High Hopes for Villanova Basketball

Author’s Note: This article appears in the Feb. 16 issue of The Villanovan (before we submitted that stink-bomb against USF.

Given the success that the men’s basketball team has had over the last decade, it is in no way an exaggeration to call this year’s edition of the Wildcats a disappointment. A frustrating lack of offensive rhythm has been coupled with soft post play and poor shot selection, leading to an 11-13 record heading into last  night’s game against South Florida.

Whether it was Dom Cheek’s jaw-droppingly bad shooting against Marquette, or the team’s ability to blow a nine-point lead to Santa Clara with under three minutes remaining, the 2011-12 season has been one of the more frustrating teams to watch that I’ve ever seen. (And I watched Sebastian Telfair play for the Celtics for an entire season.)

We’ve watched our team lose at home to South Florida, a team we would have blown out during the Scottie Reynolds era. We watched Maalik Wayns’ career night against Cincinnati get wasted by a porous defense. But perhaps worst of all, we got blown out during the Holy War, which ended up being a glorified dunk contest.

It has been a season of blown leads, double-digit halftime deficits and sprained MCLs.

Yet, I remain hopeful. Last Tuesday night I found myself standing in the Pavilion with a handful of my roommates, lamenting the fact that we had played a completely atrocious first half of basketball. I tweeted that it was the worst half I had ever seen Villanova play. That means it was worse than last year’s loss to George Mason, or the stinker we submitted against St. Mary’s during my sophomore year.

Frustrated, my roommates and I felt it was time to rally the crowd. Armed with merely smartphones and our voices, we started cheering louder than we had all game, shouting not-so-clever insults at the follically-challenged Providence head coach. It didn’t work, and we soon found ourselves down 19 with Wayns affixed to the bench due to an (at that time) unknown knee injury.

I distinctly remember thinking, as we found ourselves nearing a 20-point hole, that it’s incredible how far our team had fallen in a few short years. For students any younger than the Class of 2012, it’s been a largely hollow basketball experience. Two promising starts have been followed by late season collapses. At least we don’t have to worry about this year, right?

But somehow, things changed. Seemingly out of nowhere, JayVaughn Pinkston caught fire and started to take over the game. His ability to get to the basket and draw contact—albeit only by driving to his right side, he’ll need to fix that part of his game soon—slowly helped the ’Cats chip away at the Friars’ lead. As the lead shrunk and the crowd got louder, you could feel the momentum start to sway. And when Pinkston scored the last seven points of the game to help the ’Cats take the lead for good, the Pavilion hadn’t seen that sort of decibel level since College GameDay came to town.

Were we all the reason that Pinkston flipped the switch and had a career night? Probably not. In fact, I’ll say there’s a pretty good chance that we had little to no effect on the result of the game. To me, it doesn’t matter. For about 15 minutes, my friends and I felt like we were living back in the glory days. It didn’t matter that the team we beat was Providence—to us it was an incredible comeback win against a conference opponent. After the game, chants of “JVP” echoed through the student section, and every fan in the Pavilion could see the pure joy on Pinkston’s face as he stared into the stands. In a year of so many lows, this team has been in need of some highs, and Pinkston delivered against the Friars.

I have hope for Villanova basketball. We are likely to return all of our players—if Wayns leaves for the NBA, he is making a big mistake—to next year’s team, with the addition of two ESPN Top 100 recruits. An extra year of practice and a summer to stress fundamentally sound basketball may be enough to take this team from a Big East also-ran to a national title contender. For me, Pinkston is the key. I believe that his career night is another sign of what’s to come from this former McDonald’s All-American. Keep in mind, Pinkston essentially took an entire season off before this summer’s trip to Europe. With more playing time against quality opponents, I foresee Pinkston developing into a DeJuan Blair-type force in the near future, and leading the Wildcats out of the Big East basement.

Don’t get me wrong—this team still has lots of questions, and it is still currently mired in an abysmal stretch of games. But count me among those that believe that the future will be bright. We may be headed (at this point, hopefully) toward an NIT berth, but it’s important to take a step back and put this season in perspective. With no current seniors making a major contribution, this team is built for a deep tournament run in 2012-13.

I wish I could be here to see it, but I’m not too concerned. I get the feeling we’ll playing our fair share of games in the national spotlight for years to come.

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