10 observations from Philly college hoops

10 observations from Philly college hoops

March 16, 2014, 10:30 am
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Villanova's James Bell is shooting 29.5 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from three and averaging 9.0 points in his last seven games. (USA Today Images)

Ten observations on Philly college hoops while counting down the hours, minutes and seconds till the NCAA bracket is announced and the entire country goes on vacation.

1. I’m a little concerned about James Bell, who’s been Villanova’s best player all year but has not looked right the last couple weeks. Through the second Creighton game, Bell was shooting 46.0 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three and averaging 16.1 points per game. The last seven games, he’s shooting 29.5 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from three and averaging 9.0 points per game. The Wildcats need Bell at 100 percent if they’re going to make a deep NCAA run.

2. Helping Villanova make up for Bell’s dip in production has been freshman Josh Hart’s emergence. Hart is averaging 10.8 points on 56-percent shooting and 5.0 rebounds over the last four games, despite averaging just 24 minutes per game in that stretch. Hart can shoot from range, he’s as good a finisher around the basket and he has a terrific knack on the offensive glass. Big-time talent. There’s a reason he’s always on the floor at big moments.

3. Great job by St. Joe’s rebounding from those back-to-back losses to George Washington and La Salle to win a couple games in the Atlantic 10 tournament and lock up the Hawks’ first NCAA bid since 2008. The Hawks looked shot after losing to La Salle, but they regrouped and beat Dayton and St. Bonaventure to reach 23 wins and Sunday’s A-10 final against VCU. St. Bonaventure’s upset over Saint Louis actually hurt St. Joe’s, since it meant St. Joe’s probably had to reach the A-10 final to lock up an NCAA bid, since a loss to No. 18 Saint Louis wouldn’t have hurt as much as a loss to the 18-15 Bonnies. Remember, St. Joe’s was 4-4, and since then they’re 19-5. They’re going to be dangerous in the tournament.

4. Interesting note about St. Joe’s: The Hawks commit the third-fewest personal fouls in Division 1 at 15.9 per game. That’s huge. That means you’re just not giving the other team free points. Make ‘em work for their points. The Hawks defended brilliantly in the second half Saturday, limiting St. Bonaventure to four baskets and 17-percent shooting from the field. With 10 minutes left, St. Joe’s led by eight. They then limited the Bonnies to 1-for-13 shooting the rest of the game.

5. Does Villanova shoot too many threes? The Wildcats have taken 801 threes this year, and only VMI (873) and Iona (834) have taken more in NCAA Division 1. Yet Villanova is only 94th in three-point accuracy at 36.1 percent. Against Seton Hall, Villanova got back into the game with a 16-0 run that didn’t include a single three. When the Wildcats are at their best, they’re mixing the three in with a concentrated effort to get the ball inside to JayVaughn Pinkston. When they just take threes, they get into trouble. In Villanova’s last six games, they’ve shot 145 threes, but Pinkston has just 22 baskets -- about 3 ½ per game. That number has to go up.

6. St. Joe’s Halil Kanacevic is one of the most unique players you’ll ever see. At 6-8, 255 pounds, he can shoot, run the floor and rebound like a 7-footer. And when he plays like he did Saturday, St. Joe’s doesn’t lose. How about 26 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

7. Here are Philly native and La Salle transfer Aaric Murray’s numbers for Texas Southern in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament: 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game. Murray and Texas Southern earned an NCAA tournament bid with a 78-73 win over Prairie View A&M in the SWAC final Saturday. Then there’s Villanova transfer Markus Kennedy, who’s averaging 12.1 points and 6.9 rebounds for likely at-large No. 25 SMU. Imagine if 'Nova still had Kennedy?

8. Hard to believe St. Joe’s has won just one NCAA tournament game since its unforgettable 2004 season.

9. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Villanova potentially facing St. Joe’s in a 2-10 game in the Round of 32 in Buffalo. Villanova would hate that draw. They want an opponent that isn’t familiar with them. And I don’t care if the game is in Buffalo or at the Palestra, Wells Fargo Center or Convention Hall, anytime two Big 5 teams play, you throw out the records, seedings and rankings. Villanova blew out St. Joe’s by 30 in early December, but it wouldn’t be that kind of game again.

10. Villanova lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tourney by one point and missed 10 foul shots. Jay Wright knows free-throw shooting could really doom the Wildcats in the tournament. The Wildcats have struggled big-time from the line lately. They were shooting 73.5 percent through the second Creighton game and ranked 43rd in D-1 from the line, but they’re at 63.8 percent since. Wright knows he can’t put undue pressure on his guys to convert from the line, so he’s basically going to keep doing what he’s been doing. Have his players practice but not harp on the foul-line misses. “We work on it every day,” Wright said. “We've always been a good free‑throw shooting team. I don't think there's anything more you can do about it. I think it's who we are. We've got to play that way. It’s just who we are. I don't make it a concern, like, ‘Oh, that's going to be our Achilles heel.’ We'll just play that way, knowing that sometimes some of our guys don't make free throws.”