Psychic Santo predicts a win over Connecticut

Santo Caruso

A few quick thoughts from the St. Joe’s game before I get into my column:

I haven’t had a chance to watch the tape or a replay, but if I had to guess the two major adjustments Coach Wright made at the half that led to the comeback, they were moving Dante Cunningham and changing the defensive aggressiveness (for lack of a better word.)

Cunningham spent the entire first half open and for the most part unguarded at or around the three point arc, mostly to the left or right of the key. In the second half, I suspect he moved to the wings or to the spot along the baseline normally occupied by Will Sheridan. The Hawks had to at least put a man around him there, and that opened the lane up for Lowry.

The second adjustment was that defensively the ‘Cats came out and picked up four quick fouls. Yet again backed by no stats, I think they fouled St. Joe’s shooter on four of the first six Hawk possessions of the second half. Allan Ray, Bilal Ben and Shane Clark were right on top of their men, slapping at the ball and getting physical when their opponent tried to slip by.

In the first half, ‘Nova gave a little cushion, daring the Hawks to shoot, which they did and got hot enough to grab that 12-point lead. When Ray and the other came out and gave them a quick pop in the mouth, not only did the shooters start missing, but they began to settle for longer jumpers and poorly contested shots.

With that said, two weeks ago I pointed out that Phil Martelli’s backhanded compliment to Villanova about the team being “similar to his [Elite Eight] St. Joe’s team, minus Jammeer Nelson,” lacked substance because of Kyle Lowry’s emergence. Number one in your programs and hearts proved he doesn’t need anyone to stick up for him with his unbelievable intensity in the second half, and his spark that lit the 10-0 run to start the half.

When St. Joe’s finally made a basket in the second half, it was one of their big men throwing up a prayer three from the top of the key, which surprised me. I took a look at their forwards and centers for the rest of the game, and I learned something. As Joey Porter would say, the Hawks’ game is soft. Their guards have the intensity, and Jalloh the cockiness, but they and the rest of the squad were done after Lowry stole the ball and dunked. At the time they were still up by six!

(And if you’re wondering, no, I didn’t win the lottery I scalped a ticket)

Finally onto what I really need to talk about, the upcoming game against UConn. I’ve often been accused of being a homer and never seeing the negative qualities of my favorite teams and players, a terrible trait in a journalist, even a bad one like me. But I mean this in the most objective and least objective sense: Villanova will beat UConn on Monday.

Seriously, they will.

What I mean by most objective and least objective at the same time is, objectively, I cannot think of a worse match up for the Wildcats than UConn. Not one but two athletic big men in Rudy Gay and Josh Boone and a, big aggressive and smart guard in Marcus Williams, who can be guarded by Foye or Lowry, but cannot be stopped from creating shots for his teammates.

‘Nova also hasn’t put together two halves of top five basketball since the first game against Louisville and has developed a nasty habit of falling behind at the half. UConn and Jim Calhoun will not let what happened at the Palestra on Tuesday happen at the Wachovia Center. Although the Wac is considered “home court” and the Palestra is a neutral site, Villanova will play three games away from the Pavilion in six days, including a somewhat dangerous look ahead game in Chicago against DePaul.

But wait, Santo, you said ‘Nova was going to win. And yes, I did, because I do see a hundred reasons why UConn should win, and how they will most likely be four point favorites despite playing in Philadelphia, but I have this feeling in my gut. Too many people picking UConn to blow our doors off, too much depth, Kyle Lowry and Allan Ray are playing too well, though a bit inconsistently. Randy Foye is going to bounce back, and playing without Nardi for a few games gives us a better bench.

The way I see the game going is UConn jumping out to a quick lead, maybe 15-7 by the 12-minute mark. ‘Nova will be shooting poorly, and a Rudy Gay dunk leads to Jay Wright calling a timeout. The student section is eerily quiet, and a Foye three after the timeout gets them back up. Marcus Williams walks the ball up, passes Rashad Anderson, who gets picked by Lowry. Lowry sprints down the court and dishes to Allan who lays it in. Its 15-12 now, ‘Nova goes on a mini run to get a three point lead at the half, and the two teams battle for most of the second half, with Villanova never getting a lead above 10, and UConn never leading by more than two. Villanova hangs on and wins by five, with some clutch free throws down the stretch by Foye.

Pretty specific, huh?

(Wish me luck; I’m off to Chicago and I promise I’ll have a picture of my cousin from DePaul in a ‘Nova jersey for next week’s column)