As you know, the SB Nation community is full of solid blogs. it is, therefore, not a surprise that Villanova is well represented in our community. The Wildcats are represented at VUHoops, and Chris Lane contacted me this week for a basketball Q&A in advance of Thursday's game in New York.
Chris: Ryan, or Arch as we've taken to calling him, flew a little bit under the radar coming into this season. He was a must-have type of recruit in his junior season but then injured his back pretty badly and missed his entire senior season. So we really didn't know what we were getting with him. So far, he's shown the types of qualities that we've missed in the 'Nova backcourt for the last few seasons - superior ball-handling, a good shot, and some incredible vision/passing. It's a little early, but he looks like the real deal.
That's not to say he's not had his freshman moments though. His turnover ratio is still too high for anyone's liking and sometimes he tries to do a little too much, but that is to be expected.
Johnson is a new name to me, but from what I've read I think we can expect him to be pretty feisty on the defensive end and give Arch some problems. Likewise Ryan has shown a great desire on the defensive end which has led to a revival of 'Nova's fastbreak offense.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that this matchup is going to factor in heavily towards the outcome of the game. Personally, I can't wait to watch.
T-Mill: What on earth happened last year to fall to 13-19 after seven straight tournament runs?
Chris: A big part of it was bringing in big-time recruits who never panned out. The "leaders" if you could even call them that of last year's team (of which their were no seniors) grew up following stone-cold warriors like Scottie Reynolds, Dante Cunningham and Dwayne Anderson that brought us to a Final Four. When those guys left, I don't think anyone figured out how to be a leader. There were a couple of "I'ma get mine no matter what" guys out there (cough, Dominic Cheek, cough). In a sense, there was no chemistry or team, just a bunch of individuals.
Maalik Wayns did his best under the circumstances, but even he admitted that he never wanted to be an 18 ppg type of guy. He was at his best when he had other scoring options on the floor. Last year, he was forced to basically do it all and the results were, uh, not good.
This year's group seems to have a more defined sense of the team concept so far.
T-Mill: You have experience in the paint while Purdue has a little more depth instead of experience. who benefits most?
Chris: If you read VU Hoops the one common theme you'll notice is the constant bemoaning of our big men. Mouphtaou Yarou is seasoned, but for whatever reason has not been involved offensively AT ALL so far. Maurice Sutton is a defensive can of rocket fuel mixed with Red Bull and Daniel Ochefu is still an unknown (but we like what we've seen). Past that, James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston are considered "forwards" by Jay Wright basically out of necessity.
What you'll find out is that we can rebound the ball with the best of them, from Yarou all the way through Arch. Everyone is involved on the offensive and defensive glass. But offensively (excluding Bell & Pinkston) I wouldn't expect much from our guys based on what I've seen so far.
We've trotted out the 4-guard look a few times this season and we're running 9-10 guys deep right now so there's depth on both sides. I'm hoping our experience proves to be a valuable commodity Thursday night on the frontline.
T-Mill: Purdue's lack of of depth in the backcourt against bigger guards appears to be a major weakness. How will Villanova try to exploit this?
Chris: Jay Wright isn't exactly the best X's & O's guy out there, so I'm not sure he's even aware that Purdue may be struggling with bigger guards, of which we have plenty. Our offense is based on the dribble-drive, which (thank God) we now have a couple of guys that can actually do that. Better yet, we have some shooters in Arch, Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Achraf Yacoubou that can knock down an open 3 with regularity.
(My God I hope I didn't just jinx us)
Our length and size will show more on the defensive end. We've gone with the hell in a handbasket defense a lot this year to moderate success. All 5 guys can defend and they'll be up in your grill an will utilize some trapping and jumping into passing lanes. That can leave some open shooters out there, and we've been burned in the past by teams hitting 12-15 3's in a game. Do you like open shots? You will have several opportunities to make us pay.
T-Mill: With the relative youth of both teams how do you see this game playing out?
Chris: I was trending upwards on this 'Nova team before the season and other than a sloppy first half against DII UDC on opening night, they've looked pretty strong (especially in handling a feisty Marshall team). This will be a good test for both of our teams and a victory could propel the winners onto greater things. I'm going to go with Villanova by 5, 72-67.