I don’t think there is a greater feeling in the world for a sports fan than watching your team do well. It's not just winning games, but watching them play the game well. That is exactly what Villanova did against Saint Joseph’s on Tuesday and that is what they have been doing all year: playing well. Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said following the Yellow Jackets’ loss to the Wildcats in the NIT Season Tip Off semifinal that “[Villanova] is as good, probably, as anybody in the country right now.” Gregory’s statement affirms that Villanova is one of the best teams in the country if they can keep all the pieces of the puzzle together. The way in which the Wildcats took down the Hawks with their 86-72 victory on the road only seconded that notion.
Starting off the scoring for the ‘Cats was Josh Hart who unloaded a beautiful 3 pointer a little over 2 minutes into the contest. Hart, who finished with 18 points, kept the pace for the offense throughout the evening. The Big East Sixth Man of the Year last season continues to prove his legitimacy as a top threat from the guard position. Fellow guard Jalen Brunson contributed most notably with stellar passes that created scoring opportunities, while adding to his season total of 26 assists. He also was aggressive on defense, despite being one of the shortest players on the court, standing at 6-foot-2. His scrappy attitude resembles that of senior co-captain Ryan Arcidiacono, who also has an edge to his game.
Arcidiacono was additionally fluid with the ball on Tuesday. His on-ball moves are just a fraction of his overall skill set which has gained national recognition, as he has been named to the Naismith National Player of the Year Award Watch List. A particularly memorable moment for Arch was with 8:42 left in the 2nd quarter, where he was on the right elbow and put on a crossover clinic on Saint Joseph’s James Demery that set up a Mikal Bridges basket. The head fake and spin around dribble is a move done by showboats and ballers. Arch is definitely the latter of the two.
Another contributor was Daniel Ochefu who again was impressive defensively by adding to his 15 blocks on year. As the only option at big man for the ‘Cats, he handles the pressure extremely well.
Redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges was another who dropped 11 points in the win. Coach Jay Wright raves about Bridges and loves his energy on and off the court. He also noted that he looks forward to when Bridges is an upperclassmen and gets starting time to be a key figure in the offense.
Everything that Villanova did against St. Joe’s was impeccable. The on-court ability is a force to be reckoned within its own right, but the intangibles are what captivates the fans and analysts. Russell Steinberg of SBNation calls the Wildcats “the most ruthlessly efficient team in college basketball” and deservingly so. Many teams that start off hot lose steam later in the season and often struggle with the pace of a March Madness-like atmosphere. Those postseason games often come down to the buzzer entail precision on all ends of the floor and flawless communication, and the Wildcats do that arguably better than anyone else. It may be because of the deadly three pointer, which almost every member of the roster can shoot, or it may be because of the precise coaching Jay Wright instills in his guys. Either way, the 14-point win on Tuesday at Hawk Hill is as convincing as any.
Villanova looks to continue their hot streak as they travel to Hawaii to take on Oklahoma at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on December 7, the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attacks. Following that Big East/Big 12 matchup, on the 15th, the La Salle Explorers will head into the Pavilion for a Philly Big 5 game. Later, the ‘Cats head to Charlottesville to take on the Cavaliers from the University of Virginia on December 19th. This is a highly anticipated matchup that pits two tournament and defensively dominant teams against each other. Look for competitive matches in all three games.
Oklahoma has rolled recently, probably because of playing only two games against viable opponents in Memphis and Wisconsin, yet they are still ranked sixth in the country. ‘Nova is head and shoulders above La Salle in terms of talent, so a win here should be expected, but don't expect the Explorers to go down out without a fight. Finally, the UVA game will be a test for the Wildcats. It will be interesting to see if they can attack the Cavs’ defensive pressure with the three-point shot they hold in their arsenal. This is an advantageous position for Villanova, who will see a varied group of opponents over the next few weeks, testing their grit and durability.
Photo: Matt Slocum/Associated Press
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament