Villanova’s early exit from the NCAA Tournament was surprising, but it wasn’t shocking. The following is a quote from my preview of the Wildcats’ tournament road.
“Villanova also is heavily reliant on its outside shooting. It has been able to overcome cold shooting most of the time, including during the Big East semifinal against Seton Hall, but an off-night from the floor may prove fatal to the Wildcats’ chances in the NCAA Tournament.”
During the Wildcats’ 65-62 loss to Wisconsin in the second round Saturday, the four Villanova starters who aren’t Josh Hart made just 1 of 14 shots from the field. Villanova got away with a poor first half in their opener against Mount St. Mary’s because it ran off 13 straight points early in the second half. The Wildcats couldn’t put together a similar streak against Wisconsin.
Villanova become too dependent on Hart to make big plays. Wisconsin almost seemed to know that Hart was going to drive to the basket during Villanova’s possessions during the final two minutes. One time Hart ran into a double team and traveled. On the second occasion, he was stripped of the ball by the second defender.
Donte DiVincenzo was the only other reliable offensive contributor. After scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds during the 76-56 win over Mount St. Mary’s, DiVincenzo scored 15 points against the Badgers, second only to Hart’s 19 points. DiVincenzo, a redshirt freshman was one of the brightest stars for the Wildcats.
Kris Jenkins, who will always be remembered for drilling the game-winning 3-pointer in last year’s NCAA Tournament Championship Game, wasn’t an inconsistent shooter for most of the season. He struggled during the two NCAA Tournament games, making just 2 of 9 shots from the field against Wisconsin.
Depth was also an issue. Jay Wright rotated seven players. They certainly could have used sharpshooter Phil Booth, who only played in three games this season due a knee injury. Booth’s shooting could have been the difference between victory and defeat against the Badgers.
The pressure may also have affected Villanova. The Wildcats were the top free throw shooting team in the tournament, but three players made 1 of 2 free throws during the final 3:02. They lost by three points. You do the math.
The Wildcats also made an uncharacteristic mental mistake late in the game. With the score tied at 59-59 in the final minutes, Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig was the inbounds passer along the baseline by Villanova’s basket. Anyone who has played organized basketball knows that when a team’s best shooter is the inbounds passer, it’s likely that the play called will result in him getting the ball back. (My wife can attest that I was yelling at the television to watch for the return pass to Koenig before the ball was even in play.) But the Wildcats didn’t recognize this likelihood, which left Koenig open to receive the return pass and drill a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave the Badgers a 62-59 lead.
Villanova enjoyed a terrific season. But its flaws were exposed during the NCAA Tournament. Despite their flaws, the Wildcats survived the first game. They couldn’t survive the second game.
DISAPPOINTING DEFEATS: Villanova wasn’t the only local team to lose a heartbreaker in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. Temple and Penn sustained painful defeats in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.
Penn has never won an NCAA Tournament game, but the 12th-seeded Quakers appeared to be on their way when they opened up a 21-point lead on 5th-seeded Texas A&M. But the Aggies turned up the pressure on defense, going on a 27-1 run at one point to hand the Quakers a bitter 63-61 defeat. Penn did not make a basket during the final nine minutes. This is the first time in NCAA Women’s Tournament history that a team had overcome a 21-point deficit to win a game.
Temple didn’t suffer a similar collapse, but their loss was also painful. Oregon took a 71-70 lead on Ruthy Hebard’s jumper with 5.5 seconds to play. The Owls pushed the ball up the court, only to have Hebard block Feyonda Fitzgerald’s layup at the buzzer to preserve the Ducks’ victory.
ACHIEVEMENT GAP: I keep waiting for the gap to close between the elite teams and the rest of women’s basketball. It hasn’t happened.
Consider these first-round scores in the NCAA Women’s Tournament: Connecticut 116, Albany 55; Duke 94, Hampton 31; Maryland 103, Bucknell 61. And those were all in the Bridgeport Region. The most lopsided game occurred in the Oklahoma City Region, where top seed Baylor trounced Texas Southern, 119-130.
Those types of scores shouldn’t occur at all, let alone in NCAA Tournament games.
BUILDING A DYNASTY: Penn State captured championships in five of the 10 weight classes at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, finishing 36½ points ahead of runner-up Ohio State in the team competition.
This is the Nittany Lions’ sixth team title during the past seven years. What should be particularly frightening for the opposition is the Nittany Lions’ age and relative inexperience. Not one of the five individual champions is a senior.
Junior Zain Retherford (149 pounds) is the grizzled veteran of the group. Jason Nolf (157) and Bo Nickal (184) are sophomores. The other champions are redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph (165) and true freshman Mark Hall (174). Freshman Nick Suriano was the No. 3 seed at 125 pounds, but had to withdraw due to injury.
Cael Sanderson has built a wrestling dynasty at Penn State. And the dynasty’s foundation seems to be on firm footing for the future.
BAD TIMING: Jeremy Hellickson allowed eight runs (three unearned) in five innings Saturday during the Phillies’ 13-8 loss to the Pirates. One day later, Pete Mackanin named Hellickson the Phillies’ opening day starter.
FUTURE PHILLIES: The Phillies sent outfielder Nick Williams, shortstop J.P. Crawford and catcher Jorge Alfaro to Class AAA Lehigh Valley this past week for more seasoning. With all three of these prospects, it only seems to be a question of when they will arrive in the big leagues, not if they will arrive.
VARYING OPINIONS: The more time I spend looking at mock drafts, with the same players being selected 15-20 picks apart in various drafts, the more convinced I’ve become that nobody truly knows anything.
EVEN THE LOSERS: If we include last season, the Union’s 2-1 loss to Orlando SC on Saturday extended their winless streak to 11 games. They are 0-7-4 during that stretch.
The Union will have to wait two weeks to try to end that streak. They have a bye week next weekend – just four weeks into the season – before returning on April 1 against D.C. United at RFK Stadium.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 28 years, was once captain of a soccer team that was winless for 11 games.