Freshmen, improved second-half defense stand out for No. 10 Villanova

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No. 10 Villanova led La Salle 38-34 at the half, and defensively the Wildcats couldn’t have played much worse than they did. The Explorers, even with the guard tandem of Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland combining to score just five points on 2-for-11 shooting, shot 46.4% from the field with forward Jerrell Wright burning Villanova for 18 points. Clearly, something needed to change if the Wildcats were to gain separation and build on the program’s best start since the 2005-06 season.

Change did occur for Villanova, as Wright was limited to two points in the second half and as a team La Salle shot just 28.6% from the field. The end result: a 73-52 win, with the Wildcats avenging last season’s overtime loss at Tom Gola Arena. Jay Wright’s team just keeps rolling along, with multiple contributors on the offensive end and a defense that through ten games has been highly active.

Villanova limited La Salle to an offensive efficiency of 78.1 on the afternoon, and entering Sunday the Wildcats ranked second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. With the number of perimeter options at Wright’s disposal, Villanova has the pieces needed to be a nuisance on that end of the floor and that’s been the case thus far. And when combining that with an efficient offensive effort, as Villanova assisted on 20 of their 25 made field goals and shot 49%, the Wildcats are a tough team to beat.

Also of note on Sunday, and throughout the season, has been the play of the bench. Starter Darrun Hilliard led the way with 21 points, but on an afternoon that saw James Bell (three points) and JayVaughn Pinkston (seven) limited to ten the 24 combined points from freshmen Josh Hart (13) and Kris Jenkins (11) were big. With those two, who are averaging 8.0 and 4.2 points per game respectively, combining with Rice transfer Dylan Ennis (10.6 ppg) the Wildcats have the bench production needed to account for Pinkston’s move into the starting lineup. Pinkston, who started just 13 of the Wildcats’ 34 games a season ago, averaged 13.3 points per game in that sixth man role.

La Salle’s had its troubles, most notably the struggles endured by Duren and Garland on the perimeter, and the loss of Ramon Galloway isn’t one you simply gloss over either. But the Explorers’ difficulties shouldn’t take away from what Villanova was able to do on Sunday. And there’s still room for growth as well, which is a positive sign for the Wildcats with the start of Big East play just over two weeks away.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.