In a topsy turvy, Big East battle between Marquette and Villanova on the latter’s home court, the Wildcats were almost laughed off the floor by the Golden Eagles before mounting an epic comeback that ultimately fell short; 80-85. Facing several seemingly insurmountable deficits in the game’s opening half, the Wildcats miraculously fought back after going down 0-11 and (later) 17-37. In 11 minutes & 49 seconds, the Wildcats outscored the Golden Eagles by an astounding 24 points; ripping off a 34-to-10 run that turned a 20-point deficit into a 4-point lead with 13 minutes & 11 seconds remaining in the game.
Out of nowhere, Villanova came charging back from its 20-point hole in the final 5 minutes of the first half; highlighted by a 7-point burst from Mark Armstrong that helped trim down the visitor’s lead to just 8 points at intermission (39-31). Once Tyler Burton was able to get going with a pair of three-balls in the second half’s opening 6 minutes & 49 seconds, the game’s scoreboard revealed a shocking reality that was hardly fathomable for those of us who were watching the game; let alone (for) the men who were playing in it. The Wildcats were leading (and) by 4; 51-47. Unfortunately, what happened immediately after that functions as the proof we’ve been needing (to see) to reach a safe conclusion about the 2023-‘24 Wildcats. Sadly, we (now) know the Wildcats aren’t a very good team.
Like a man possessed, Burton followed up his second three-ball of the second half with (/by committing) a cardinal sin; fouling a three-point shooter. Flooded with the kind of energy that needs to be reined in, the Richmond transfer did a poor job (of) keeping his emotions in check. After nailing two shots he typically misses and hearing ‘Nova Nation unleash its nearly deafening roars throughout the Pavilion, the 6-foot 7-inch small forward ran back on defense and had himself a rather “freshman moment” with 12:41 left in the game.
Cashing in on Burton’s stupidity was the Golden Eagles’ Chase Ross; who quieted the home crowd by draining all three of his free throws. Six (more-) points later over the next 94 seconds thanks to consecutive three-balls from Marquette’s Tyler Kolek, and the Golden Eagles were back on top after a run of nine unanswered points gave the visitors a five-point lead; 56-51. While Burton’s lack of poise is concerning, he’s far from being the only player on ‘Nova’s squad who fails to impress in this area. For one, Mark Armstrong also tends to play the game like a chicken with his head cut off.
With 9:18 left in the first half, Villanova was up against it; facing a 17-point deficit (9-26) when Armstrong drove to the basket and missed a nearly uncontested, point-blank layup. Frustrated with himself for missing, the sophomore guard took off in a dead sprint up the floor and before he reached the Marquette ball-handler he attempted a risky, reach-around steal (from behind) that was miraculously successful. Although Mark’s aggression was rewarded with a steal (this time around), he could’ve just as easily been whistled for the foul; and nine times out of ten he is called for a foul there. During the Jay Wright era, the Hall-of-Fame head coach had no time for players who put themselves in bad positions. In Armstrong’s case, the young speedster has a reputation for earning bad fouls; and he was very lucky he wasn’t called for one during that moment of impatience. Even though bad fouls come in many shapes and forms, there’s no denying a defensive foul that’s committed on the other side of half-court (about the rim you’re defending) is a bad foul.
Riding the steady diet of scoring that came from Bamba (24), Dixon (24), and Armstrong (16), the Wildcats were able to do their job offensively against the Golden Eagles; as the (above) trio combined for 64 of team’s 80 total points. Still, Justin Moore wasn’t a big enough force in the scoring department. With 6 points on 2-of-6 shooting for the entire game, Moore’s less than staggering output is what it is thanks to the setup of ‘Nova’s offense and how it flows through Armstrong and Dixon. While it’s true Moore’s (still) looking to regain the strength he had in his knee & lower body prior to his list of injuries in recent years, the team as a whole has to find a way to get him involved more willingly. On a more positive note, Moore did finish the game with 6 assists and played well defensively.
During the early stages of this loss, the Wildcats’ defense was uncharacteristically pitiful (and the offense was predictably poor). They were late to react to Kolek & Ighodaro’s pick-&-roll (two-man) game and had a difficult time closing out on Kolek and Marquette’s other perimeter shooters. Yes, the ‘Cats raised their level on both ends of the floor. But, they failed to accomplish the ultimate goal (/winning); and it stings knowing they were in-position to win this ball-game as the game matured.
Good basketball teams are consistent and predictable. On the other end of the spectrum, teams that aren’t good tend to be inconsistent and unpredictable.
If one word comes to-mind when it comes to this edition of the Villanova Wildcats, it’s gotta be “unpredictable”.
Let’s hope they figure it out.