Villanova’s tale of two seasons

Dave Cassilo

At the end of the regular season, No. 10 Villanova has the same conference record, same Big East tournament seed as it did a season ago and one less overall win. Despite the similarities, last March seems like a distant memory for these Wildcats.

After starting the season 20-1, the Wildcats dropped five of its final nine games to close the regular season. The slide took them from first place in the conference to fourth.

It’s not exactly the way Head Coach Jay Wright pictured the season finishing, but either way, that part of the season is over.

“This is what we are: 13-5 [in the Big East], 24-6 [overall],” Wright said. “That was a good regular season, and now it’s over, and it’s a new season. It’s Big East tournament time.”

Saying that part of the season is over is one thing, but playing like it is another. With a rotation in flux and a defense that has been struggling, the Wildcats will need to start their new season just like their old one. 

Villanova won its first nine nonconference games of the regular season thanks to depth and defense. On the way to a 9-0 start, the Wildcats had six players averaging double-figures in scoring. Meanwhile, they held their opponents to under 70 points in seven of those nine games.

The last nine games have been a different story. While senior guard Scottie Reynolds and junior guard Corey Fisher have continued to score consistently, the rest of the team has been erratic.

However, it has been the defense that has been the team’s biggest issue. Over the last nine games, its opponents have reached 70 points in seven games and 80 points in five.

Despite the loss to West Virginia on Saturday, the defense appared to be turning the corner. The Wildcats held the Mountaineers to 16 points in the first half and 60 points in regulation. 

“I think we’re getting better defensively,” Wright said. “We have to take this and play our butts off next week.”

The last loss of the season was perhaps the most devastating. After being up 13 points at the half, the Wildcats let the game get away from them and, eventually, West Virginia senior guard Da’Sean Butler hit enough shots to give his team a 68-66 victory in overtime. 

The Wildcats almost grabbed the victory on Reynolds’ last shot. Had it gone in, they would still be in the talk for a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, and their February woes would have been erased from memory.

Instead, the shot hit the back of the iron, leaving  the members of ‘Nova Nation a pessimistic bunch. The players, though, are not about to panic.

“I don’t think it will affect our confidence,” said senior guard Reggie Redding. “We are still a confident team whether we would have won the game or lost the game.”

Despite the struggles at the end of the season, Villanova remains in the Top 10 and is one of a handful of teams with the talent to make a run to this year’s Final Four in Indianapolis. At the very least, this difficult end to the season can be a teaching tool.  

“We made mistakes,” Wright said. “We are who we are. We are what our record is. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. We have to keep getting better, and I think we can.”