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Villanova Basketball Advanced Stats: 'Guard U' in Name Only

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A short, sometimes surprising look at the validity of Villanova's Guard U designation.

Nate Shron

In the course of discussion here and elsewhere regarding the state of Villanova basketball, Guard U is a term that's repeatedly popped up - whether it's celebrating the guard play, or (much more often) lamenting the effect the reputation has on the team's success in recruiting bigs.

While Jay Wright's reputation for forsaking bigs might be a bit overblown, considering 2014 broke a streak of 5 consecutive years bringing in at least one 4-star-or-more, top 20 PF/C (6 if Mo Sutton is #1 in your heart!), it's certainly been a concern among Main Line fans for years. Having more than 3 big guys is almost never a bad thing.

For me, I've always hated the Guard U moniker. I don't feel it really describes the team's usage of bigs the last few years (hello Mouph, JVP, and Dante), and is used as a recruiting tool by other teams to fool impressionable teenagers into sitting at the end of their bench for a few years, when they could be dominating minutes for us.

Where it's completely wrong, though, is the implication there is no role for big men within Villanova's offense

Where I see the Guard U reputation as true is in the typically limited space for big men in the team's rotation. Jay has enjoyed rolling out smaller lineups - and there are perfectly legitimate reasons for this, as spacing is a real thing, and 3-point shooting has become increasingly more important over the years. But it also sometimes feels like a nostalgic mindset from the years he had multiple NBA caliber guards on the roster, and something he should maybe move away from.

Where it's completely wrong, though, is the implication there is no role for big men within Villanova's offense.  As mentioned above, in recent years, Dante Cunningham, Mouphtaou Yarou, JayVaughn Pinkston, and even Mo Sutton have popped up as heavy users of Villanova's offensive possessions. I believe there is, in fact, a robust role for big men within Villanova's sets - it's just that there are limited seats at the big man table, and missing out (or perception of missing out) on a heavy minutes rotation spot leads to some disgruntled transfers and endless VUHoops moaning.

So I went back, to the 10-11 best Old Big East teams, and charted their possession users for every year since 2007. I classified each player as a guard (under 6'5"), wing (6'5" or taller, and taking >20% of their shots from 3), or a big (6'5"+, less than 20% of their shots from 3), and then classified them per their usage of possessions, to see if Villanova really deserved its reputation as Guard U, among its recruiting competitors.

I borrowed (fine, stole. Sorry, Mr. Pomeroy) the classifications used on KenPom's site for individual players - a usage rate over 28% was a go-to guy, 24-28% was a major contributor, 20-24% was a significant contributor, and 16-20% was a role player.

To be clear for those guys who still read these articles and aren't knowledgeable regarding some of the finer aspects of advanced stats - usage percentage is a measure of offensive possessions 'used' by a player - when a possession ends in a made shot, missed shot that isn't rebounded, or a turnover, by that specific player.

Position Usage Rates

Contributors

It's hardly just Villanova that favors guards as the high usage guys, right? Take a look at these further breakdowns.

Maj

For simplicity's sake, I grouped the go-to guys with the major contributors. Villanova ranks at the top end of guards-as-heavily-used options, but at the low end of mid-pack in terms of bigs. UConn hasn't had one big use more than 24% of its possessions in the past 8 years! Louisville barely uses their bigs, along with Syracuse and Marquette. Georgetown and Pittsburgh have logged just one more heavily used big than Villanova since 2007.

Who's telling these kids they won't be featured at Villanova? It's obviously also true at PLENTY of the other old BE powerhouses (and relative powerhouses).

One more chart with the significant contributors + role players.

RP

Again, 'Nova is middle of the pack (in terms of how much their bigs are used). Surprise!

Guard U is a great tactic in the world of recruiting guards. However, in terms of recruiting bigs, it is a nonsense, bush-league anti-recruiting tactic used by opposing schools. Now, the data shows that those schools don't use their bigs any more than Villanova does - at least those schools we did (and often still do) compete for recruits with.

The moniker is also used a bit too often by Villanova fans who conveniently ignore (or just don't realize) how much bigs are actually used here.

Guard U should be shot and buried, but I'm pretty positive it won't be.