For the big upcoming game against Villanova on Wednesday night, I exchanged some questions with Chris from the Villanova blog “I Bleed Blue and White”.
Friarblog.com: Nova just recently took down Pitt (only their second loss of the season) and blew out Cincinnati, yet it seems like no one is really talking about them (or underrated Dante Cunningham). Do you think they’ve proved themselves enough so far this season? Or is the media becoming numb to the carnage that flies around each night in the BIG EAST?
IBBW: I still think the general view is that Villanova hasn’t proven themselves yet. Before the win over Pitt, there was an article calling Villanova the most overrated team in the country, citing their 0-4 record against Top 25 teams (3 of them Top 10 teams mind you). In those 4 losses they never got blown out, and played well enough to win a couple (Louisville and UConn). I don’t think anyone expected a lot of love from the “experts” but nobody expected the “most overrated team in the country” statement either.
The win over Pitt in my mind changed that. Villanova really dominated the 2nd half and executed to perfection. And then they responded by running Cincy out of the building. So to me, they have definitely earned their current ranking, but I think a lot of people want to see more. What you so eloquently described as “carnage” is completely true though. The Big East is the best conference because any of the Top 12 teams can beat each other, and it wouldn’t shock anyone.
That’s why Providence and Syracuse are so important for Villanova. If they can manage to win both of those games, they’ll set themselves up nicely for the Big East and NCAA Tourneys.
Friarblog.com: Villanova has used excellent defense to win their last several games, while Providence’s (save for the recent UCONN game) offense has been pretty dangerous. What’s going to bend?
IBBW: Villanova are at their best when they play up-tempo and are out and running, much like Providence. They showed off just how good the defense can be against Cincinnatti when they want it to be, but I don’t see this game going that way. In the past, ‘Nova has struggled to defend the 3 point ball, and up until recently it had become a HUGE problem. They seem to have rectified that issue, but it could rear its ugly head at any time.
As you stated in our exchange, Providence loves to get out and run and shoot the ball, so I definitely see this as an offensive shootout. This game will easily be played in the high 70s and possibly the 80s in my opinion.
One thing to watch however is Villanova’s defense down the stretch. The veterans like Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson have really taught the younger guys that defense wins ball games. We saw that against Pitt and Cincy. Down the stretch, I definitely like Villanova’s defense over Providence’s.
Friarblog.com: I’m sure this has been talked about before, but give us the scoop on Scottie Reynolds. After he dropped 20 against us as a Freshman, it seemed to me that he was on the path to becoming a dominant player in the league. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great player (I mean, the guy scored 40 against the Hall last month) — it’s just that his overall numbers haven’t really improved since his Freshman year. Is it because Nova has so many other offensive weapons, or just too high expectations?
IBBW: To the casual basketball fan (and even casual ‘Nova fan) Scottie Reynolds has been not living up to expectations so far this season. But if you look at little deeper and understand what his role is now, it’s understandable. In Reynolds’ freshman year, he had a seasoned PG in Mike Nardi. All he had to do was get the ball and put it in the hoop. Now he’s the mentor. Corey Fisher has seen his struggles and when that happens, Reynolds is forced to take over the point (not his best role at all).
Still though, Reynolds is a scorer, plain and simple. There are nights like his game against Seton Hall where he just puts the team on his back and carries them to victory. Then the next night, he’ll only take 4-5 shots. It’s maddening at times. In his defense, he’s not the #1 option for this team anymore. That’s Dante Cunningham without a doubt. But he is the clear #2.
I just think that Reynolds is confused about his role. He’s not a PG, but has been asked by Jay Wright to play a lot of it. In a perfect world, we’d all love for Corey Fisher to take over the PG spot full time and really mature quickly, but there will always be growing pains with young players. When Fisher takes on that role confidently, I think you’ll see Reynolds begin to show more of what he showed his freshman year.
Friarblog.com: What can we expect from Nova playing on the road? So far this season they are 2-2… beating Seton Hall (in OT like Providence) and USF, but losing to Marquette and UCONN.
IBBW: Villanova has a lot of guys who have been through the wars. Dante Cunningham was on the magnificent ‘05 Villanova team, and really was thrown into the fire that year. He learned how to play in the Big East. Obviously Scottie Reynolds has never shyed away from the big game (40 point games @ UConn and Seton Hall in his career). Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark and Reggie Redding are your ultimate glue guys and scrappers. They will play defense, get big rebounds, and ultimately, they know how to win.
The younger guys (Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena) are a little dicier. Fisher and Stokes are a huge part of ‘Nova’s offense and Pena is the only other legitimate frontcourt guy on the team. When they don’t show up, it’s a lot harder for Villanova to emerge victorious.
Although the way you described The Dunk earlier has me a little concerned, I don’t think it’s going to phase the ‘Nova team that much. Their two road losses were just a case of Marquette’s senior guards taking over down the stretch and AJ Price having a career night. I try not to put too much stock into the crowd affecting the game, but I know all too well that it does have a good effect, so hopefully Villanova can start fast and take the crowd out of thh game.
Friarblog.com: With similar conference records and big games looming for both teams, this is surely an important game. What’s your prediction?
IBBW: Before the Pitt game, I had this game chalked up as a loss. Then Villanova looked very good in beating the Panthers and took Cincy to the woodshed. This will be a war from start to finish I think, but in the final minutes I like Villanova’s defense to step up and bring home a tough road win. Villanova 79, Providence 75.
Thanks Chris, and good luck tomorrow!