M. Hoops Villanova notes
I covered last year's game at Villanova and was in attendance last night. This was certainly not the same Villanova offense. Last year, the Wildcats ran all over the Quakers and it was at times embarrassing to watch. This year, Villanova went through stagnant stretches and failed to take advantage of its size and athleticism in the frontcourt. But some credit has to go to Penn for dictating the pace by slowing it down, standing strong on the interior, and holding the Wildcats to a season-low 65 points. The Quakers actually held a 22-18 advantage in points in the paint.
Meanwhile, the Quakers are probably kicking themselves for missed free throws and a few other missed opportunities in the second half like Conor Turley's missed dunk and Rob Belcore's turnover after securing a rebound. Still, it was a good, encouraging effort all around, and though it's nice to hear Penn say that there's no such thing as a moral victory, we all know better.
I was able to pay closer attention than usual since I was not frantically typing a live blog from press row, so I have a few other notes:
*Andreas Schreiber was not on the bench last night, depleting an already thin Penn frontcourt. Coach Allen didn't comment on the situation last night, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to speculate that Schreiber was not pleased with the trajectory of his diminished playing time and was either voluntarily or involuntarily not in attendance. I will again emphasize that I'm just speculating, but I can't think of another scenario in which a coach would refuse to comment after a player is entirely absent from a big game. If my speculation is accurate, Schreiber should have gotten attitude lessons from Darren Smith, a fifth-year player who has seen limited action but is still supporting his teammates. I know that Schreiber has had ambitions to play professionally overseas, but you'd have to think with his past injury issues and now this, it would be a long shot.
*Schreiber's absence meant an opportunity for more minutes for Conor Turley. Turley may now be Penn's most physical frontcourt player, but he got into quick foul trouble. Freshman Fran Dougherty filled in nicely and actually reminds me a little bit of the Eggleston of three years ago. At one point, Allen became irate when Dougherty missed a help assignment on defense, which led to a Villanova layup. Allen quickly called timeout, even though Villanova had just called timeout a possession earlier, and inserted freshman Cam Gunter into the game. I'm hardly a professional talent evaluator, but it was obvious that Gunter needs to get more polished on both ends of the floor. Apparently Allen agreed, because both times Gunter got into the game, it only lasted a few possessions before Dougherty went right back in. Still, it was nice to see Allen holding players accountable for their mistakes. Dougherty still needs to get stronger, which should come with time, and he will need to improve his jumpshot to truly fill Eggleston's shoes next year.
*Speaking of which, the Quakers really miss Mike Howlett right now. Howlett is the only big man other than Eggleston that forces defense to respect his ability to stretch the court with his mid-range jumper. He is still developing his post offense, but regardless, his size on the boards is sorely missed. Villanova out-rebounded Penn by 12, and I honestly didn't see many missed assignments or blown box-outs. There have been a number of times this year, including last night, when Eggleston in particular has perfect position on a box-out and goes up for the rebound, only for it to be tipped and kept alive by someone behind him. On a few occasions, I have felt that an over-the-back foul should have been called, but the refs haven't obliged. I'm not sure there's much more that Eggleston could do, except somehow grow taller.
*On the subject of the refs, I have never seen anything like the officiating crew last night. They appeared to have 9:15 dinner reservations in Center City because they were constantly harassing both sides, but especially Penn, about hurrying up after dead balls and timeouts. At one point, a referee who felt that Tyler Bernardini was being too slow on an inbounds actually put the ball on the floor and started his five-second count. Bernardini ran back and got the inbounds in, but it seemed unnecessary. It wasn't an isolated instance, as a different ref had appeared to say something to Eggleston on a similar play which elicited a priceless facial expression from the senior. The refs also let the teams play, with relatively few fouls called on either end. I'd have to think that allowing such physical play was an advantage for the bigger Wildcats. There was also a puzzling play late in the second half when a Wildcats guard dove on a loose ball near midcourt as Rob Belcore dove on him to seemingly cause a jump ball. The referee awarded Villanova a timeout, and Belcore was justifiably furious. Unless Jay Wright has been hiding secret telepathic powers, that was just an inexplicable call. I hope the refs enjoyed their dinner, wherever it was.
*I paid extra close attention to Rob Belcore last night since it's no secret that he has not been a big part of the offense and hasn't filled up the box score defensively either. In my opinion, he really is the Quakers' best perimeter on-ball defender, and it's not that close. That probably explains why he's earned his place in the starting lineup.
*I still can't figure out why Miles Cartwright isn't starting. Based on the number of minutes he's playing, it's obvious that Allen thinks the team is better with him on the floor. I'm not sure if it's just a matter of deferring to upperclassmen or what, but it's hard to rationalize when the Wildcats jumped out to a 12-4 advantage, and then the Quakers reel off a 13-4 run to take the lead with Cartwright on the floor.
*It's becoming increasingly obvious that Tyler Bernardini does not have the same rhythm on his jumpshot as the Bernardini of old. I'm guessing that he is showing more consistent flashes in practice, and the team feels the only way for him to shake out of it is to keep getting minutes. In recent games it seems he has been a little bit more gunshy, but Penn needs him to get his stroke back prior to Ivy League play. I actually think that Bernardini's defense has improved, especially playing on the wing in a zone. In previous years, when Penn went to man-to-man, Bernardini was exposed somewhat and often got into a lot of foul trouble.