Villanova officially opens its renovated building with a clunker for the ages
Nobody saw this coming: Michigan by 27 in a rematch of last season's NCAA final.
Bill Finneran, who donated enough to his beloved alma mater that Villanova's renovated and sparkling Pavilion is now named for him, had to improvise his halftime remarks at Wednesday's official opening night for the arena.
Speaking to a stunned Main Line full house inside the Finneran Pavilion, Finneran the man concluded with, "If you're lucky, you're seeing the worst game you're going to see."
This one is going to hold up for awhile, going into history with the worst defeats of the Jay Wright era.
The bigger questions are:
Was the disaster a sign of 'Nova struggles destined to linger?
How many opposing guards will find a first step that Villanova won't be equipped to stop?
How many teams, once they get that step, will find such obvious and easy paths to the hoop?
How long will it take Villanova's talented freshmen to understand defensive rotations?
How many defenses will throw all their efforts at Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to see if that shuts Villanova down?
Does Wright give more responsibilities to his newer guys? (He tried that, by the way. Didn't work).
Forget the final score, the one that mattered was 44-17 — how things stood at halftime. TKO. The final number wasn't much prettier, 73-46.
"I was just hoping we wouldn't have to give the trophy back,'' a Villanova staffer said after this rematch of the 2018 NCAA title game.
Yes, Villanova will always have the 2016 and '18 titles. You can't say those banners have nothing to do with this team, just that it might be best to forget them for a little while.
"We've just got too many pieces, running guys in and out, not as organized as we need to be,'' Wright said.
Except that all the substituting didn't cause this one. Villanova's starters got jumped. There's no obvious fix just by shortening a rotation.
You want stats? Michigan scored 25 points off Villanova turnovers. Villanova scored 1 point off a Michigan turnover.
How about how Villanova had a 60-40 ratio of turnovers to made baskets — 21 to 14.
Wright started five returning vets. At halftime, the five had combined for five field goals. Michigan's Charles Matthews had seven.
The defending NCAA champs and defending NCAA runner-ups both had lost a lot. This wasn't a case where the Michigan seemed to have the better offensive hand coming in. Defensively, yes. But in their previous game against Holy Cross, the Wolverines were no offensive juggernaut, scoring only 56.
So if you saw this coming, well, you're lying.
"I didn't think it would be like this, but I thought we could be down,'' Wright said at his news conference.
No, who saw Paschall leading Villanova with 10 points, Booth adding 9, nobody else scoring more than 5? You can't blame the freshmen for those five veteran starters putting up 14 turnovers to just 8 field goals.
You can agree with Wright when he says his new guys will understand how they must pay attention to detail more now that they've been hit like this.
"You try not to do that,'' Wright said of teaching through losing in such ugly fashion.
"I'll give people credit, they didn't boo," said a radio producer packing up afterward.
Some wondered why this heavyweight game was in this building instead of downtown, and the answer seemed obvious — that Villanova was offering something for the big donors who had paid to spruce up the place, adding enough lipstick that the old building does not look bad at all. In fact, the lobby, a homage to the history of Villanova's program, looks spectacular.
Walking past all the photos of all the greats back out to Ithan Avenue, the departing crowd knew they'd seen a little history of their own. Finneran had it right. They won't see much of anything worse in here. Don't bother looking for a plaque.
"Whatever the final score was, it wasn't that close, Wright said. Of his own players, Villanova's coach added, "They know that. You play in that game, you know that."