Villanova came into the NCAA tournament the No. 1 overall seed and the defending national champs, but much like the last time they were a top seed, they fizzled out way earlier than they should have, losing to No. 8 seed Wisconsin 65-62 Saturday in Buffalo. It’s a horrible ending to an amazing run for the senior class of Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds, who had aspirations of ending their Villanova careers as back-to-back champions. Now, they won’t even get to the tournament’s second weekend.
So what went wrong? For a team that had fantastic balance all season, they became woefully imbalanced against Wisconsin. Put flatly, they weren’t good enough. Here’s why:
Nigel Hayes = Baller
Veteran leadership goes a long way in the NCAAs, and Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes showed that, playing 39 minutes and scoring a team-high 19 points with eight rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. The biggest play of the game for Hayes, obviously, was his hesitation drive to the bucket that sealed the game for the Badgers, and sealed the fate for Nova.
For the second-straight game, Nova got off to a sluggish start and had to scrap back in the first half to make it a game. Wisconsin got out to a 9-3 lead to open the game, as Nova had three early turnovers and a loose ball foul after a missed layup, ostensibly a fourth.
Villanova did fight back to tie the game at 12 just under the 12-minute mark of the first half, and things turned to the Wildcats’ advantage when Wisconsin All-American Ethan Happ went out with two fouls, but over the next 2:40, Nova was outscored 8-0, falling behind 20-12 and having to, again, scrap back into the game.
Other than Hart, the Villanova starters were horrible in the first half, with Kris Jenkins the worst of the lot.
Kris Jenkins killed Villanova on the offensive end
Kris Jenkins was a 38.8 percent shooter all season, after shooting 45.9 percent last season. The guy most known for hitting the shot that won Nova a title last year couldn’t hit much of anything this tournament.
Jenkins started 0-4 from field and finished the first half 1-for-7. For the game, he was 2-for-9.
It’s not even that Jenkins had been shooting poorly, it’s that he’d been inconsistently poor. He shot 2-for-13 in the opening round of the tournament. In the Big East tourney, he was 8-for-18, 1-for-8 and 6-for-13 in three games. If he was just bad all the time, Jay Wright could have put him on the bench. But when he’s that bad followed by that good, it’s hard to know which Jenkins you’ll get.
The senior had 11 games this season where he hit half or more of his shots, and 19 games in which he shot .400 or better. But he also had 12 games in which he shot worse than .300, including 10 in which he shot .250 or worse.
Saturday made it 11.
They are FREE throws. Free!
Villanova was the best free throw shooting team in the nation this year, but they missed three key free throws down the stretch — Josh Hart missed one with the game tied at 57, Eric Paschall missed one with the game tied at 59 and Donte DiVincenzo missed one after tying the game at 62.
Nova lost by three.
Hot Take: Donte DiVincenzo is Nova’s best player
Redshirt freshman Donte DiVencenzo was making himself into a household name in Philly (and around the country) with his play in the NCAAs. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched Nova down the stretch, as he became as important as Hart this season. He had 36 points and 19 rebounds in two games during the tourney. He’s not the reason Villanova lost, but the fact he had to be such a force just to keep them in the game Saturday illustrates how little the team was getting from their veterans other than Hart.
Josh Hart may be Player of the Year, but was outclassed
Josh Hart had a team-high 19 points despite taking just nine shots, scoring nearly half his points at the free-throw line. The irony is that misses at the line, a rarity for the senior, hurt Nova immensely, as did his five turnovers.
Hart was shooting well early, but tried to force passes that led to turnovers and easy points for Wisconsin. Late, with the game on the line, Hart tried to take over, but was just over-matched by the Wisconsin defense.
Hart had two turnovers — both travels — in the final minute of the game, when every possession was magnified and one mistake could (read: did) cost one team the win. There could have been a foul called on the last travel, but there wasn’t, and Hart wasn’t secure enough with the basketball to get the job done.
This shouldn’t diminish his season. The national Player of the Year candidate was spectacular all year, but with the Wildcats’ tournament hopes on the line and the ball in his hands, he lost it. And Villanova lost.
Yeah, this too…
We forgot one.
Nova was up 57-50 with 5:28 to play and scored FIVE points the rest of the game, giving up 15 down the stretch. Nova’s possessions after taking a seven-point lead went like this: blocked shot, blocked shot, miss, 1-of-2 from the line, 1-of-2 from the line, layup, turnover, 1-of-2 from the line, turnover.
That won’t win anything.