On Saturday, Villanova put its undefeated record on the line in Newark, NJ – and was served its first loss of the season at the hands of Sterling Gibbs and Seton Hall. Much has been written about the Wildcats and their high probability to win a second-straight Big East regular season title – but now that they have shown their mortality, it’s time to examine how good Villanova actually is and can be.
Before we begin, I am not going to overreact to yesterday’s loss for a number of reasons:
- Seton Hall is actually good. The Pirates are up to #29 on KenPom and will likely be voted into the AP Poll for the first time since the week of January 9 during the 2011-12 season (they were ranked #24 and then lost 6 straight).
- Villanova could not have played much worse. It was their worst shooting day (in terms of effective Field Goal Percentage) since February 3, 2013 in a loss to Providence. The 3P% of 20.08% and FT% of 57.1% were far too similar to the November 20, 2012 loss to Columbia (17.6% and 57.1%, disrespectfully)
- If you take out Daniel Ochefu’s statistics, the Cats shot 24% as a team on 2-point FGs.
Basically, it was just a terrible day offensively for Villanova, and they still had a chance to beat a good team on the road that was desperate for a résumé-building win. I am not concerned about a flat-out poor shooting display – but I am interested to see if Seton Hall did something to cause it.
The Pirates have beaten Villanova 3 out of the last 5 times they’ve met. With the changes in rosters over the last three seasons, I am going to make the assumption that teams coached by Kevin Williard just stylistically match up well against teams coached by Jay Wright. Seton Hall started out in man-to-man and played off Villanova’s forwards (Pinkston and Ochefu) when they were on the perimeter. As the game went on and Villanova’s shooters were struggling, Willard put his team into a 2-3 zone for some stretches in order to counter Ochefu.
I think playing off Villanova’s forwards is a must. Pinkston has done nothing to prove he is a threat on the perimeter, and Ochefu does not even look to score anywhere outside the block. Seton Hall did this, and every team playing against them here on out will likely do the same.
Darrun Hilliard (3-6 from 3 in 24 minutes) was the only Villanova player that shot well yesterday, but his foul trouble kept him off the court. Normally, the Wildcats will have threats in Phil Booth (47.6%), Josh Hart (38.2%), Dylan Ennis (36.1%), and Kris Jenkins (35.7%), but yesterday, those four players were a combined 2-14 on 3-pointers. If you add in Ryan Arcidiacono (10-48 this season; READ: Let him shoot), the group moves to 2-18. This is not going to happen too often, and even if it does, it is not the killer to Villanova’s win probability that it was last year. Let me explain.
Last season, Villanova relied on 3-pointers as 34.4% of their total points, ranking 27th highest in the country. I wrote an article about how teams that rely heavily on 3-pointers perform in the NCAA Tournament here. In addition to Villanova (Round of 32 loss), the three teams I profiled were Duke (Round of 64 loss), Creighton (Round of 32 loss), and Michigan (Elite 8 loss). The basic story was this: living by the 3 is risky. The fluctuation from night to night on the deep ball is too high to bet a team will perform consistently at all.
This season, however, 3-pointers make up only 27.4% of Villanova’s total points (189th nationally). The team is using 2-pointers for 7.2% more of their total points, which is in large part due to Daniel Ochefu’s emergence and Jayvaughn Pinkston’s continued success in the paint. Josh Hart is one of the best slashers in the conference (and country, in my opinion) – and Dylan Ennis and Darrun Hilliard also attack the rim effectively. By getting to the basket, Villanova also has an impressive Free Throw Rate (rate at which they get to the FT line), ranking 47th in the nation, and shoot FTs at a high percentage (70.6%; 122nd nationally). Villanova might have days where they miss 3-pointers like yesterday, but I do not imagine they’ll miss 15 free throws again this year.
Villanova is balanced in every sense of the word. They have five players averaging over 10 points a game – and seven players averaging more than 7.5 points. The Wildcats have the 12th most efficient offense and 9th most efficient defense. They are below the mean in both total points coming from 2-point and 3-point FGs, as they rely on FTs for 22.8% of their points (1.9% above the NCAA mean).
Personally, I think Villanova is more primed to make a run in March than they have been since their 2009 Final Four. Last year’s team was strong, but this year’s team is more experienced and less reliant on the 3-pointer. Coach Jay Wright has gone on the record saying he thought his team’s win-loss record would be worse than last year – and I agree – BUT I think the Wildcats will be playing at least another week longer than last year. That’s what really matters.