The fact that the nation’s number one team fell victim to an upset Saturday afternoon should not come as a surprise to anyone that follows college basketball. Before Kansas dropped a one-point game to kick-off Saturday’s string of games, four other number one teams had been knocked the thrown this season. We are in the midst of a season where being number in the country is coming with a quick expiration date. Come Monday, we will have our sixth new number one team and its only December.
For this young Villanova team, however, their 56-55 defeat over Kansas marks a turning in the program’s brief rebuild. They were not only able to hang with Kansas throughout the contest, but the team also triumphed in its biggest moments. Sooner than some expected, the Wildcats are ready to go toe-to-toe with the NCAA’s best once again.
Poor Shooting Plagues Both Sides
By all accounts, Saturday’s anticipated matchup was an ugly one. The Wildcats could not buy a bucket, registering a poor shooting percentage from everywhere on the court. Villanova went an unsatisfying 22-63 from the field, sinking only 34.9% of their shots. More shockingly, the Wildcats chucked up an astonishing 41 shots from behind the arc. Unfortunately, they were only able to connect on ten.
Villanova’s saving grace in a game where the shots weren’t falling was that the opposition was experiencing the same struggle. Kansas registered a slightly better game from the field, connecting 24 of their 55 shots. They were also far less adventurous from downtown, taking 13 three-pointers and hitting three.
When both teams are struggling to produce points, they know they are in for a dogfight to the finish. Things get sloppy and teams need to prepare to capitalize on their opponent’s misfortunes. On Saturday, Villanova was the team prepared to do so, coming up with key turnovers and challenging late opportunities from Kansas.
Gillespie & Samuels Steal the Show
After upsetting top-ranked Kansas, Villanova owes everything to Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels. The two juniors completely put the team on their shoulders, recording Villanova’s final 17 points. The team called upon them when the Wildcats needed leadership and execution. Luckily and unsurprisingly, Gillespie and Samuels did not disappoint.
The duo’s takeover of the game became most apparent on the final four-plus minutes of play. It all started with Samuels driving into the paint and bringing almost every Jayhawk with him. This strategy is not a new one for the Wildcats. Gillespie was patiently waiting behind the arc to receive the ball and drain a three.
Then, down by four, Gillespie demonstrated intelligence and awareness on the defensive end, taking the ball away from Devon Dotson and making the easy layup. Steals in basketball happen all the time. However, the impressiveness in how Gillespie forced the turnover cannot be ignored. After a screen up top from Udoka Azubuike, Dotson became free of Gillespie. Instead of attempting to reposition his body between Dotson and the basket, most likely leading to a blocking foul, the junior guard decided to trail his man. Gillespie knew what hand Dotson would be dribbling the ball with and made his move to take it away. His decision to go for the ball obviously led to the point in the game where the momentum officially swung in Villanova’s favor.
Samuels also capitalized on his opportunity to be a hero, hitting the game-winning three. Still, he has to give some credit to Gillespie. Once again, the guard demonstrated poise with the ball. He did not force anything and waited for the right opportunity to make his move. His patience resulted in Samuels receiving the ball and giving Villanova the lead. A lead they would not give up.
On a team with one senior who barely plays, Gillespie and Samuels have become leaders of the Wildcats team. Due to the team’s youth, it’s easy to but a cap on their ceiling. However, with this pair at the helm, possibilities become a bit more exciting.
An Upset to Build on
As mentioned before, Villanova is supposed to be in the midst of a rebuild. However, the pieces on the team are forming together a little faster than some expected. Now to go and call this team a National Title contender would be premature. Still, in a year where parody appears to be a theme, the Wildcats could shock the nation, going further than most expect.
With Big East Conference play coming up next, Villanova will use this upset over Kansas as a building block towards greatness. They just took down the nation’s top team. Now it’s time to take down the rest of their conference.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports