In yesterday's opening round of the Big East Tournament, an upset for the ages occurred. In what was truly a Cinderella win, the University of South Florida defeated Villanova University 70-69. Guard Shaun Noriega led the way with 22 points.
This was the fifth loss in a row for the Wildcats, and seventh in their last nine games. The team went into halftime up 49-33, but just looked lost in the second half as they were outscored 37-20. It looked as though they might have a shot at the victory after Anthony Crater made a driving layup with five seconds left, but Maalik Wayns' jumper at the buzzer did not fall and Villanova went home after making only four field goals in the second half.
"I don't think any of us have ever finished a season this way," Villanova coach Jay Wright said after the game. "So we've got to get our heads right."
This loss continued the general trend of Jay Wright's tenure at Villanova. His teams are loaded with talent and certainly have what it takes on paper to win a championship. Yet, in the end, they always come up short.
Last year, Wright coached the Wildcats to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, only to lose to the 10th-seeded St. Mary's in the second round. His team made the Final Four the previous year, but was still marred by the label of being an underachieving team. Sadly, after yesterday's loss, this label 100 percent fits.
Don't get me wrong. Jay Wright is not a bad coach by any means. Yet, can his coaching style match up with the rest of the Big East in the coming years? Well, that remains to be seen.
Villanova's problem all season and most of its previous seasons has been simple. Despite all of the talent the team has on its roster, the offense relies solely on one or two players. This year, it was senior guard Corey Fisher and the sophomore Wayns who shouldered most of the load.
The Wildcats had the same problem last year, when Fisher and guard Scottie Reynolds carried most of the offense. In a stacked conference like the Big East, this strategy simply will not work. Let's compare this approach with that of one of their Big East Rivals, the Georgetown Hoyas.
In the 2006-2007 season, the Georgetown Hoyas made the Final Four, ultimately losing to Ohio State. That year, the Hoyas' starting lineup looked something like this:
Center: Roy Hibbert
Forward: DaJuan Summers
Forward: Jeff Green
Guard: Jonathan Wallace
Guard: Jessie Sapp
Each of these starters was capable of going out and scoring in double figures game after game. Wallace was a great point guard with a deadly three-point shot, and Hibbert consistently scored 20 points and pulled down 10-plus rebounds a game. My point is, this squad looked like a TEAM.
Villanova is not blessed with that type of starting five. They certainly have the potential to have one, but that just isn't how Jay Wright coaches. He is a decent recruiter, but just does not know how to utilize all of his talent. Sorry, Jay, but this is the Big East and a two-man offense isn't going to work for you the way it did at Hofstra, then part of the America East Conference.
That all being said, should Villanova fire Jay Wright? Hate to say it, but the answer is yes. Not necessarily after this season, but it could be the right move in the next year or two.
The fact is simple. The Big East is the toughest conference in the NCAA. Each team has the potential to go far in the tournament and with the reemergence of St. John's, doing well in this conference will become much harder in years to come.
If Jay Wright wants to prove that his Villanova Wildcats are one of the men as opposed to one of the boys, he had better start using all five of his starters instead of just one or two. This is the Big East and barring a big run in the tournament (if the team is even selected), it's time for Wright to prove next season that he isn't a one-trick pony.