‘Cats look to avenge last year’s not-so-sweet 16

Kyle Scudilla

Ever since March 25, 2005, Villanova’s coaches, players and fans have waited for this moment. Finally, almost one year to the day of the Wildcats’ controversial Sweet Sixteen loss to the eventual NCAA champion North Carolina, the day has come for Villanova to make last year’s shocking end a distant memory.

When examining Friday’s match-up, there seem to be many odd coincidences that appear to be the work of fate. Villanova will face-off with an ACC team in the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row, and once again does so without star forward Curtis Sumpter. As many Villanova fans know, it was 2005’s Regional Semifinal round where Coach Jay Wright, out of dire necessity following Sumpter’s knee injury against Florida, first introduced the now-famous four guard lineup of Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Mike Nardi, and Kyle Lowry. One year later, this unconventional but highly successful personnel strategy has led the Wildcats to a share of the Big East championship, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen, where it looks to right what many in the basketball community felt was a wrong.

The player perhaps most instrumental in leading the ‘Cats through the first two rounds of this year’s bracket has been Allan Ray, who was ironically the player most directly victimized by last year’s now infamous traveling call that dashed the upstart Wildcats’ hopes for an upset against the Tar Heels. Ray has given the team probably an even better performance thus far than the most optimistic Villanova sympathizer could have hoped for after his eye injury suffered two weeks ago. After the Monmouth game, Ray said, “I came into the game feeling regular, like it didn’t even happen.” The senior has certainly backed that up, averaging 22 points per game against Monmouth and Arizona, shooting 9-for-21 (43 percent) from beyond the arc.

Villanova’s going to need all of their guns firing to get through the two games they could play while in Minneapolis. Boston College will serve as this year’s opponent in the Regional Semifinal, after earning an at-large bid out of the ACC and defeating Pacific and Montana in the tournament’s first two rounds. Since the Eagles are just one year removed from being members of the Big East, many of Villanova’s coaches and players are already experienced in facing off with the likes of Craig Smith, Jared Dudley, Louis Hinnant and Coach Al Skinner. Because of this familiarity and the physicality both teams bring to the basketball court, this game should quickly be reminiscent of an old-school Big East slugfest.

Boston College is still led by their skilled frontline of Smith, a 6-foot-7 senior, and Dudley, a 6-foot-7 junior. Smith has had an excellent final season with the Eagles, averaging 17.7 ppg and 9.3 rpg, putting him on the NBA Draft radar. Dudley was the other half of the powerful down-low tandem, posting 16.7 ppg and 6.7 rpg in his junior campaign. Thus far in the tournament, the two together have averaged 45 points and 20 rebounds per game. Smith was especially impressive, tallying a double-double in each of last weekend’s contests.

The questions with BC’s attack lie within the backcourt, where it is unknown if their unheralded group can match wits with Villanova’s sensational guard corps. If Boston College’s guards are going to have any hope of keeping pace with their counterparts, they will certainly need to see better tournament play from junior Sean Marshall. The 6-foot-6 guard matches up well size-wise with Villanova’s guards, but has had an alarmingly sub-par tournament experience, averaging just 3.5 points per contest compared to his standard 11 ppg. After getting off to a poor shooting start in Boston College’s second game, Marshall eventually lost minutes to freshman Tyrese Rice. Coach Skinner would like to get the inconsistent Marshall going early, particularly since his team, which lacks a great outside shooting attack, will be forced to do battle with a solid arsenal of three-ball shooters.

The solid and steady member of BC’s backcourt is point guard Louis Hinnant. The senior averaged 7.6 ppg and a team-high 4.7 apg during the regular season. Thus far in the tournament, he has contributed a team-high 12 assists. Stopping Hinnant could be a big key for the undersized Wildcats in containing Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. Just like Oklahoma’s Terrell Everett and Connecticut’s Marcus Williams before him, Hinnant can probably expect a great deal of backcourt pressure as Villanova tries to cut off the source of Boston College’s ability to score inside the paint.

What lies after Boston College in Minneapolis? Coach Jay Wright and company are just hoping for another game, regardless of whom the opponent may be. Peeking (but certainly not looking) ahead, if the Wildcats win, they would face the winner of Friday’s later Minneapolis semifinal between the Georgetown Hoyas and the Florida Gators. The Wildcats also have recent history with each of these teams, beating the Hoyas in the regular season this year and eliminating Florida from last year’s NCAA Tournament during a second round game in Nashville. Each team has certainly played well late in the season, with Georgetown upsetting No. 2 Ohio State in the second round of the NCAAs and Florida streaking through the SEC Tournament and into the Sweet Sixteen.

But again, no matter who the opponent may be during a potential Sunday match-up, the seasoned Wildcats know that Boston College is a tough challenge and it will take a stellar game to beat their former Big East foes. This grudge match against a historic rival should get Villanova going Friday night, as if the talk from ESPN and other outlets about BC being too much to handle inside for the ‘Cats hasn’t already fired them up. Whether they’re the favorites or in their more common role as underdogs, Villanova knows exactly what is at stake here. There’s as little as 80 minutes of basketball separating the Wildcats from Indianapolis, and this group feels they’ve come too far to be denied that trip.