RECAP: VILLANOVA 77 - VCU 53
It was happening all over again. Villanova was 1-8 from 3PT in the first half, Darrun Hilliard missed two lay-ups and the Villanova Wildcats struggled to a meager 2 point lead at the half. Then, seemingly jinxed by the halftime comments of the commentators who said they didn't think Villanova would be broken by VCU's HAVOC defense, Villanova turned the ball over twice and let VCU make a quick 6-0 run to grab a 4 point lead 90 seconds into the second half.
Then, Villanova started making shots. The 6-0 run was met by a 16-0 run for Villanova and they never looked back. Darrun Hilliard started making his shots and JayVaughn Pinkston stepped up his offensive game to a level that Wildcat fans have long been expecting. The Blue and White turned in a balanced performance on the boards, with Daniel Ochefu pulling in 9 rebounds, JayVaughn Pinkston pulling down 7 and 5 each for Josh Hart and Daryl Reynolds. Ryan Arcidiacono shot poorly on the day but showed why his leadership means so much to this team, he dropped 9 dimes while not turning the ball over once.
Villanova may have developed an answer for the HAVOC defense. Entry passes seemed to always be to a wing or big, around the center of the back court, at a spot high enough that only they could get it. Villanova craftily and aggressively seemed to jump up to every pass they made on the inbound pass and it worked wonderfully. By creating a high point and utilizing their team-wide capable passing, the Wildcats could attack the press on either side of the Court and would not allow themselves to be trapped.
Where the Wildcats truly excelled was not rushing the ball to the hoop. Even though they might have 2 on 2 looks or even 3 on 2 looks when the press broke down, they had the patience and understanding to pull the ball out and run their half-court offense. This isn't to say the Wildcats couldn't score on the fast break, as they outscored VCU on the break by at least 15 points. What they were was patient above all else. If the break was there, they took it, if not, they set up their half-court offense. Villanova's success was based on two factors, great coaching and the execution of experienced players who have bought into the coaching with which they are blessed.
Last, in what looks to be a pervasive trend so far this season, Villanova's defense has been stellar. The Wildcats elicited 10 turnovers out of an athletic and balanced VCU squad and allowed very few easy shots to a team that moves well with and without the ball. Brionte Weber led VCU with 13 points, 2 steals and 5 rebounds. The senior point guard started hot and was one of few bright spots for the Rams.
MICHIGAN 70 - OREGON 63
In the second game of the Legends Classic, which was disappointingly not televised for this writer, Michigan outlasted Oregon 70-63 to advance to the championship against Villanova. Caris LaVert led the Wolverines with a statline of 18 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block. This was supplemented by LaVert's back court mate, who supplied an efficient 19 points and 5 rebounds himself. There is no question about the talent of the back court of the Wolverines, who never allowed their team to trail in 40 minutes of action in Brooklyn.
This game carried a lot more cache prior to the suspension of three highly touted Oregon players, former Villanova recruiting target Brandon Austin, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson following an off season rape allegation. The depleted Ducks squad was led in scoring by Joseph Young who saved a 2-9 3PT performance with an 8-8 FT showing. The Ducks will face VCU in the consolation game at 7:00 at the Barclays Center.
Hopefully by tomorrow morning, Villanova fans will be singing along to Jay-Z, "Like a mama you birth me, Brooklyn you nursed me, Schooled me with hard knocks, better than Berkeley."
It goes without saying, but Michigan and VCU are two very different teams. VCU, much like Villanova hits you with balance and pressure. They run, they press, they create havoc. The Rams run 9 or 10 players out who average over 10 minutes per game. They have five players who average over 8 points a game. Michigan meanwhile is clearly led by the big back court/wing combo of Zak Irvin and Caris LaVert. The two wing/guards who are 6'6 and 6'7 respectively can shoot, handle the ball, rebound and are big enough to take the ball inside for the easy shot.
The biggest question will be how the Wildcats can match-up with both LaVert and Irvin. At 6'6, Zak Irvin has the ability to use his 52% 3PT shooting to shoot over some of the smaller Villanova guards. It will be very important for Villanova to switch effectively on the perimeter to limit the open looks that Irvin gets from the outside. Villanova fans will have to hold their collective breath and hope that Michigan misplaces last year's Creighton game tapes this morning, because this tall, outside shooting tandem has the makings of Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge. Fortunately for Villanova, Michigan only attempts about 33% of their shots from outside, instead opting to use a half court offense to create looks closer to the basket. (For those curious, about 40% of Villanova's 234 FGA come from behind the arc.)
The essential points of this game will be, as usual for Villanova, whether than can knock down their shots and how well they can keep the Maize & Blue off balance on offense, but here's a few match ups to watch for:
Keep an eye on JayVaughn Pinkston's ability to score down low. Pinkston has excelled against smaller defenses like VCU, but his toughness and athleticism sometimes seems to vanish when facing larger, stronger opponents.
Villanova must slow down LaVert and Irvin. The Wildcats have been prone to giving up big performances to perimeter gunners, as seen by Lehigh's Austin Price scoring 24 on 4-7 3PT shooting and Bucknell's Chris Hass dropping 32 on 3-6 3PT and 9-12 FG shooting.
Last, can Daniel Ochefu take advantage of his experience and athleticism against a young Michigan frontcourt? Ochefu has shown flashes of offensive greatness in both his shooting, passing and responsible ball handling (not to mention he's improved his free throw shooting to 80% from 48% and 54% in his freshman and sophomore years!). Michigan is rebuilding their frontcourt with freshman Mark Donnal and Ricky Doyle. This could be Daniel Ochefu's breakout game.
If Villanova can get the scoring they need from JVP and 'Chef, they will win this game and many more. Win against Michigan and Villanova will emerge from the BK as a serious contender to make the Final Four. (I'd say they'd be a contender for the national championship, but at this point, does anyone see the other Wildcats, you know the ones from the Bluegrass State, going down?)
Villanova and Michigan will clash for the Legends Classic Championship at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn, NYC, NY at 10:00 P.M. and the game will be televised on ESPN 2.