Sunday, November 23, 2014
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Is something wrong with Villanova?

Any time Villanova loses two straight games - heck any time they lose at all these days - people start sounding alarms.

Is something wrong with Villanova?

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Any time Villanova loses two straight games - heck, any time they lose at all these days - people start sounding alarms.

So you can be sure that there will be questions asked after Georgetown walked out of the Wells Fargo Center with a 69-66 win over the Wildcats.

Both Jay Wright and John Thompson III said after the game that playing in the Big East inevitably leads to winning streaks and losing streaks. There's little doubt that the Big East is the nation's deepest conference, even if its best teams aren't among the nation's elite right now. I think Villanova is one of top teams in the Big East, and that tby the end of the season they'll be just fine.

But there is one thing I think Jay Wright's squad could do that would smooth out some of the bumps on the road from here to March.

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Give the ball to Antonio Pena. A lot.

For a guy who's only 6-foot-8, Pena is remarkably effective at creating space in the lane and getting the ball to the basket. Pena has the second-highest two-point shooting percentage on the Wildcats' roster; only Maurice Sutton has a higher numnber, and Pena has taken three times as many field goal attempts.

But it says something to me that Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek all draw more fouls per game than Pena. Fisher, Wayns and Cheek make sense, as all three regularly drive to the basket. But Stokes doesn't as often, and his 3.8 fouls drawn per game is one full foul more than Pena's 2.8.

Pena has not yet received the kinds of accolades that Dante Cunningham used to get, in part because Mouphtaou Yarou is also in the paint helping out. But a game like yesterday should make Pena more valuable.

As we all know, Georgetown has two exceptional guards in ChriS Wright and Austin Freeman, and a third quality shooter in Jason Clark. That is enough to neutralize Fisher and Wayns.

But for as much as Nate Lubick and Henry Sims have improved over the course of this season, the Hoyas still don't have that much frontcourt depth. So it seems to me like yesterday presented Villanova with a great opportunity to really pound the ball inside.

Pena took 10 field goal attempts against Georgetown, which is certainly a reasonable number, but I can't help thinking it could have been more. Say he had taken 15 attempts, or more. Not only would that probably have gotten Villanova a few more points on the board, but it also would probably have produced a few fouls on Georgetown - and free throws to go with them.

Giving Pena a greater role would have also forced the Hoyas' defense to concentrate more on the interior. That might have created better opportunities for Fisher, Stokes and Wayns on the perimiter.

Would all this have been moot if Villanova had won the game by one basket instead of losing by one basket? Possibly. But there are two things we know for sure.

The first thing is that no one, and I mean anywhere in the country, knows right now how the Big East is going to shake out. Georgetown won at Villanova, Villanova won at Syracuse, Louisville won at Connecticut and Notre Dame won at Pittsburgh. All of those teams have real talent.

The second thing is specific to Villanova. When the Wildcats were down by double digits against American in the NCAA Tournament a few years back, they didn't come from behind by giving the ball to Scottie Reynolds and telling him to figure it out. They threw the ball inside to Dante Cunningham again and again, and the Eagles' lead collapsed.

Obviously, Georgetown is a much better team than American. But the principle of working the ball inside a lot is still a sound one. In Antonio Pena, Villanova has a player who can get the job done in the paint as well as anyone you'll see this season.

There's audio from Villanova and Georgetown's postgame press conferences below, and a photo gallery from the game above. I've also embedded the video my Philly.com colleague Dave Isaac put together at Temple-St. Joe's with The Inquirer's Keith Pompey.

Oh, and one other thing. By my count, there were a total of 30,602 fans watching college basketball across Philadelphia yesterday: 19,914 at the Wells Fargo Center for Villanova-Georgetown, 7,342 at the Palestra in the morning for Temple-St. Joe's, and 3,346 at the Palestra at night for Brown-Penn.

That's pretty cool no matter which team you root for.



Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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