Busting Brackets

Big East Basketball: Assessing Game - Management & Situational Awareness Moment in U'Conn/Nova bout

Connecticut v Villanova : The Cats' speedy combo-guard, Mark Armstrong, has devastating handles & impressive hops; not to mention some serious range w/ his jumper
Connecticut v Villanova : The Cats' speedy combo-guard, Mark Armstrong, has devastating handles & impressive hops; not to mention some serious range w/ his jumper / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

Facing a one-point deficit with 34.6 seconds left in the game, Kyle Neptune and his Villanova Wildcats were not in possession of the ball and they had to come up with a plan for their upcoming defensive-stand. Given the fact that the game’s score read 61-60 as U’Conn was preparing to in-bound the ball, it’s safe to say we were watching a typical, Big East game. In other words, points weren’t easy to come by and a low-scoring, defensive battle was clearly taking place.

With both teams engaged in serious talks about the upcoming pivotal-possession, the viewership’s attention shifted to FS1 and the airing network’s duo of in-game announcers, Alex Faust and Jim Spanarkel. Oddly enough, the two talking heads agreed that the trailing Wildcats and their defense had only one choice once play-resumed with 34.6 seconds remaining.


While I understand perfectly well (what) the fouling-tactic’s merits (are) and how they apply in this specific situation, taking this route was not a “must” for Villanova. According to Alex and Jim, the Wildcats had to extend the game by choosing to foul. Given that a foul would’ve put a U’Conn shooter on the free-throw line for 2 free-throws; meaning ‘Nova’s tenth team-foul would’ve been committed and triggered a non 1-&-1 situation, I don’t really understand how you can reach the conclusion that fouling here was the only way to go. As for the ‘Cats; who did decide to foul almost immediately after the ball was inbounded & with 29 seconds left, they effectively handed U’Conn an easy opportunity to increase their lead.

Including the three seasons he spent on the Pirate’s roster at East Carolina before transferring, U’Conn’s Tristen Newton is a (career-) 83 percent free-throw shooter who’s been shooting free-throws at a clip of 79 percent for the 2023-‘24 Huskies. Yeah, it’s safe to say Villanova had (other) options besides fouling & fouling Newton, of all players, in the final 34.6 seconds of regulation. Still, you could argue ‘Nova made a decent decision by fouling Newton with 29 seconds left.

Then again, ‘Nova was fortunate that the U’Conn guard drained just one of those two free throws and was only able to increase his team’s advantage to a deuce. After Newton went 1-for-2 at the line and moved the game’s score to 62-60 in his team’s favor, Villanova advanced the ball down the court, turned the ball over to U’Conn with 19 seconds remaining via Moore’s questionable offensive foul, and never came within a point of the visitors again; or until it was inconsequential (via Armstrong’s 3 at the buzzer).

Knowing the Huskies would’ve had to let it fly before the shot-clock expired with 4.6 seconds left (from 34.6), Neptune could’ve told his troops to hang in there by not fouling and playing defense like they would on any other possession; making sure they take care of the glass once that inevitable shot goes up. But, adopting that strategy runs the risk of not getting the crucial offensive-rebound or not getting it until the game clock hits less than 4 seconds; leaving very little time for a full-court play that could win them the game.

Also, U’Conn might hit a 3-ball in that situation; increasing their lead to (4 or) a two-possession ball game which would’ve been untenable for the ‘Cats. In an end-of-game situation like that, David Hurley and Kyle Neptune have options; unless the latter decides to play the fouling game, limiting the former’s options. Had I been in Neptune’s shoes, I’d play it (more) straight-up; telling my guys no-threes and find a body when that shot goes up. By not fouling, I’m sending a message to Hurley that says:

“You guys have 30 seconds to do what you will and you better not mess it up; because if you do, we’re gonna have the final say and make you pay.”

‘Nova is a DEFENSIVE team. For me, it’s really that simple. In those final 34.6 seconds, the message should’ve been this:

“We’re playing our best D of the night; right here, right now. We’re not letting them shoot a 3 and we’re not bailing them out with a foul. They may try to go quick, in order to crash the boards, so be ready for that. If they don’t try to get to the bucket quickly, they’re gonna hold it up-top until the shot-clock gets below 10 before they get into their action. No Fouls, No 3’s, get the damn rebound, & call timeout right away.”

Yes, hindsight is 20/20. At the time, however, it was still absurd how the commentators thought that fouling was ‘Nova’s only option.

Guard, box out, get the rebound, call timeout, and then we’ll go win the game.

Hell, ‘Nova’s Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins needed no more than 4.7 seconds to go the length of the court and win the national championship in buzzer-beating fashion.

Who’s to say ‘Nova couldn’t have done something similar against U’Conn? After all, Mark Armstrong did drain a meaningless, half-court 3-ball as time expired anyway.

Next. Latest top-25 power rankings. Latest top-25 power rankings. dark

If there is a next time, and let’s hope there’s not, but in all likelihood there will be, ‘Nova needs to trust its strengths; defense and defensive-rebounding, by playing it straight and proceeding to draw up a full-court play that frees up Mark for the game-winner.

What a scene that would be.

Let’s go ‘Cats.