...So what do we take away from No. 15 Villanova's (8-1) first loss, 67-58 to sixth-ranked Texas (7-1) on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden?
Well, for for whatever it's worth it was about what I expected, at least in terms of point differential. At least at this point in the season. Texas is a legit threat to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova might become one, too. Right now, they're just another team that's pretty good and figures to get better. How much better, we'll have to wait and see how things unfold. But the potential's definitely there. Texas should get better, too. It's what the better teams do. I wouldn't mind seeing these teams tangle again in a little over three months. Could be interesting. Of course they both have to get there first.
Texas figured to have the advantage inside, while Villanova figured to be stronger in the backcourt. But the Longhorns were more than able to hold their own along the perimeter. Mostly because A.J. Abrams is big-time, and also because they kept sending more than one guy at Scottie Reynolds at the other end. It's something a lot of teams did last year, and will no doubt do some more. Or until Villanova finds a way to make them pay for it. That means that Corey Fisher, in particular, can't go back to what he was, especially in these kind of spots. And once the Big East season starts, the Wildcats are going to be in these kind of spots a lot. Fisher only played 18 minutes, and contributed virtually nothing. He's still only a sophomore, so it's still a growth thing. But against lesser competition up until then, he'd shown that he had matured. This was a step back. Jay Wright said he was overly excited, being back in New York. I'll take his word for it. But it can't happen too often, because it leaves Reynolds out on an island. He only took seven shots in 37 minutes, and that's not enough. A lot of that had to do with Texas, but some of it was self-inflicted.
The Wildcats only got outrebounded by three. It just seemed like more, especially in the post-game interviews. I think Jay was most concerned with the fact that down the stretch, when his team was close to getting back in it, Texas was able to keep several possessions going off the offensive glass. Good thing the Longhorns couldn't make free throws. Not that Nova was much better. Antonio Pena, another soph, also was a non-factor in only nine minutes. And none of it had to do with foul trouble. That has to change, too, because it left Dante Cunningham, who's been great, on his own island in the paint. Even though much of his game has evolved into something more geared to the 12-to-15 foot range. Every shot he takes looks like it's going in. Getting 23 and 12 against Texas is quite a statement.
Again, Fisher and Pena are still young. But you can only say that for so long. The good news was, Dwayne Anderson got 20 minutes, 13 more than he'd played all season, and looked fairly agile. He just looked rusty. And that might be the case for another few weeks or so. As long as he doesn't reinjure the stress reaction in his foot, it's a major plus. Because Shane Clark and Reggie Redding are more or less role players, who take care of a lot of the little things. But there are times when their lack of offensive prowess hurts. This was one of them. The Wildcats don't have a whole lot of margin for error when they have the ball. Corey Stokes can make a difference, too. But for the most part, they have to get a little soemthing from everyone to really be most effective. And especially in the Big East, there's a fine line between getting it done and just coming close.
Overall, I think the Cats acquitted themselves fairly well. I'm sure Wright wasn't looking for any moral victories, but his team didn't play its A game. More like about a C-plus, give or take. Yet his team was never out of it. A few plays here or there could have made the last few minutes a little more dramatic. It didn't happen. Maybe it wasn't supposed to, at least not just yet. But I don't think anyone left the mecca thinking that Nova didn't belong. Nine games into the season, it's a realistic starting point.