CHARLESTON, S.C. - It's always interesting to hear what the other guy thinks. Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins is a hoops lifer. You don't rise up from Villanova Prep School (there is another Villanova, in California) to another high school job to South Alabama assistant to Division II assistant to D-II head coach to Western Michigan assistant to top man, for 13 seasons - you don't do all that without picking up some things. Hawkins has coached the Broncos to the NCAA tournament a couple of times. He wasn't in awe of the NCAA champs.
He was respectful, though.
"They did what they do - they knocked down threes, they hit big shots," Hawkins said after Villanova beat his team, 76-65, in the first round of the Charleston Classic. "They stretch you out so much, they're so talented offensively - we bent a little but we didn't break."
Every time you thought Villanova was due for a run, it just didn't happen.
"We felt it was critical," Hawkins said of not allowing run-outs. "If you would have told me that we would have 18 turnovers and we weren't going to have a lot of huge runs against us, I would have thought you had a good knock on the noggin - because that's a recipe for disaster against these guys. But we were able to get back and we were able to organize and make them play a half-court game."
Most of the turnovers came early; Western Michigan only had six in the second half.
What did Hawkins feel like his team, which has nine freshmen, had done well to get 'Nova on its heels a bit? He looked at a number of aspects, including allowing just four offensive rebounds.
"I thought we set good screens today," Hawkins said. "I thought we allowed our guards to play downhill. . . . We did finish around the basket after a rocky start. Our mid-range game was pretty good. It wasn't anything that we saw, it was more just running our offense and taking it was there."
It's going to sound like coach-speak, Hawkins said, but they came to win the game and felt like if they did certain things, they would have a shot.
"Ball-screen defense was going to be critical," Hawkins said. "They use their screens so well. They pass so well. It's one of the best passing teams you're ever going to want to see. But they're not a big team."
That is obvious. But Hawkins had an interesting perspective on what that means.
"They play underneath the defense," Western Michigan's coach said. "They use ball screens well. They're low. They make a lot of bounce passes underneath. So we needed to get down and be 'handsy' to try and take that away."
Once Western Michigan withstood an early run, "Then it's just five guys playing basketball. Five guys against five guys. It wasn't Western Michigan vs. Villanova."