Our foray into the Big East has introduced us all to a lot of new people and new opportunities. One of the most significant of those has become the pre game Q&A with the opposition Chris Lane from VU Hoops joins us for the very last one of the regular season before Xavier's Thursday date with conference leaders Villanova.
Banners: What is your impression of the new Big East as an entity? A lot has been made of the 30 for 30: Requiem for the Big East, but this was a huge step up for us this year. How has it felt for you?
VU Hoops: I'm a big fan of the re-shaped conference. I was extremely nervous about losing perennial powers like Syracuse and Louisville, and to a lesser extent even UConn and Pitt (for rivalry reasons) but I'm pleasantly surprised by the level of play. The middle of the conference feels much stronger this year though we could use a few more Top 25 teams. The bottom is still pretty crappy, but that's what you get by having DePaul in your conference.
Winning also helps. A lot. The season Villanova is having makes it very easy to engross oneself into the team and not worry about the conference.
Banners: National polls aren't generally reliable, but it seems every ranking system available has Villanova in the top 10. Do you think this is a Final Four team?
VU Hoops: One thing I learned from our 2009 Final Four run is that luck is a requirement in March. Especially with the parity this year, I think it is foolish for anybody to say that any one team is a lock for the Final 4. Villanova has one great thing going for it (that is also had in 2009) and that is consistent defense. Unless somebody pulls a Creighton and shoots 60% from deep, Villanova has been able to rely on their defense to carry them through the nights when their offense isn't firing on all cylinders.
Because of that, I think this team is more than capable of reaching the Final Four. They need to not catch an unlucky break and run into an offensive buzzsaw and they should be able to beat anyone that comes their way.
Banners: The games that Villanova lost are far and away their worst defensive performances of the year. What did Creighton and Syracuse do that made such an impact?
VU Hoops: The Syracuse loss is pretty overblown. A lot of people forget that Villanova was up by 18 in that game before going absolutely ice-cold from the floor. It was a close game late before Villanova excessively fouled and Syracuse made all their FT's.
Creighton is a completely different story. Villanova plays a lot of high-pressure defense and looks to trap when possible, and Creighton is loaded with very smart players that pass and move without the ball well. They were able to beat Villanova's traps and pass for open shots. Then they made those open shots for two historical shooting performances. Having Doug McDermott helps too.
Banners: Villanova's ball movement is almost dizzying at times, and it results in a lot of clean looks at the basket. To what do you attribute the Wildcats' unselfishness?
VU Hoops: Every few years Jay Wright cultivates a group of players that embrace the underdog mentality. Look over the roster at this team - all of them have experienced setbacks and are out there to prove the doubters wrong. JayVaughn Pinkston has been told he's too small to be an effective forward. Ryan Arcidiacono and James Bell have had nasty injuries that threatened to end their careers. Darrun Hilliard was a 2-star recruit who nobody wanted. They've all bonded over these issues and are helping each other prove the doubters wrong.
That chip on the shoulder mentality has unified this group of players and allowed them to all play unselfish basketball in an effort to make people take notice. It's been beautiful to watch.
Banners: Outside of Ochefu, Nova lacks size, but they're still a dominant rebounding team. How?
Hustle, plain and simple. When you don't have the size, you have to outwork your opponents. The players know that they can't rely on Daniel Ochefu to be the only glass cleaner, and players like Bell, Hilliard and Josh Hart seem to take extreme pride in pulling down 5-7 boards a game and outworking the other team. Also, as a team that takes about 45% of its shots from beyond the arc, they can rely on lots of long rebounds that favor guards crashing the board from the perimeter.
VU Hoops: Bruce Springsteen playing the Final Four has been the biggest news of the season. Are we the only people covering college basketball who aren't at least 50?
Bruce Springsteen is playing the Final Four? I honestly had no idea. That probably stems from Bruce getting a good Super Bowl rating a few years ago. After all, it's all about the benjamins, baby.
Banners: Forget a score prediction, do you even see a way Xavier can win this game?
VU Hoops: Absolutely - it's Senior Night. Weird stuff happens when there's that much emotion in a building. I know you don't have many seniors, but it could be Semaj's final game and I'm sure he'll play like it. Villanova is playing for a regular season championship and Wright has had them extremely focused so I expect a good effort on our side, but you can't quantify the intangibles that the Cintas Center is sure to bring.