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The fall review indicates that the Wildcats will be okay offensively, but what about that defense?
Villanova went over to the Ridley Athletic Complex this past weekend for a scrimmage against the defending national champions, Loyola. Reports from the game indicate that the Greyhounds dropped the Wildcats, 14-10, but that's not really important. What's really important during these fall scrimmages is seeing what everyone has, and with the significant losses that Villanova experienced last season and some existing issues that need some addressing, the Wildcats' effort against Loyola on Saturday was good to see where Villanova may go in a Big East that will likely be headlined by Notre Dame, Syracuse, and St. John's in 2013.
Inside Lacrosse's Matt Kinnear was on-site for the game and while he praised the Wildcats' offensive ability -- an offensive unit that is entering an era without Kevin Cunningham, C.J. Small, and Matt Bell -- what interested me the most was Kinnear's notes about Villanova's defense:
The defense struggled against Loyola's attack behind the net, but I'm weary to put blame on the Wildcats: Loyola's attack is just very good and athletic.
My lasting impression from Villanova is that the future looks bright. The freshman that played seemed collegiate ready. Cunningham's loss hurts, but not as much as I expected. Goalie Greg Stamatov, a freshman, started the game and though he gave up five goals, he had a solid performance while being peppered with Loyola shots early. I could see Stamatov starting and giving Villanova a solid option in net, a place where they have struggled in recent years. If the Wildcats can clean up things in the middle of the field, improve a bit on clearing and riding, they should be fine this season.
In my decompression of Villanova's 2012 season, I noted concern about the Wildcats' goalie situation going into 2013. This was not a good defensive team last year, finishing the year ranked 46th -- 46th! -- in adjusted defensive efficiency. (This was a program that faced a schedule that ranked 42nd in opposing offenses faced, which is really bad.) A big part of Villanova's defensive troubles in 2012 were due to the fact that Dan Gutierrez struggled like crazy between the pipes, holding only a 46.8 save percentage. On the year, the team's defense ranked 52nd in raw defensive shooting percentage and only 13 teams had their goalie end defensive possessions at a rate worse than the Wildcats' mark. That isn't all on Gutierrez and the goalkeeping situation, but it is a big part.
If Stamatov is ready to compete for Villanova in 2013 -- a high school All-American, Warrior 40 participant, and frequent member of Inside Lacrosse's recruit rankings -- that may change the game for the Wildcats. Against a potent Loyola offense, it appears as if Stamatov stood strong and that's a really good sign for a Villanova defense that needs some consistency in the net, allowing the team to build from the back.
If Stamatov isn't the answer between the pipes, the Wildcats may turn to Billy Hurley, a senior that started a big chunk of games through 2010 and 2011, or Pete Metcalf. Hurley isn't exactly an all-world keeper, holding only a 48.9 save percentage in his three seasons in Philadelphia. Metcalf hasn't really seen enough time in cage in games that count and stuff to make any strong assumptions. These alternatives aren't ideal situations for the Wildcats, which doesn't necessarily need a 60 percent stopper to raise hell but rather a cat that can generate a save percentage north of 50 percent so as to stabilize the defense.
Every piece works in concert with other pieces, and until Villanova gets its goalie piece in place, I'm going to continue to be a little cautious on the 'Cats, even if others are willing to wave the flag a little bit.