On Wednesday evening, the ugly basketball which reared it's ugly head in South Florida returned for a twin billing. The Villanova Wildcats (9-10, 2-5) won for the 52nd time in their last 54 contests at the Pavilion, handling Seton Hall (15-4, 4-3) 84-76, in a game in which the 'Cats should have won by a much greater margin. We all know the history, but it bears repeating, the loss leaves the Pirates winless at the Pavilion over the last 18 years. Although the young Wildcats are experiencing a down year, it's very tough to win games in their home venue and it certainly calls for a better effort than what Seton Hall had to give tonight.
In the first 12 minutes, the Wildcats jumped out to a 23-11 lead and wouldn't look back over the final 28 minutes. Seton Hall would cut the lead to as little as 2 points halfway through the second, but every time they pulled within striking distance their offense would go stagnant or Villanova would respond with a big bucket or two of their own. Maalik Wayns (25pts/7ast/5reb) and JayVaughn Pinkston (23pts/11reb) had their way with the Pirates defense, combining for a near-Ulysses S. Grant note. James Bell, hurt the Pirates behind the arc making good on 4 of 8 attempts, often responsible for those big buckets noted above.
Frequent readers of the Juice know I'm not one to harp on officiating, never have and I never will, as I believe the number of games decided by, "bad officiating" is so marginal, it's really not worth discussing on most nights. Tonight, Villanova went to the line 41 times, whereas Seton Hall, just 16. That's telling. Take out the 10 FTA the Wildcats took in the final minute when the Pirates were intentionally sending them to the line and that's still 31. Now take out Mobley's intentional foul and we're STILL looking at a 29-16 difference. Hate to say it, but I'm just saying, that's quite the disparity.
Speaking of Brandon Mobley (12pts/3reb/26min), it's time he gets a crack at the starting rotation. Without him, Seton Hall would have shot 0-for-14 from distance in the first half. Mobley made all three of his 3PTA and other than one foolish moment, carried his weight in keeping Seton Hall competitive for the majority of the night. I'm sure this will remain a highly contested debate as there are plenty of fans who believe Auda deserves to continue starting. I understood the argument that he should have stayed in the starting lineup as the team was winning and the fact that Mobley provided a spark off the bench, but enough of all that. You've got to start your best five players and Mobley fits the bill.
In fact, there was a telling moment in the second half after Mobley just picked up his 3rd PF (matching Auda), on a boneheaded intentional foul. After the timeout, Willard decided to roll with Mobley, while the sophomore remained on the bench. Due to the foul trouble, Auda played timid on defense and on offense, he was flat. Often a step slow to react, he looked unsure as to what his role was when his team had possession of the basketball. Following the game, I was asked where the bench scoring will come from if Mobley wins the starting job. Why can't it come from Auda? As I noted earlier in the year, relieving him of his starting role and bringing him off the bench could take a giant weight off his shoulder. I don't see why his confidence would be rattled if he comes in off the bench, looks for his shot, plays solid defense and contributes to the "second team." It also wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to bring Auda in with Geramipoor to spell both Pope and Mobley. Patrik Auda is a talented basketball player and there's a very important role for him on this team. Many players thrive in a sixth man role. There's also Haralds Karlis to provide bench scoring as we know he's more than capable. Look, the team has lost 2 in a row and has played some of their worst basketball over that span. We can keep rolling out the same lineup as is and take the chance that we won't keep playing from behind, or we can play our best five players from the jump. It's Mobley time.
Seton Hall's trio finished just 11-of-40 from the floor, lowlighted by Jordan Theodore's 2-of-16 shooting night. He tweeted after the game that he couldn't throw a rock in the ocean tonight. That's true, but neither could his teammates and when you can't make shots and finish at a 36% clip, you're not going to win many ballgames. Herb Pope (10pts/8reb) and Fuquan Edwin's (14pts/9reb) numbers weren't all that bad, but I'm expecting more out of Pope and for Fuquan to return to more consistent nights shooting the rock (5-of-16 tonight).
As a team, the Pirates died by the 3-pointer tonight. If it weren't for Mobley, they would have shot a collective 0-for-14 in the first half. A stretch of hot shooting in the second half (9-of-19), kept the final score close and brought their 3PT mark to a respectable 33%, except it came on THIRTY-SIX attempts. 36? Our coach believes we have the best PF in the country (and we do have a very good one), so why on earth are we launching it 36 times from deep? Good God. I always say 8-10 makes from distance is a winning formula for this basketball team, but that's assuming you keep the attempts at a reasonable pace. We took 71 shots from the floor tonight, SEVENTY ONE and we just BARELY outscored the number of shots we took with our final score. That's alarming. Had we shot somewhat decently in the first half, we probably would have come away with the victory. The team made 14 buckets from inside the arc, at least half of which were layups and putbacks. That, of course, is not a formula for winning basketball. Let's hope we work on our mid-range games during the week off.
Frankly, the fanbase is drained from watching this brutal road trip, myself included. Luckily, I'm leaving for a much needed vacation during the weeklong lull in action and will be away for some time, hopefully returning in time for Louisville. No fear, SOJ remains in the trusted care of my colleagues, J.P. and Rob (HallBall99), who will have the recap following Notre Dame at The Rock, next Wednesday. Right now, our NCAA discussion is on life support and it would behoove the fanbase to put all discussion on the back burner, immediately. You'll be doing yourself a favor, at least until the Pirates return to playing some winning basketball. Oh, that includes all talk about potential seeding, which is outright ridiculous. We're on the fast track to Big East mediocrity (that USF team some considered a bad loss now sports a better record than us); this team will need to play very good basketball the rest of the way just to play themselves back into the discussion. It's time to protect the Rock. We'll (myself not included) see what this team is made of come Wednesday. Adios, Juicers!