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Georgetown could learn from ‘Nova

- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

Georgetown should take a long, hard look at Villanova because in many ways Saturday's opponent has overcome much of what the Hoyas have not this season.

Like Georgetown, the Wildcats have a limited frontcourt rotation that relies on the undersized pairing of 6-foot-8 forwards Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena for a post presence.

But Villanova hasn't just survived this size-strapped situation, it has thrived inside. The Wildcats took down Pittsburgh in their only meeting with the Big East's most rugged team and boast the league's fourth-best rebounding margin (plus-4.5).

Villanova also features a mixture of upperclass staples (Cunningham and junior guard Scottie Reynolds) and more ballyhooed underclassmen (sophomore guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes). The young and old Wildcats have meshed into a single effective unit as Reynolds and Stokes have shared the ball in the backcourt, while Cunningham (16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds) has taken a major step forward as a scorer.

Cunningham, a Silver Spring native who attended Potomac High School, has nearly doubled his scoring output as a senior.

"This year, the final piece is that he's become a confident shooter," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "He's always been a great leader, a great rebounder and an outstanding defender. ... This year, he's become a much better shooter, and I think that's caught everyone's attention. ... He's always been a coach's dream."

And while Villanova (23-5, 11-4 Big East) looks to improve its NCAA tournament seeding down the stretch, the Hoyas (14-12, 5-10) need to reverse their recent skein (losses in nine of their last 11 games) just to stay eligible for the National Invitation Tournament.

Statistics don't suggest Villanova is superior to Georgetown, at least not six games superior in Big East play. On paper, the only real difference between Georgetown and Villanova is experience. Five members of the Wildcats' eight-man rotation are upperclassmen, while only two of Georgetown's 10 scholarship players are.

"When you evaluate and vote [in the preseason], it's on how much talent do you have in your senior and junior classes," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said after the Cardinals beat Georgetown on Monday. "Outside of the Fab Five [on Michigan from 1991 to 1993], I haven't seen too many great teams with freshmen and sophomores.

"Georgetown is talented. They're good. They can get wins. But it's just experience that comes in the last 10 minutes [that is holding them back]. Georgetown is going to be great. ... They're young, and young teams don't win consistently in the Big East."

With just one senior on the roster (guard Jessie Sapp), the Hoyas could field one of the Big East's most experienced teams next season, particularly if both freshman center Greg Monroe and junior forward DaJuan Summers delay their NBA futures. Monroe has been emphatic in his plans to return to the Hilltop, and Summers on Friday denied rumors that he's considering making the jump to the NBA.

"There's too much basketball left to be played for any of us to address that at this point," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "I can assure you that all of my guys are totally focused on the immediate future of turning around this season."