As the calendar flips to November the college basketball season is finally upon us. The Villanova Wildcats begin their quest to return to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year on November 8th when they take on the Lafayette Leopards of the Patriot league in the Pavillion. 2012-2013 saw the Wildcats finish the season with a surprising 19 wins, 4 of which were against top 25 opponents and 10 in the Big East conference. Returning to the NCAA tournament will undoubtedly be a challenge for the them, however, if they improve upon and following five important keys to success, the Wildcats will hear their name called come Selection Sunday.
1) Limit Turnovers
Last season turnovers were a frustrating aspect for the Wildcats as they averaged 17.2 turnovers per game. Teams such as Michigan (11.9 TO/game), Duke (12.4 TO/game) and Georgetown (13.1 TO/game) all found incredible success last season because of their ability to take care of the basketball. Limiting turnovers is a must for any team in the country but especially for the Wildcats as they averaged an incredible 21.9 turnovers per game in 12 regular season losses while averaging only 14.2 turnovers per game in 19 regular season wins. As the numbers showed, the Wildcats had great success when they did not turn the ball over and if they can decrease the turnovers, they will see an increase in wins.
2) Balance Between 3 Point Game and Inside The Arc
Over the past few seasons, many college teams have adopted the theory of "Live and Die by the Three" and Villanova should avoid falling into this style of play. The NCAA tournament is a single elimination format and teams who are cold from beyond the arc are an upset waiting to happen. Some of the most shocking upsets in recent tournaments include Lehigh taking down Duke and Norfolk State beating Missouri. The main reason Duke and Missouri were defeated was because of too much dependence on the three point shot. Last season the Wildcats shot 33% from three point land and 46% from inside the arc. In order for the Wildcats to have a successful season and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, they must not rely as heavily on the three point game and instead work the ball on the post and run plays to allow for dribble penetration to the hoop for easy layups. Teams who have won a National Championship in recent years developed solid post games and constantly worked the ball in for two points such as Kentucky with Anthony Davis and Louisville with Gorgui Dieng. The frontcourt players for the WIldcats may not be as talented as those players however, they still have more than enough skill to work the ball inside for layups, dunks and easy two point shots.
3) Cover The Loss of Mouphtaou Yarou
Mouphtaou Yarou was without question a huge component to the success of the Wildcats last season as he led the team in rebounding with 7.8 rebounds/game. His loss leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the court that must be filled by Sophomore center Daniel Ochefu. If Ochefu is unable to rebound on a consistent basis on the offensive and defensive end, the Wildcats may have trouble competing with teams in the Big East who have tough interior players. Along with Ochefu, incoming freshmen forwards Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds are going to need to make big contributions on the glass as the Wildcats are a bit short on depth at the frontcourt positions. If these three players can rebound well and control the boards, the Wildcats will have great success transitioning missed shots into points on the offensive end of the floor.
4) Defend The 3 Point Line
A number that has haunted the Wildcats since last March is 52. This is the percentage that the North Carolina Tar Heels shot from beyond the three point arc in the Wildcats' second round loss in the NCAA Tournament last season. In the loss, it seemed as though every three point shot the Tar Heels took went through the basket. Overall, the Wildcats were not very efficient in defending the three point line last year as teams shot 41% in the 12 regular season losses compared to a much lower 34% in their 19 wins. If the Wildcats can defend the three point arc well night after night, they will become a tough team to put points on the board against.
5) Better Ball Movement
Ball movement is the key to creating open shots consistently across the floor. Last season, the Wildcats averaged 12.0 assists/game and sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono led the team with 3.5 assists/game. Both of these numbers need to improve if the Wildcats want to see a significant increase in wins this coming season. With a year of experience under his belt, the assist total for Arcidiacono should improve. Teams such as Louisville (15 assists/game), Michigan (14 assists/game) and Notre Dame (17 assists/game) all had successful seasons because of their impressive ball movement.
With the Big East season previews rolling in, CBS sports projects Villanova to finish fourth in the new look Big East for the 2013-2014 season. If the Wildcats can build on last season's successful campaign and follow these five keys, Villanova could be the team lifting the Big East trophy under the lights of Madison Square Garden in early March