There's a Thanksgiving tradition where two people hold each end of a "wishbone", make a wish, and then pull in opposite directions until the bone breaks. The person who gets the larger portion of the bone has their wish come true, and the other doesn't. Well someone, somewhere wished for the Villanova Wildcats to shoot well against the Stanford Cardinal, and then promptly got the short end of the wishbone.
The Wildcats would get the win despite being blown away in 2 of the Four Factors. Mikal Bridges' defense and Jalen Brunson's offense were the clear highlights on a night where nothing seemed to go right for the Cats. But a win is a win, so let's take a closer look at how Villanova pulled off the victory.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%)
Offense: Game - 36.3%, Year Avg - 51.1%, Last Year Avg - 55.3%
Villanova had started slow in each of their first four games, but tonight they took it to a new low. The Wildcats didn't make a field goal (or free throw for that matter) until 5:24 minutes into the game. Starters Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, and Kris Jenkins combined to go just 2 for 21 from behind the arc on the night. But they didn't have many other options, as Stanford decided to pack the paint with their length and force the Cats to beat them from deep. Jalen Brunson seemed to be the only Wildcat that was able to get things going, finishing with a career high 18 points.
This is the second team that has given Villanova trouble with their size (Akron last week), and in each game the Wildcats shot under 50% eFG%. Two occurrences could just be a coincidence. But if another team with length and size (like, oh I don't know, Georgia Tech) can cause shooting woes for the Wildcats, that's a disturbing trend.
Defense: Game - 28%, Year Avg - 37.2%, Last Year Avg - 45.5%
Luckily for Villanova, Stanford wasn't able to hit the broad side of a barn on Thursday. How much of that was on the shooters and how much credit goes to Nova can be debated, but the Wildcats pressure man defense absolutely contributed to the poor shooting night. The Cardinal didn't make a field goal until just over 10 minutes into the game. 10 MINUTES! The defense WAS the reason for this victory, and they're now ranked 5th nationally in eFG%. KenPom currently has Villanova as the #1 defense in the country. To have that kind of defensive production on a night when Ochefu, arguably the most important player on defense, only played 15 minutes is an accomplishment that the team can be proud of.
Turn Over Percentage (TO%)
Offense: Game - 9.1%, Year Avg - 13.5%, Last Year Avg - 16.3%
If defense won the game for the Wildcats, then turnovers kept them in it. Villanova continued to improve its TO%, giving up the ball only 6 times all night. Ryan Arcidiacono now has 2 turnovers through 5 games this season. To put that into perspective, 8 Stanford players had 2 or more turnovers in Thursday's game alone. At this rate, Arch is on pace for only 12 turnovers by the end of the regular season. It's this type of ball control that has allowed the Cats to weather shooting slumps and prevent quick momentum swings for the competition.
Defense: Game - 34.8%, Year Avg - 26.1%, Last Year Avg - 21.6%
The defense's ability to turn the ball over has been truly remarkable. Granted we're only 5 games in, but this defense is on track to be the best at creating turnovers that Jay Wright has ever had at Villanova, and it's not close. On the season, the Cats are 9th nationally in defensive TO%. Thursday the Cardinal turned the ball over 23 times, or more than once every three possessions.
The Wildcats' 12 steals accounted for more than half of those turnovers, and a big factor was the effectiveness of the 1-2-2 press to force errant passes. No player has been more productive in that press this season that Mikal Bridges. The red shirt freshman has been filling the stat sheet on both ends of the court. His length and quickness to the ball have really bothered opposing ball handlers, and his offense continues to improve each game.
Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%)
Offense: Game - 25.5%, Year Avg - 34%, Last Year Avg - 32.5%
If you've read this far, you may want to consider turning back now. It only goes downhill from here. With Daniel Ochefu sidelined for much of the game with foul trouble (we'll get into that later), Villanova struggled to grab second chance points against a taller Stanford team. Other than Mikal Bridges (4 OR), no Wildcat was able to pull down more than two offensive rebounds, and the team finished with their worst OR% of the season.
Jay Wright has been concerned about the team's rebounding from day one, and he's shown a zero tolerance policy for starters that aren't attacking the boards. Tonight was no exception, as he pulled Josh Hart off the court 30 seconds into the game because of an uncharacteristically lack-luster effort. This won't be the last time this season foul trouble forces the Cats to play small, and it can't be an excuse for losing the battle on the boards.
Defense: Game - 46.5%, Year Avg - 34.1%, Last Year Avg - 31.2%
If the offense was bad at securing rebounds, the defense was worse. MUCH worse. Stanford was able to snag 20 offensive rebounds, the most given up by the Villanova defense this season. Josh Hart clearly got the message after his early exit, finishing with 8 defensive rebounds. But the rest of the team seemed to be out of position or just out muscled for many of the Cardinal's second chance opportunities. Thursday wasn't an out-liar for a team that is now ranked 288th nationally in defensive OR%. This is the glaring weakness in Villanova's otherwise stellar defense, and it needs to be addressed immediately.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate)
Offense: Game - 32.3%, Year Avg - 28.7%, Last Year Avg - 41.8%
Have you ever been at work when the company's "Big Boss" decides to swing by and see how things are going? He/She wants to sit in on a few meetings or see how people are performing on the job, and so everyone goes above and beyond what they normally would do to make sure they look productive. Well that's what happened in Thursday's foul-a-palooza when J.D. Collins, the NCAA National Coordinator of Officiating, sat court-side for the game.
The refs called every ticky-tack play they could in an effort to show how they were "cracking down" on hand checks and aggressive play. The result was an inflated FTRate on both sides of the ball, so I wouldn't put too much stock in Villanova's apparent improvement in getting to the line. The good news was that the Cats were able to perform fairly well once they got there, converting 70% of their attempts.
Defense: Game - 56%, Year Avg - 28.1%, Last Year Avg - 30.4%
It's never a good thing when your opponent is getting a free throw every other time they shoot the ball. I'm not going to put too much stock in that number given the over zealous refs and the fact that in the three previous games Villanova averaged a defensive FTRate of 16.2%. The Wildcats have been great at keeping their opponents off the line this season, and I expect that to continue.
What is concerning however, is how Ochefu's foul trouble effected the rest of the game. This was the first time this season the big man saw significantly reduced minutes due to fouls, and the results weren't good. On offense the Cats couldn't establish an inside presence and were forced into mid-range and deep jumpers. Without Ochefu on the court, there wasn't anyone to reel in offensive rebounds either.
On defense, rebounding continued to be the main issue. Most concerning was that Darryl Reynolds wasn't able to step up in a meaningful way on the glass, only recording 5 total rebounds. Rebounding has been the biggest issue so far this season, and it's only compounded when Ochefu's on the bench.
Looking Forward: Georgia Tech
Offense Projected Winner: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Nova, FTRate - GT
The Yellow Jackets present a similar challenge offensively as the Wildcats' last two opponents. They've got length and size, which could pose an issue for the Cats if they find themselves in another shooting slump and need to drive the lane. Villanova should be able to have plenty of scoring opportunities though, as Georgia Tech isn't very good at forcing turnovers. While neither team is especially skilled at getting free throws, it should be noted that J.D. Collins will be in attendance again. I wouldn't be surprised if that resulted in another foul fest, and hopefully the Wildcats can take advantage.
Defense Projected Winner: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - GT, FTRate - Nova
The Villanova defense should continue to grind down opponents, forcing turnovers and contesting/altering shots. Georgia Tech features the best offense Villanova will have faced this season, scoring primarily from the paint. The Wildcats biggest challenge, as it's been all year, will be rebounding. Georgia Tech boasts the nations 4th best OR% at 44.7%, which is still lower than what the Cats allowed on Thursday. If Villanova is going to win this game decisively, they'll need attack the glass instead of just trying to get position and box out. Look for Ochefu, Hart, and Bridges to come up big on the boards to secure the victory.