Mike Carey looks forward to playing Villanova about as much as Kate Gosselin enjoys camping with the Palins. Not that Carey dislikes Harry Perretta, Villanova’s longtime coach; the two are actually buddies – perhaps the oddest of Odd Couples.
Both are among the best at what they do. Carey has West Virginia once again in the Top 10. His Mountaineer teams are known for in-your face defense and above average athleticism.
Perretta’s teams have made nine trips to the NCAA tournament, one reaching the Elite Eight as recently as 2003, and the Wildcats are among the handful of Big East teams to defeat Connecticut this decade. Villanova prefers to bludgeon its opponents with a rubber mallet.
Perretta plays a style more suited for the 1940s, frequently instructing his players to hold the basketball at midcourt until the shot clock runs down before allowing them to shoot. The scores of the games his teams play are typically in the 30s and 40s. In fact, the halftime score of Villanova’s most recent game against St. Joseph’s was 12-11.
Perretta chooses to play this way for obvious reasons. For one, current women’s rules permit him to do it and, secondly, he believes it is the best way for his teams to remain competitive in a Big East Conference that has seven teams ranked in the Top 25 this week.
“He’s been very successful with this style,” Carey says.
What Perretta has taken advantage of are two rules Carey would love to see changed in the women’s game: the lack of a 10-second clock in the backcourt and a five-second rule on defense.
Unlike the men’s game where a team has to cross the midcourt line in 10 seconds and then make a reasonable attempt to go to the goal once a player crosses it, the women can hold the ball for the entire 30 seconds of the shot clock before shooting it. And they can hold the ball anywhere they want on the court.
For a sport continually looking for ways to make the game more fan-friendly, the way Villanova plays is a reminder of the dark ages of women’s basketball back in the 1970s when coaches had to drive their teams to games in vans and sometimes used tape for numerals on the back of a player’s jersey.
“I see all these rule changes coming out – all this stuff about media guides and those things. In my opinion, let’s fix the game,” said Carey. “If we’re going to make it more exciting for the fans, let’s put the 10-second rule in, let’s put a five-second rule on defense, and let’s change the 3-point line to the men’s line.”
Carey believes those three simple fixes will dramatically improve the game.
“You can’t have a girl just stand at half court and dribble and let the shot clock run down,” he said. “If a closely guarded rule is put in you have to move, attack the basket and pass more.”
An even deeper problem is the uneven distribution of talent that remains in the sport. Because girl’s basketball is still relatively new compared to the boy’s game, there are fewer outstanding prospects to choose from and the vast majority of them go to the same schools anyway.
Carey has a unique perspective of this because he spent 13 years coaching men’s basketball before moving over to the women’s game in 2002.
“There are about five or six schools that always get the best players and they split them between them,” he noted. “Then there is the next level of players, and that gap between those next players is a little bit wider than with the guys. It could be another 10 years before it cycles out like the men’s game has.”
West Virginia is among the group of schools getting players in that next wave. Two of Carey’s recruits this fall were listed among ESPN.com’s Top 100 – a first for the Mountaineer program.
And while Carey admits West Virginia’s recruiting has improved significantly since he first took over nine years ago, his program is still not at the point where it can consistently go head-to-head with the Connecticuts, Tennessees or Dukes of the world.
“Your next level players, when you bring them in and they play hard and they have a high motor and you develop their skills, then you have an opportunity to do like what we’re doing – be in the Top 10 and compete against some of the top teams in the country,” he said. “Once we get them here, they are not the Parade High School All-Americans. We’ve got to continue to develop and work them and get kids in here with great attitudes and work ethics.”
For schools such as Villanova, playing a style that aggravates opponents and keeps fans away is their best hope for winning. The attendance for the Wildcats’ game against West Virginia last Thursday night was listed at 423, but in reality it was probably much closer to 200 when you eliminate the band and others added to the total.
“When you play Villanova I find myself getting frustrated because it makes every possession very, very important,” Carey explained. “When you are getting a lot of possessions you can have two or three bad ones and it doesn’t bother you as much. But when you have two or three bad ones against Villanova, you’ve only got a few more possessions coming.”
West Virginia, now ranked seventh in the country, managed to go on the road and beat Villanova for the first time ever last week. Naturally the game was a tooth extraction, the Mountaineers needing to hold on at the end to pull out a 39-36 victory.
What Carey learned from that game are the things he already knew about his team.
“When we get in a half court set we struggle,” he said. “That’s a weakness of ours and we knew that going into the game. We’ve got to continue to work on that in practice. We need to pick better, come off our picks better, pass better, and read defenses better.”
Carey also doesn’t blame Perretta for the style he chooses to play. It is well within the rules of the game.
“He’s a great guy and an excellent coach,” Carey said. “He does what he feels he has to do to be competitive in the Big East.”
By John Antonik
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