By AARON BRACY
Villanova’s victory in the Battle 4 Atlantis was impressive, but not as surprising as some might have you think.
Listening to the NBC Sports Network broadcast on Friday night against No. 2 Kansas, you might have thought the Wildcats were little Chaminade knocking off No. 1 Virginia in 1982.
The headlines nationally read similarly after Jay Wright’s squad downed the Jayhawks 63-59. Words like “stuns” and “shocks” blared online and in print across the country after the win.
Yes, it was an upset, but not the mammoth surprise people may have you think. The oddsmakers had set the betting line at 5 points, hardly an insurmountable task.
What seemed to get past many people – and baffled me – is that Villanova is a national-caliber program with an NCAA championship under its belt and a consistent history of NCAA tournament play. It was just four years ago that Wright had Nova in the Final Four. This also is a good Wildcats team with a strong mix of veterans and newcomers.
I get that the country is gaga over Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins, but it takes more than one talent to make a team. Wiggins, by the way, hardly looks like lottery material, let alone one of the top three picks in the NBA draft. For his sake, hopefully he’ll get there. But can we calm down a bit with the hype? Same with Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, who was very quiet at Madison Square Garden.
Getting back to Nova, I was more impressed with the Wildcats battling back from a 15-point second-half deficit against a veteran and ranked Iowa squad in Saturday night’s championship game.
-Why Villanova is winning: The Battle 4 Atlantis title upped the Wildcats’ record to 7-0. They will be ranked on Monday when the AP Poll is released and could be as high as No. 15.
Villanova struggled mightily in two areas over the last few seasons: turnovers and 3-point defense. Both have improved. The Cats enter Wednesday’s Big 5 contest against Penn holding teams to 34.5 percent from the arc, down from 37.5 percent last season. Villanova has coughed up 13.6 turnovers per game, down from 15.7 last season. Those are big improvements.
The Cats also have benefited greatly from the addition of Dylan Ennis. The 6-foot-2 sophomore guard missed the first four games due to a broken hand, but quickly made his presence felt in the Bahamas by averaging 12 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds in 22 minutes while making 8 of 12 3-pointers. Pretty good numbers.
I took one look at Ennis two summers ago while playing on a team with current and former Villanova players against a team that featured La Salle’s Steve Zack in the Delco Pro-Am League and knew right away he was legit. It prompted me to write in my season-opening column on Nov. 4 that Villanova would contend for a Big East title with a healthy Ennis. Now, I’m thinking that was shooting too low.
Last thing on Villanova: The Cats still have more than three-fourths of regular season to play. They can’t get comfortable because teams will be coming at them with all they have now.
-Roberts rolling: I asked a veteran NBA scout prior to St. Joe’s game against Creighton last month what he thought of Hawks big man Ronald Roberts. The scout said he loved Roberts’ motor and explosiveness and saw him as possible second-round material in this spring’s NBA draft.
I’ve got to believe Roberts’ stock is rising as quickly as anyone nationally. He continued his torrid start to the season with an eye-opening showing at the Old Spice Classic in Disney World. The 6-foot-8 forward put the Hawks on his back in Sunday’s victory over Washington State, scoring 11 of the team’s final 17 points to help St. Joe’s climb out of a six-point deficit in the last six minutes in an important 72-67 win that gives the Hawks good feelings heading into a challenging week.
Roberts, who leads the Hawks in scoring (18.5 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg), ended the game against the Cougars with 21 points and 10 rebounds. In the three-game tournament, Roberts averaged 20.3 points and 7 rebounds while making 68.4 percent (26 of 38) of his field goals and was named to the all-tournament team.
Keep that up and it would be surprisingly if he didn’t hear his name called in June.
-Announcers analysis: Anyone else think Kara Lawson does a solid job as an analyst? You don’t have to be a man to understand the game of basketball. Really enjoyed her work calling the St. Joe’s games in Orlando over the weekend.
On the flip side, Bob Knight needs to tone it down. I’ve actually liked his work in the past, but didn’t like his antics in describing Drexel’s win over Alabama. He was extremely negative throughout the game. Being honest is one thing, but this went beyond honesty.
He was highly critical of the Dragons’ defense in overtime, but failed to point out the nearly the entire team was in foul trouble. He got on Drexel for shooting an open 3 in overtime, then called Tavon Allen’s decision to drive to the basket “terrible.” Which is it?
The biggest failure on Knight’s part was missing the big picture of Drexel, from the CAA, beating Alabama, from the SEC. More credit was deserved.
-Busy week: All six Philly teams are in action on Wednesday and Saturday this week. Stay with Philahoops.com for all of the coverage.
Aaron Bracy’s Weekly City 6 rankings for Dec. 2 (record in parentheses):
1. Villanova (7-0): This, of course, was an easy choice. Villanova defeated USC, 93-79; No. 2 Kansas, 63-57; and No. 23 Iowa, 88-83, OT to win the Battle 4 Atlantis title. The soon-to-be nationally ranked Wildcats are getting solid contributions all over the floor, with six players averaging at least 8.3 points per game. JayVaughn Pinkston tops the list at 17.1 ppg.
2. Drexel (4-2): Bruiser Flint and Company weren’t content just to reach Madison Square Garden; they wanted to win the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Dragons led by as many as 19 points before falling to No. 4 Arizona 66-62 on Wednesday but rebounded to top Alabama, 85-83 in triple-overtime on Friday. The Dragons are getting good minutes from three freshmen: Mohamed Bah, Rodney Williams and Major Canady. They will find out on Monday whether Damion Lee, who was injured (right knee) against the Wildcats, will be able to return to the lineup anytime soon.
3. Saint Joseph’s (4-2): The Hawks bounced back from Thursday’s 82-65 rout courtesy of LSU to down Siena and Washington State for fifth place in the Old Spice Classic. St. Joe’s has a huge week in front of it: Wednesday at Temple and Saturday versus Villanova at Hagan. They have the pieces for wins in both of those games.
4. Temple (3-3): The Owls have sat idly since beating UAB last Sunday and will have had nine days off when they return to the court by hosting St. Joe’s at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Dalton Pepper probably didn’t want the rest, as the Temple senior averaged 23 points while making 18 of 30 (60 percent) field goals, including 7 of 13 (53.8 percent) 3-pointers in his last two contests. Pepper (16.0 ppg) is second in scoring behind point guard Will Cummings (18.2 ppg) for the Owls.
5. La Salle (3-4): The Explorers, similar to Temple, have had a lengthy break and return to the court Wednesday against Hartford after eight days off. La Salle will need to play some better defense, as they are getting outstated in several important categories: scoring (73.4 to 72), field goals made (26.4 to 25), field-goal percentage (43.7 to 40.4), 3-point field goals made (6.6 to 5.4) and 3-point field-goal percentage (39.0 to 30.2).
6. Penn (2-4): Jerome Allen has to be seething about Penn’s defense lately. The Quakers allowed Niagara’s Antoine Mason to get 31 points in Tuesday’s 85-66 victory over the Purple Eagles before surrendering 28 points to Seth Hinrichs in Saturday’s 79-76 loss at Lafayette. Wednesday’s task at Villanova seemed difficult before this weekend. Now it seems impossible.
-Aaron Bracy is the Philahoops.com founder and columnist. His City 6 rankings column appears on Mondays. Share your thoughts with Aaron at [email protected], @Aaron_Bracy on Twitter and/or in the comments section below.
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