is that the NCAA requires a 30,000-seat stadium for Division I status. Our on-campus stadium would have to be drastically expanded, to conform to that requirement. That would be not only extremely expensive, but would draw the political ire of residents in the upscale suburbs, in which Villanova’s campus is located. They’ve made it very clear that they would oppose any efforts to expand the stadium, stage big-time football with big crowds, and the like.

The only alternative would be to play at Franklin Field at Penn, or at Lincoln Financial Field – but it’s not likely that we would attract crowds to fill those stadiums, we would not be able to offer students on-campus excitement, and we’d also have to rent the stadiums.

c) That having been said, we have to consider scenarios, in which we might be required to do so, in order to retain full Big East membership and/or keep the core of the conference intact. The 2003 realignment has put everyone here very much on notice, in terms of the long-term viability of the Big East (and accordingly, our own survival as a basketball power).

Would we willing to go to Division I, play at Franklin Field or the Linc, suffer through 2-9 or 3-8 seasons for a while, in order to keep our seat at the table in basketball? Perhaps. One factor might be basketball’s success. The more money basketball brings in, the more there would be to play with, in terms of subsidizing football, and if you have an expanded fan base for basketball, presumably some of them would be willing to embrace Villanova football, too.

We did have big-time football, many decades ago, but it withered, much in the same way that it did at all of other Catholic schools, other than Notre Dame and Boston College. But who’s to say that it can’t be revived?

You never know. (I never would have imagined that BC would suddenly decide to abandon the Big East and join the ACC, where the nearest opponent is in College Park, Maryland – but that happened, obviously…)

Thanks to both Villanova Viewpoint and I Bleed Blue and White for making me put a lot more thought into this game than I would have preferred.





Thanks for putting it to Villanova that the situation for the football schools is bad. The Wildcats could help remedy that by stepping up to the FBS. You also state that if invited to the Big 11 Pitt will go. That’s the opinion of everyone it seems. Barry Alvarez says the Big Ten is looking at possibly 15 schools. Pitt is no doubt one of them.

Comment by TonyinHouston 02.21.10 @ 6:35 am

I saw Villanova give Pitt a competitive game at Pitt stadium in the late 90s when an unkown back named Brian Westbrook made a few really big plays. And for that matter, they were every bit as good as USF and UConn at that time.

However, the responses by their bloggers were accurate .. stadium issues, playing in a pro town, etc Nova is a small private, urban, Catholic school … pretty much cookie cutter for the original BE BB conference. While now would be as good as time as ever to step up to the FBS, I doubt that the admin there would seriously consider it.

Comment by wbb 02.21.10 @ 8:19 am

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