Watching #1

Last night, I saw the Villanova basketball team take on Georgetown in Washington, D.C. I attended not because I expected an interesting contest, nor did I see one. Villanova was at least 40 points ahead when, with about three minutes to go, coach Jay Wright pulled his starters. Rather, I went because I wanted to see the Number One ranked college basketball team in the country.

I hadn’t seen a #1 in person since at least the 2001-02 season when the University of Maryland squad may have held that ranking at the time I attended one of its games. In the 1970s or early 80s, I saw a top-ranked Dean Smith North Carolina unit, and in the very early 70s, I saw two UCLA teams that held the top spot in the polls.

The Villanova team I watched last night reminded me of UCLA. No, they aren’t as good. They don’t have a Bill Walton, though point guard Jalen Brunson (whose father I saw play for one of Temple’s outstanding teams) is fantastic.

But Villanova plays the way John Wooden’s teams did — smart and unselfishly. And they make shots. Last night, they made 33 of 55 of them, including 17 of 33 from three point territory.

Many teams will look great with shooting like that. But for the season, Villanova is shooting .517 and .421 on three-pointers. Normalize last night’s shooting stats to reflect the season as a whole, and you still have a blowout.

Nova’s offense is a joy to watch. It’s an open-shot producing machine, with great ball movement and excellent screening.

Defensively, the numbers say Villanova is considerably less impressive. Indeed, the team ranks only 159th in opponent field goal percentage (43.8 percent).

They were brilliant on defense last night, though. Georgetown’s two good offensive players — Jessie Govan (who is better than good) and Marcus Derrickson, both do most of their damage in the low post. Villanova, therefore, used trapping defenses and half court pressure to force Georgetown to set up its offense far from the basket.

This strategy limited the low post touches of Govan and Derrickson. The two stars combined for 20 points on 7-20 shooting. In addition, the trapping led turnovers and easy baskets for Nova.

Does Villanova have a weakness? The only one I saw last night was lack of front court depth. Their low post starters looked fine, but the only backup they used before garbage time struggled and nearly fouled out in just 12 minutes. I can imagine Villanova having a tough time against a strong all-around team with two big men of Georgetown’s quality or better. And an off-game shooting is always a possibility, even for a team that shoots as well as Nova.

Thus, Villanova, like the #1 ranked Dean Smith team I saw, may fall short of a national championship. But it did my heart good to watch the Wildcats play a nearly flawless game last night.

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