The game started 14 minutes late due to Miami-Ohio vs. Ohio University's high stakes MAC matchup of two teams whose collective record was 7-15. This delay was much to the chagrin of Michigan head coach John Beilein, whose primary concern was "players with 9 A.M. classes." Although to Beilein's credit, he did not go as far as blaming his team's loss on the 14 minute delay.
How they Won:
Villanova rode a cohesive effort to a narrow victory that could have gone either way going into the final minute of the match. The Wildcats pulled together in their 60-55 victory over Michigan on Tuesday night at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn, NYC. JayVaughn Pinkston's performance in the final minutes along with Ryan Arcidiacono's free throw shooting paved the way and cemented Villanova's place in the top 10 for the next few weeks. With about 24 seconds remaining, Villanova called time out after grabbing a rebound on Mark Donnal's missed free throw. Villanova set up a play and JVP nailed a short jumper to give Villanova a 56-55 lead with 16 seconds remaining that they refused to relinquish. A few seconds later, off a baseline inbound pass, JVP (who was guarding the inbound passer) spun around to lay a block on Zak Irvin that should not soon be forgotten. If you haven't seen it yet, here you go.
Where they Excelled:
Villanova again put in a cohesive effort on the glass and on defense. For the first ten minutes of the game, Villanova seemed to be a step behind on defense, but that quickly changed with around 11:40 left in the 1st half when Kris Jenkins picked up steal on the wing. Sooner or later, teams are going to realize they need to keep the ball out of the corners when Villanova is in their half-court defense. The Wildcats have made a living with the trap of opposing team's wings and breaking out from there with the ball. The most impressive thing might have been that Villanova didn't send Michigan to the free throw line once in the first half and only 5 times in the second half. To play defense as aggressively as Villanova did and only send a team like Michigan to the line 5 times in an entire game is no small feat.
Villanova's second strength was their rebounding, a battle they won 35-31. There is no one true glass-polishing player on the Wildcats this season and for Villanova fans, that's a great thing. Tuesday night, JayVaughn Pinkston grabbed 9 boards to lead the way for Villanova, but the starting 5 as a whole averaged about 4.8 rebounds per person. Josh Hart chipped in with 8 rebounds of his own and continues to be an absolute force on the offensive boards, where he accounted for 4 of the Wildcats' 8 OREB. What is most amazing is his timing which allows him to get the put-back, something he's done at clutch moments in multiple games now this year. There may not be another player in the NCAA this year who attacks the offensive glass like Hart.
Where Villanova did fall short was their ball possession in this game. The periods where they fell behind were when they were having some turnover issues. Daniel Ochefu, who had a solid game, especially on defense, turned the ball over four times. Sadly, this harkens back to one of Ochefu's biggest issues from his earlier years, where he could not seem to hold on to the ball. Nonetheless, 'Chef turned in a solid night with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. The Wildcats could have used a little more aggression on the blocks from Ochefu and Pinkston against Michigan's inexperienced big men. While they didn't assert themselves as aggressively as the Nova Nation might have hoped, they were able to get what they needed to win.
The Wildcats were led in scoring by Dylan Ennis, who won the tournament MVP award. Ennis contributed 15 points on 3-6 from behind the arc. More than that, Ennis had 2 blocks, 2 steals and 3 rebounds. The only person who should have been considered for the MVP award was JVP. Pinkston (who had two blocks, 16 rebounds and 23 points in two games) cannot be simply defined by his stats. His defensive awareness to spin and lay a block on Zak Irvin won this game for Villanova. This was certainly a far better homecoming for the Brooklyn native than Darrun Hilliard had in Allentown two weeks ago.
One last observation of the Blue and White has to be at the incredible balance between the 'Cat's first 7 players. Only Arcidiacono averages over 30 minutes a game and they all average over 19 minutes per game. All seven players score between 7.2 and 13 points per game. They switch, they rotate, they defend inside and out, they dribble, they pass. The Villanova Wildcats have truly bought into Jay Wright's mentality that there are no individual positions, just 5 "basketball players." It's going to be very exciting to see where this team can go.
The Wildcats head into a 5 day layoff for the holiday, not returning to action until November 30 against a rebuilding Delaware. Hopefully in that time Darrun Hilliard can find his shot. Another 1-7 performance from Hilliard on Tuesday night leaves him shooting 32% from the field and 17.4% from behind the arc. This is astonishing considering last year Hilliard finished with career bests of 48.6% from the field and 41.4% from three point land. It will be interesting to see how Jay Wright and Baker Dunleavy handle the Hilliard predicament over the next two weeks.