Posted by MATT JONES
The last two weeks of the season are for one thing and one thing only, getting ready for the postseason. Unless a team plays a hated rival in the last two weeks, most of the coaches and players have their attention firmly focused on March and simply getting through the final stretch of games. For some teams however, the rush to finish the season is even greater, as their performance down the stretch has left much to be desired. For these three teams, March simply can’t come soon enough:
No team has had a greater fall in the last four weeks than Villanova. Whereas just a month ago, many (including this writer) believed Jay Wright finally had the correct formula to make another deep March run, now the Wildcats are a team in disarray. Villanova is 4-5 in the last nine games, with losses to Rutgers and Providence mixed in with an overtime escape versus lowly Depaul. What was once a balanced offense with the two Coreys combining with a formidable big man trio down low has become a stagnant attack that looks like the worst of the Villanova guard offenses of years past. All too often, the Wildcats simply stand around waiting for Corey Fisher or Corey Stokes to create a shot and the ball movement that had been so crisp early has all but disappeared. Jay Wright’s team has remained close in all of its games, but wasted two valuable opportunities for big home wins against Pittsburgh and Syracuse by executing poorly down the stretch. Villanova is still a good team, but it looks like a shadow of the group that had Final Four aspirations in January.
The Road Warriors they are not. Kentucky is now 1-6 in SEC road play after the loss on Wednesday night versus woeful Arkansas. In each of the games Kentucky has been in it until the end, losing the total by a combined margin of 18 points. However in each of the defeats, the Cats have made a series of crucial errors down the stretch that have caused a probable victory to turn into yet another defeat. Going into March, Calipari’s team will have one of the more talented starting fives in the field, but a lack of depth and ability to close out games is worrisome. The question one has to ask when evaluating Kentucky is whether the team we will see in the NCAA Tournament is the one that handles everyone easily in Rupp Arena, or loses to anyone on their home court. Most likely the true identity of the team is somewhere in the middle, meaning that Kentucky will be a great unknown for those filling out brackets and attempting to project the field.
Two weeks can change a lot. Georgetown was playing as well as any team in the country just ten days ago and John Thompson III’s group looked like a potential contender for a #2 seed. Since then, the Hoyas lost to UCONN on the road (no shame in that) and took a convincing defeat at home to Cincinnati (more shame there). But most importantly, star Chris Wright broke his non-shooting hand, meaning that a key ingredient to the team’s success is now unavailable. The Hoyas could get Wright back by Tournament time, but in the intervening weeks, they will have to play Syracuse, Cincinnati and the Big East Tournament without one of their most important contributors. In the process, their seed will likely drop and they will go into March with an unknown as to what their roster will look like when the ball is tipped for the Big Dance. Just a couple of weeks ago, only a few teams in America would have traded place with Georgetown. Now they are as much in flux as any team that will play in the NCAA Tournament.