It was senior night in Villanova, but a sophomore led the Wildcats to a Big Dance resume-enhancing win over No. 17 Marquette.
Darun Hilliard came up huge for a team teetering on the bubble, pouring in 22 points to help his team defeat the Golden Eagles 60-56. Another sophomore, JayVaughn Pinkston, chipped in 11, as did freshman phenom Ryan Arcidiacono. Maphtou Yarou was the only senior to have a strong showing, adding 10 points and 7 tough rebounds in a crucial win.
The Wildcats will have to win out to exceed 20 wins in the regular season, but they’re over .500 in the Big East, and that’s not chicken feed. They own big wins over Syracuse, Louisville and now Marquette – all on their home floor. Their only really bad loss is to Columbia, but there have been a few too many losses of any sort – ten overall at this point – to call the Wildcats a lock for an NCAA berth just yet. They’re tough at home, where they’ll face Georgetown to end the season in March, but they’re wobbly on the road, where they’ll spend the next week, with dates at Seton Hall and Pitt.
Villanova may very well end up with a tourney-worthy resume, but the question then becomes, do they have a tourney-worthy team? By which I mean, can they make it to the second week with the players they have, or will they be a novelty upset pick that fades away?
The answer to that question is partially coded in the first sentence of this article. ‘Nova has dynamite players who lack experience. Senior Yarou in the post is a big plus for a young team, but the real March pressure will fall on the shoulders of a young guard corps led by freshman Arcidiacono. He’ll need to show, over the next few weeks, that he can continue to direct Villanova’s offense through a series of gut-checks that won’t end until the season is over, one way or another.
The television-producer cliche is to cut away to a shot of the Rocky statue during games in Philadelphia. To extend the metaphor, right now Villanova looks like a team with a puncher’s chance in March. If they can take a couple of eight counts and still bounce back for the unlikely win on the road, like they have at home, there could be great days ahead.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.