Saturday, March 28, 2009

Villanova Links and Game Prediction

Some 'Nova blog links as well as the ESPN preview
Let's Go Nova put together a good preview of the game
VU Hoops. They have different statistics worth considering for this game.
The Villanovan Sports Blog also has a good preview of the game and characterizes the strengths and weaknesses of Pitt pretty well.
ESPN's preview of the game

And now the moment that I know you have all been waiting for...

The Official TRS Breakdown of this game:
In case you haven't heard, it seems like DeJuan Blair is going to be an important factor in this game. Back when these two squads played in Philly during the regular season, Blair's trouble with fouls was arguably the biggest factor in the entire game. Since the NCAA tournament started last week, we have been treated (I guess that's the word) to a new-look DeJuan. I wouldn't say this DeJuan is better, just... different. And you actually know he's going to be in the game in crunch time. That's not what concerns me, though. If DeJuan does the passive thing yet again in the first half to try and stay out of foul trouble, I really think that Villanova will just bury us. It would take another dominant first half from Sam I Am or Levance "Captain Clutch" Fields playing the entire game like it's the final two minutes of a tie ball game. Against 'Nova, I really don't see either one of those happening.

I'm not saying we need DeJuan to turn back into the reckless freight train he too often was during the regular season, but we do need him to let loose a little more, at least in the offensive zone. If he wants to cool his heels defensively and let Biggs do most of the banging inside when 'Nova's got the ball, I'm absolutely fine with that. But there's no reason for him to be unwilling to get after it on offense. Especially when it gets to late in the first and he has either 0 or 1 fouls as has been the case the past 3 games. Worst case there is he gets called for a charge or some BS call and has to sit out the last few minutes of the first half. I'd pay that price if it meant the Grizzly Blair of old crashing the net.

Anyway, I suppose I should do some 'Nova-related analysis. Obviously, this is an excellent team, and Jay Wright continues to cement his rep as one of the money coaches in the month of March. Wright continues to run the athletic, guard-heavy style that has made him so successful for so many years there, and this is a system that can definitely give the Panthers fits. But despite the similar system, this isn't the same Nova teams we've often seen in years past from them that spread out 4 guards around the perimeter and had a Curtis Sumpter or something inside. Despite being undersized both height and weight-wise, they are a very physical squad and won't back down if Pitt starts to beat on them with their strength.

Only star forward Dante Cunningham, starter Dwayne Anderson and reserve Antonio Pena consistently bang inside with the big boys, but they have several tall 2/3-types who play well as swing men and can use their athleticism and height to get to the basket and not only grab some rebounds but also create plays. Corey Stokes, Reggie Redding and Shane Clark all fit this mold pretty much to a T and all are between 6'5 and 6'7 and average between 3 and 5 rebounds a game.

There won't be many surprises between the two floor generals, Levance Fields and Scottie Reynolds. They are both wily vets who have seen each other numerous times over the last three seasons. There is a definite contrast in styles between the two. Reynolds is as much a 2 guard as he is a point, and his game is predicated a bit more on scoring than it is on dishing it out, and while his 15.2 ppg is excellent and he is a solid shooter, his 1.3 Assist/ Turnover ratio leaves a bit to be desired. Fields, despite his late-game heroics in filling the basket, is the more traditional point guard type, more than happy to let the big-time scorers like Blair and Young do the work while he sets things up. Each is a tremendous fit for their squad, though, and they are the straws that stir their respective drinks.

What will really interest me about Villanova's scheme is how they choose to handle Sam Young when Pitt has the ball. Seemingly half their team is the type of player that we typically see matched up against Young. And honestly if it weren't for Blair we could probably throw Dante Cunningham out there as being a matchup for Sam when he inevitably plays some minutes at the 4 spot. Still, Dwayne Anderson figures to be the best matchup for Sam on an athleticism basis and I imagine the smart senior will get first crack. But it seems almost no one ever sticks with the same guy on Sam all game long. I think the task is just too exhausting and Sam brings too many different looks to his game for the same person to play on him the whole time. Reggie Redding is one of the Wildcats' defensive stoppers and despite being a little light for the job with a 6'5 205 pound frame, I think he'll get some minutes on Sam, especially if Pitt's 23 starts feeling it from the perimeter. Now that I think about it, Redding reminds me a bit of Gil Brown, actually. If he's in the game I'd say those two definitely lock horns.

For Pitt on defense, this screams to me as a game where Pitt will almost be forced to go small. Otherwise Nova will have some ridiculous speed and quickness mismatches. So that probably spells reduced minutes yet again for Tyrell Biggs. That may not be a bad thing though either, as I kind of like it when Biggs can be recklessly physical in limited minutes. That way DeJuan doesn't have to be. In Biggs' place I imagine Sam moves over to the 4 spot alongside DeJuan and that Gil Brown plays 20+ minutes at the small forward spot while Jermaine Dixon, Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs swap in and out depending on who is being most effective. Personally, I think the Panthers will be much better off if they can get the streaky Gibbs going from 3-point land early on. When this guy gets hot he is a lethal bomber and could give Pitt a legit 4th scoring option outside the Big 3. That would be a nice change of pace.

All in all, I expect this to be a spectacular game. I love watching Villanova play, but never like playing them. Their athleticism and style of play can drive you nuts because of the way they just seem to send waves and waves of the same types of athletic swingmen at you. But at the same time, they certainly aren't afraid to bang around inside with a physical team like Pitt. Anderson and Cunningham can brawl with the best of them, even a behemoth like Blair. Combine that with the fact that Villanova has been just crushing people the last 2 1/2 games while Pitt has squeaked out of three in a row, and suddenly you realize maybe the 1 seed is the underdog here.

The Bottom Line: Despite Villanova's hot streak and Pitt's sloppiness, I think this is the game we finally see the Pitt of old. The Pitt that pushed around UConn not once, but twice. The Pitt that spent 3 weeks as the number 1 team in the country. Despite DeJuan Blair's refusal to risk getting in foul trouble by playing aggressively in the first half thus far, I think he finally turns things on for the whole game, especially offensively, and stays out of foul trouble to lead Pitt past Big East rival Villanova and because of him they get to cut down the nets.

Prediction: Pitt 74-71

Also, I'm now sitting at a solid 45-11 in my NCAA Tournament game predictions after an 8-0 performance in the sweet 16. So, to keep things going here are my other Elite 8 picks:
North Carolina over Oklahoma
UConn over Missouri
Louisville over Michigan State

What can I say? I'm boring.

Go Panthers!

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