Struggling Villanova looks for a little magic at Disney World
Launching a few college basketball thoughts from behind the arc while wondering what it would take to get the Globe to assign me to cover the Maui Invitational.
■ Forward thinking
Who watches football on Thanksgiving anymore? OK, lots of people. I can see wanting to attend a traditional high school game if you had a relative playing in it, but I’ll skip watching the NFL. I don’t want to sit there cringing as I wait to see who gets the next concussion.
For oddballs like myself, there’s basketball — way too much basketball, but I’ll do my best to watch as much as I can.
There are three eight-team tournaments that have games on Thanksgiving — one in Disney World, one near Disneyland, and one in the Bahamas played in a dark ballroom. It’s evolving into a tradition. I won’t overlook the Maui final on Wednesday night, either.
At Disney World, Villanova was supposed to be the favorite but the Wildcats have lost to Michigan and Furman. They should get past Canisius (even if the Griffins are Sully’s Court’s MAAC team) and then have to contend with either Oklahoma State or Memphis.
Emerging from the other side of the bracket would be Florida State or LSU, most likely.
Maybe this is where the Wildcats begin to get it together. Right now, they’re not playing well, although they lost to two good teams. Don’t overlook Furman, which will contend with Wofford in the Southern Conference. The Paladins also won at Loyola of Chicago this season (on a last-second dunk).
Villanova’s problems can be traced to at least two areas. The Wildcats had a record-setting season from behind the 3-point arc when they won last year’s national championship; they hit 42 percent as a team. But this season they’ve dipped to 32 percent.
Two of the worst shooters are their leading scorers, Phil Booth (29.0 percent) and Eric Paschall (17.6 percent). Both were supposed to take big steps forward this season to become stars. So far it hasn’t happened.
In addition, a heralded recruiting class has contributed little. There’s still plenty of talent; maybe they just need a trip to Disney World.
At the Wooden Legacy event in Anaheim, Calif., there are no ranked teams. The winner should be Miami or Utah, with Seton Hall and Northwestern outside possibilities.
Dodging the banquet tables at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas will be a solid field, even if it doesn’t quite stack up to the last few years. Virginia is the big favorite and will have to fend off challenges from Wisconsin, Florida, Butler, and Oklahoma.
There’s another event in Las Vegas — two nights, eight teams, but not a full tournament. UMass is involved, playing Southern Illinois. The other matchups are Nevada-Tulsa, Texas-North Carolina, and Michigan State-UCLA. Too bad Nevada can’t get a date with the Tar Heels, Spartans, or Bruins.
■ Thinking nationally
Speaking of Carolina, the Heels have been overshadowed by Duke’s incredible freshmen, but you know what? The Heels are really good, too, and have two excellent freshmen in Nassir Little and Coby White. It’s difficult to type this, but North Carolina is somewhat underrated, and it might have the most underrated player in the country in big man Luke Maye.
The Big Ten has three interesting teams — Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin — which were not projected to have big seasons but have been playing great.
Michigan beat Villanova in the new Ski Lodge by an incomprehensible score of 73-46. Then the Wolverines bused up to Mohegan Sun to blitz George Washington and handle Providence.
Ohio State has two terrific road victories at Cincinnati and Creighton.
Wisconsin looks tough too, especially big man Ethan Happ. He is rugged around the basket, which is a good thing, because all he ever shoots is layups. It may not sound like much, but he has an incredible knack for scoring near the basket. He has attempted only nine threes in his career. Right now, he’s playing like a first-team All-American.
Badgers sophomore guard Brad Davison is officially installed as a Sully’s Court favorite. Appearances are deceiving. He looks heavy-legged — maybe even bulky — but he’s quick and tough, especially attacking the rim.
My bad relationship: I love Marquette’s personnel and style of play (fast, with tons of 3-point shots) but no team that talented is so consistently disappointing. The latest example was a blowout loss at Indiana.
Virginia Tech is capable of a big season, maybe even the Final Four, because it has great guards in Justin Robinson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Ahmed Hill. All three can score and help others to score. Plus, it’s a great defensive team.
The WCC is a Sully’s Court pet. I love all the schools; I just wish the conference could be a little more balanced, as Gonzaga tends to dominate. The Zags probably will again, but a few schools in the conference are off to great starts.
Loyola Marymount is 5-0 and won a tournament in Jamaica. Saint Mary’s has one loss but actually played and won a good road game at New Mexico State (the Gaels have been heavily criticized for poor scheduling). I really like their junior point guard, Jordan Ford.
San Francisco might be the one team that could pose a threat to Gonzaga, with high-scoring guard Charles Minlend returning after missing last season because of an injury. Plus, it has another Sully’s Court favorite, guard Frankie Ferrari. I’ll be watching a lot of the WCC this season.
Belmont is the little school in Nashville better known for its musicians (Brad Paisley) than athletes, but the Bruins always have good basketball teams (Ian Clark of the New Orleans Pelicans played there). Its next big star has an unusual background. Caleb Hollander, 6-8 redshirt freshman, was twice named winner of the Pete Maravich Award, given to the best home-schooled high school player in the US. Coach Rick Byrd finds players wherever he can.
■ Thinking locally
Two things stick out for the Massachusetts teams: home games and injuries. You have to win your home games. Recent results aren’t good.
Boston College lost to IUPUI.
Northeastern lost to Boston University.
Harvard lost to NU.
BU lost to Vermont.
UMass lost to Harvard and Howard.
They have to do better.
Health would help. Harvard is still missing its two best players in Bryce Aiken and Seth Towns. The official word is that both will be back soon. Can’t happen fast enough.
Northeastern star guard Vasa Pusica injured his left wrist in a victory over Alabama. He kept playing, but it affected him. In the Huskies’ final game in the Charleston tournament, he went to the bench in the second half of a loss to Davidson. He’s not expected to miss any games, however.
BC was without center Nik Popovic (groin) in a tournament in Fort Myers, Fla. The Eagles didn’t miss him in a win over Wyoming as Johncarlos Reyes scored 15 points, getting most of his baskets off some nice passes behind the Wyoming zone.
The Eagles got some timely baskets from two new sources, Chris Herren Jr. and Vin Baker Jr. In case you don’t know, yes, they are the sons of the former NBA players.
Popovic is day-to-day, so it’s not clear whether he’ll play against Loyola in the tournament final Wednesday.