Villanova proves its mettle with gutsy comeback
As I headed into the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday, I had some nagging questions stuck in the back of my mind.
Was Villanova really, truly, the nation's seventh-best team? And were the Wildcats that high in the polls because of their undefeated record and a lack of alternatives?
I knew they were very good, of course. They proved as much by beating Virginia Commonwealth and Michigan, and steamrolling through the Big 5. But I couldn't shake a sense that there was a gap between Villanova and teams like like Wisconsin, Arizona and Virginia.
Syracuse's dominance (and Villanova's poor defense) in the first half didn't help. I didn't expect the WIldcats' performance to be that bad, but somehow I wasn't surprised - and from the sound of things, Jay Wright wasn't either.
Of particular concern to me was what looked like some old-fashioned nerves on the part of the home team. There were passes off teammates' feet and missed gimmes at the rim.
Yet 'Nova slowly clawed back, setting up the stunning last 17 seconds of regulation and a dominant overtime. JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu finally broke through Syracuse's zone and scored from the paint. Darrun Hilliard - before sustaining an injury that potentially involved a concussion - and Josh Hart found range for some big threes.
That was a display from a team that knew what it was doing, and that knew how to get things right mentally as much as tactically.
After the game, Andrew and I got together to discuss what we had seen, and what it showed about Villanova's potential.