‘Cats lose, but improve

James Evans

The men’s basketball team was knocked out of the NIT this past Wednesday after they lost at Rutgers, 72-60. As the season winded down however, there was a glimpse of good things to come next season.

Last year at this time Villanova men’s basketball was in the tank. The season had concluded and the dreams of a possible NCAA tournament bid had fizzled away down the stretch. To make it even worse, a phone scandal left Coach Jay Wright with a dilapidated roster to bring to the opening round of the NIT. After a loss to Siena, the basketball season had come to end, and with it another year without postseason success for the ‘Cats.

What a difference a year makes.

‘Nova struggled this season and even had to win two games in the Big East tournament to qualify for the NIT. However, this is not the same team that played earlier this season and lost its last five games going into the Big East tournament. Something happened in the Seton Hall game; it just clicked. And ever since then this team has been succeeding at every challenge it meets.

The win over tourney-bound Providence was a huge momentum builder for this team as it secured a berth in NIT, and then a hard-fought game against national powerhouse UConn left everyone believing that something was brewing on the Main Line.

The first round game against Drexel had promise. And after the ‘Cats fell behind by 10 early in the first, something strange happened. The team did not get frustrated but continued with the game plan and ended up walking away with a 15-point victory.

The second round featured a tougher battle as ‘Nova was matched up against Virginia, an ACC team with 17 wins this season. However, once again the ‘Cats clicked on all cylinders and were able to walk away with a 10 point victory.

For the last three weeks, the Villanova men’s team has been playing some of their best basketball in a long time and there is only one place to look for the reason why – the players.

Allan Ray and Randy Foye have emerged as stars in the ‘Nova backcourt. Ray is a threat from anywhere on the floor, especially the three-point line where he is his most dangerous to opposing teams. Foye is unstoppable when he drives, using his body to overpower the smaller guards usually assigned to guard him. Together, the two have become an offensive threat for this team.

The emergence of freshman Mike Nardi has been one the most crucial elements in the team’s success. Nardi, who was forced into the starting role because of Derrick Snowden’s injury, has risen to meet the challenge head-on and surpassed many people’s expectations. His maturity might be the most obvious of all the players, as he is starting to take games into his own hands and is making smart decisions at crunch time.

In the frontcourt, the line of Curtis Sumpter, Jason Fraser and Will Sheridan has become one of the best in the Big East. Sumpter has been a problem for teams to guard against all season, as he is too strong for small forwards to guard and too quick for power forwards. Fraser, who early in the season was timid around the hoop, is now more confident and demands the ball in low post where he has become a legitimate threat. Sheridan brings emotion and rebounding force off the bench. This freshman does not back down from anyone and plays at a high energy level.

With all of these guys coming back next year, it might not be too early to think of the NCAA tournament next year. But for now, we should realize that a berth in the NIT final eight is nothing to be ashamed about.