It does not take a creative mind to envision the No. 1-ranked Houston Cougars defeating Villanova in the NCAA Midwest Regional final here Sunday afternoon at 2:20 EST (WDVM-TV-9).
In vivid hues, let us see the ways. Perhaps you can see Akeem Abdul Olajuwon, 7-foot Nigerian center, and Larry Micheaux, a 6-9 forward who plays like a center, controlling the Houston rebounds, the inside offense, the game. Or maybe, you see 6-7 forward Clyde (The Glide) Drexler slam-dunking in completion of so many lunar landings.
"They say that the team that gets the most rebounds wins the game," Houston Coach Guy Lewis said today, aware his team of levitation averages 41 rebounds per game and that Villanova averages only 33.
"We have another saying here: that the team with the most dunks wins the game."
You see Houston, a team with an NBA-style of running revelry, complete with a 29-2 record and a 24-game winning streak, longest in Division I, and you see a Cougars' victory and a trip to Albuquerque for their second straight final four appearance.
Then you see Villanova (24-7), and the hues blur in a kaleidoscopic way. The Wildcats are a team that thrives off the inside power moves of John Pinone, a 6-8, 230-pound center, and Ed Pinckney, a 6-9 forward who rotates between sleek and meek.
An inside team? Playing Houston, a team created for the inside? Blurry, indeed.
"We're still going to try to get the ball inside," said Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino, ever crafty, "just like we have all year."
Now look beneath the surface. When you capture the essence of Villanova, you see a team of survivalists. You see Pinone, the preeminent Wildcat survivalist, who averages 16.6 points, 5.4 rebounds per game.
"I want to be in a tough situation. I thrive on it," Pinone said today. Of playing Olajuwon, who says his surname means, aptly enough, "being on top," Pinone says, "He's a very aggressive player and he reminds of Pat Ewing . . . But I'm not going to change my game. I've played against enough 7-footers in my career to know how to play a 7-footer."
Which is how? "That's for me to know, for you to find out," Pinone said.
Last year, Villanova lost in the East Regional final to North Carolina, 70-60, in another clash with a No. 1 team.
The last time these two teams met, Pinone scored 19 points and had 10 rebounds as Villanova defeated Houston, 90-72, in the opening round of the NCAA tournament in 1981. Now, though, that game is insignificant.
Here's how we might envision a Villanova victory:
Houston's most vulnerable points--tiny, though they may be--are players getting into foul trouble and, oddly enough, shooting free throws. Villanova undoubtedly will continuously tempt the foul-prone Olajuwon, mostly with Pinone's power moves.
"I'll tell you this much." said Stewart Granger, senior guard who averages 13.2 points per game. "If I drive the lane and get my shot blocked, I won't be intimidated. I'll drive the lane again."
Villanova plays a stubborn defense, alternating many different alignments. You might see Villanova packing its players inside the key in a zone defense designed to slow Olajuwon (13 points, 11 rebounds per game) and to force Houston to shoot from the outside. You might also see Villanova deploy its half-court trap against Houston's only freshman starter, point guard Alvin Franklin.
If the game is close near the finish, certainly Villanova will not be afraid to foul Houston, a team that shoots 62 percent from the free throw line. And though Massimino says, "We will not hold the ball," you might see Villanova slow the pace a bit.
And then there is the matter of Pinckney. "E-Z Ed," they call him, due to his passive tendencies. In order to see the vivid hue of Villanova victory, Pinckney must produce his 12.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game averages, at the very least. In Villanova's 55-54 victory over Iowa here Friday, Pinckney had eight points and 11 rebounds. He has to do better versus Houston, which defeated Memphis State, 70-63, Friday.
"We punch on him a lot in practice. We get personal with him. It's a motivating, take-charge type thing," Granger said of the pump-up Pinckney routine. "He thinks he's had a bad year. We tell him to work harder."
Granger, like Pinone down to his last chance at Villanova, said, "If we win this game, it's going to be an accomplishment."