After months of hype and expectations, Villanova Basketball finally returns to the Pavillion Friday night. Their opponent is the seemingly pedestrian Fairleigh Dickinson, who posted a 8-21 record overall and 3-15 record in the Northeast Conference last season. Your approach to watching this game, therefore, will likely be focused on Villanova and how they can improve on their performance Sunday against Pace.
Here are three items to consider while watching Villanova-Fairleigh Dickinson.
Feed the "Chef"
The Wildcats began their season with a sluggish start against Pace. Ryan Arcidiacono was the only player knocking down shots, while the young Jalen Brunson and others were settling for threes. Villanova's initial offensive attack was "east-to-west" rather than "north-to-south," meaning that most of the passing took place along the perimeter rather than attacking the basket.
Then, the team came to its senses. Two quick, easy buckets from Daniel Ochefu spurred a 19-0 run, then a 26-4 run to close the half. The moral of the story? Easy baskets open up space for shooters. Within the natural flow of the offense, Ochefu needs to get touches consistently in the first few minutes of the game. It will force double-teams in the post, potential mismatches, and is simply the highest percentage shot. Against a team whose tallest players are 6'7", 6'8", and both freshman, respectively, feeding the post should open the doors for an opening day blowout.
According to Arcidiacono, he and Brunson played on different units throughout preseason practices. That made Sunday's game against Pace one of the first times that the senior captain and the McDonald's All-American played together. The results were promising; instead of Arcidiacono worrying about "point guard duties," he was free to move without the ball, spot up along the wing, and create off the dribble. The result showed in the stat sheet, as the veteran guard led the team in points over the first 5-10 minutes of the game. Watch these two elite point guards continue to improve their chemistry against FDU.
Phil Booth, therefore, was relegated to the sixth man role Josh Hart thrived in last season. Booth was just a bit quiet in the exhibition game, only scoring five points on three shot attempts. Instead, Bridges and Divencenzo tallied 10 and 9 points, both on 3-7 shooting and two three-pointers apiece. Booth, like Hart last year, played starters minutes and recorded 25 minutes, third most on the team. There's absolutely no reason to be concerned about Booth, though, and its only a matter of time before he breaks out with a 10-15 point performance. Let's see if it happens Friday night.
During his postgame interview, Jay Wright emphasized how he switched defensive sets frequently during the game in order to dictate the opposing team's offense. Wright said that Pace handled it well (debatable), but nevertheless it did pay dividends for the team, which finished with 11 steals. Against FDU, Villanova should have no trouble confusing the Knights' offense and forcing them to make difficult decisions.
One element of this defensive creativity was the full-court man-to-man press. Bringing in the athleticism of Bridges and Divencenzo allowed Wright to utilize this intense defensive scheme and immediately caused multiple turnovers in the final minute of the first half. Wright now has the option to use essentially any defensive scheme with the tremendous length and athleticism of some of the younger Wildcats. With Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds locking down the paint, it allows Villanova's guards to be hyper-aggressive and jump into the passing lanes. This game could get out of hand in a hurry if Villanova shows a similar commitment to defense.