Villanova Notebook: Reynolds, Sandro hold fort; Seton Hall a two-seed?

Seton Hall’s history-shattering win at Villanova was one to savor. From key bench play to second half adjustments and clutch free throws, are the Pirates now a two-seed?

It’s tough to tap just one player as the unsung hero, but Shavar Reynolds Jr. (7p,3r, 4a, 23 mins) earned it. Playing his most minutes save Prairie View A&M and Stony Brook, Reynolds looked gassed late in the game which may explain his errant pass against the press, but his defensive work all day on anyone from Collin Gillespie to Saddiq Bey combined with some clutch free throws and a three early in the half made it a memorable outing. Reynolds understandably took minutes from Anthony Nelson and was also a product of starting guard foul trouble.

How big was the stretch of play from 9:31-4:54 when Myles Powell was on the bench with four fouls?  Within that span, Seton Hall went from 46-45 to up 55-51 and it was all Quincy McKnight and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Sandro said he used his inner Angel Delgado to put back a third attempt on the offensive glass just before Powell did a Kemba Walker impressive from the left wing and the rest was history.

A second half team, Seton Hall did several things very right after the halftime break. After ten first half turnovers cost them valuable possessions, the team coughed it up just four times with two being offensive fouls from Powell. Elsewhere, the Hall was +10 on the glass in the second half and 11-0 in bench points, looking at you Shavar and Jared Rhoden. 

The sophomore came off the bench to great effect, going a game high +16, playing stellar active defense, and going an efficient 3-of-4 from the field along with 11 boards — his fourth time with double figure rebounds. Rhoden sat out the last six minutes of the first half after getting shaken up diving for a loose ball, and looked fine from a minor ankle roll he suffered late against Georgetown.

The methodical nature of this game wasn’t always boring. For some, the philosophy that the more shots taken in a game, the less each make means is a key value, like Virginia’s Tony Bennett, former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, and plenty others. To a degree, I’d concur. This was that kind of game at times and 280th-tempo Villanova won that battle amid ten Seton Hall mistakes in the first half; the back-to-back media timeouts also seemed to pump the brakes a bit after a free-flowing opening salvo. 

The entire game having only had three fast break points, the lowest I can ever remember seeing on a final box score, and a largest run of eight points were certainly great snapshots of what this game was all about. The late free throw exchanges and the first 4-5 minutes of each half skewed the overall tempo a bit, but Seton Hall did very well in the half court in the second half.

Before the game, Seton Hall (18-5, 10-1) was given a three-seed in Saturday’s N.C.A.A. top-16 bracket reveal, the college hoops equivalent of early college football playoff rankings. After the days’ games concluded, you can say the Pirates have now played their way onto the two-line. Now with eight quad-one wins, an ever-improving road record, and a chance at two more Q1 wins over their next three games, two wins out of their next three would keep them on pace for a two-seed, three worst-case.

Let’s end on a comical note. Kevin Willard was definitely living in the moment post-game. Here’s his full quote in all its glory when asked about seeding.

“It’s great. That’s awesome. Last year, we were fighting for our lives, now we’re being talked about as a 3-seed. That’s where this program is. That’s great. Our fans should be excited about that, and these guys should be excited about that, but it’s — what’s today’s date? February 8? Selection Sunday’s not for another — if Jon Rothstein was here, we’d get the exact date. March 15?

“Still, like I said, we saw some great opportunities and beat some really good teams. We’ve just got to keep our head down and stay focused, and try to block out Twitter and Instagram and TikTok — my son’s [who was on court with team during anthem, on bench, and in interview room] asking me to get on TikTok, I’m like, are we playing a game? I have no idea.

“So it’s a long time, that’s a month. As Jon Rothstein says, we have 40 days until Selection Sunday, and we sleep in May. We’re just going to stay focused, enjoy this win. I think Creighton’s as good as it gets, so we have to get ready for a team that’s much different, plays at a different pace and a different style.”