The Toughness Meter
"Welcome to the Big East. It wasn't a pretty one, but that's the way it's going to be in this league. Rutgers came in and played tough..." the words were spoken with Coach Wright's calm, almost quiet "press conference" voice, but the Villanova Coach's usual easy smile was missing as he delivered his introductory remarks. "Tough" was the theme in both post game interviews -- two technical fouls and a player ejection can shape a storyline that way. Rutgers Head Coach Mike Rice was asked where on the toughness meter did he think his team had played the Wildcats. The toughness meter? I have heard of turnover meters and foul meters, but toughness meters? Rutgers' defenders were a second skin on Villanova's guards and bfc Mouphtaou Yarou. Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns had to decode a series of defensive schemes that changed almost by the possession, causing the Wildcats guards to overlook a number of scoring opportunities throughout the first half. But the Scarlet Knight strategy had a price, and Rutgers' best front court player freshman forward/center Gilvydas Biruta picked up two fouls before the game was eight minutes old, was the payment. Rice, in a gambling mood, shuffled Biruta in and out of the game for the next nine minutes, but Biruta picked up his third foul before the intermission.
The Nova Blogosphere has two returns, the Nova Blog posted a quick recap and VUHoops.com posted one as well. From the ink media, Rutgers beat writer, Jerry Carino, posted a game recap with a Rutgers perspective. And Mike Kern over at the Philadelphia Daily News wrote another recap that followed Carino's lead "Villanova Holds off Upstart Rutgers..." (...hold off!?! C'mon Mike, the Wildcats won by 16!). The Athletic Department website posted the official boxscore and the AP wire story, "Stokes, Fisher Lift No. 8 Villanova...", led off with the Corey's second half break out. The breakdown by halves...
Green highlighting identifies the good elements of Villanova's game yesterday, while red highlighting identifies elements the are below the levels the team has played to to date. I was tempted to bathe the first half stats entirely in red and the second half stats entirely in green, such was the contrast in play between the first and the last 20 minutes.
Based on projections from first half, the teams were on track for a 70 possession game, and I suspect neither coach would have objected. Though it slowed a bit for the second half (Villanova had a couple of shot clock violations...the guards really struggled to identify the available scoring options), both teams still managed about 67 possessions, about average for Division 1. The first half marked ugly offenses for both teams, but for very different reasons. Rutgers managed open looks, but could not consistently finish. Their 105.3 rating (about 1.05 points per possession) is above the D1 average of about 101 (or so), but a yellow flag considering the Scarlet Knights had shut Villanova's offense down but led by a slender four points. Villanova shot poorly for the second consecutive first half (39.3% eFG%), and saw their huge rebounding advantage negated by a high turnover rate. That rebounding/turnover differential yielded only one field goal attempt more than Rutgers.
The Wildcats opened the second half with a four minute, 16-4 run, and though the Scarlet Knights managed to cut their deficit to three points several times over the next 16 minutes, Rutgers did not challenge for the lead.
The Scarlet Knights' frustrations boiled up as the second half slipped away, Gilvydas Birutas' closed fist swat at Dominic Cheek the most obvious sign the Rutgers squad was unable to recompose itself and focus on the game. Indeed Rice stopped the action for over five minutes (with 0:33 on the clock) as he "sought clarification" and argued with referee James Breeding about Birutas' ejection. Despite watching the replay, the Rutgers coach professed after the game, to still not understand the call. Forwards Jon Mitchell and Dane Miller threw their hands up in exaspiration each time a referee whistle signaled a foul on them. Miller, exited the game around the 5:00 minute mark, having been called for his last two fouls within a half minute period.
Notes & Observations
1. The point distribution (yellow highlight in the table above) illustrates how the game shifted at the half. Stokes scored 21 of his 23 points after the intermission. The entire squad (Stokes included) went 6-9 from beyond the arc in the second half while holding Rutgers to 28 points on eight made field goals (one from beyond the arc) and 11 points from the line.
2. The staff again used only nine players, and seven logged >= 10 minutes.
3. Corey Stokes led the team in scoring for the second consecutive game, posting 23 points on 5-9 (4-7, 1-2) and 9-10 shooting. The senior wing shot an extemely effective 77.8% eFG%, with a 1.67 PPWS.
4. Corey Fisher scored 19 points on 6-12 (2-4, 4-8) and 5-6 shooting. Fish logged a 58.3% eFG% and a 1.28 PPWS.
5. Sophomore Maalik Wayns had a horrible day from the field, but showed maturity as he dialed back his field goal shots (he averaged 11.3 FGAs going into Big East play) to nine and focused on assists (9) and rebounds (8). Wayns and Fisher combined for 15 assists yesterday.
6. Dominic Cheek celebrated his 20th birthday yesterday. Congratulations Dom you share birthdays with my brother.