Villanova defeated its rival St. Joe's (PA) 86-72 in the latest installment of the the Holy War. It was a classic Big 5 battle that presented the Wildcats with their toughest test yet, and gave us insight into what Big East play might look like. This Hawks team was familiar with the swarming Villanova press defense and remained poised while running their offense. But despite having 5 players score in double digits, the Hawks weren't able to overcome a hot shooting night for the Cats. Villanova was able to win 3 of the Four Factors and pulled away to secure victory in the second half.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%)
Offense: Game - 58.9%, Year Avg - 53.3%, Last Year Avg - 55.3%
Remember what I said last week about having patience on the 3-pointer? Well that didn't take very long. Not only did the Cats make over 40% of their 3's in the first half, but they ended the game with an even split of attempts inside and outside the arc. A balanced attack and effective shot selection are the keys to a successful offense, and Nova had it all on display last night.
The player I was most impressed with was Kris Jenkins (18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals). Sure he is still taking a few unadvised 3's and only went 2-9 from behind the arc, but Jenkins clearly spent the off-season improving his interior shooting. He used his newly found short game to go 4-5 from 2-point range and was a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. Villanova has been desperate for a player that can consistently get to the charity stripe, and Jenkins has had 4 or more attempts in each of the last 3 games (81.2% FT% on the season). If defenders need to respect his interior game, he'll get better shots from behind the arc and hopefully continue to improve his 3pt%.
Defense: Game - 50%, Year Avg - 39.2%, Last Year Avg - 45.5%
While St. Joe's (PA) didn't have the athleticism to break the 1-2-2 press every time, this was the first team I've seen create scoring opportunities by beating the press. While this wasn't the biggest reason the Cats gave up their highest eFG% of the season, it's troubling for future games. The Hawks laid out an effective blue print for beating Nova's press, and you can bet Oklahoma and Virginia will be studying that game footage.
The biggest problem for the defense was what I'm going to call Villanova's kryptonite: finesse forwards. DeAndre' Bembry (6'6), Isaiah Miles (6'7), and James Demery (6'6) all had great nights shooting over shorter defenders from inside and outside the arc. When the Wildcats were able to close out on the perimeter, they were able to get a step on their drive and pull up for a short jumper before the help defense could get to them. It's going to be up to Villanova defenders to stay with their man off the dribble and continue to apply pressure on their shots when the help defense isn't there.
Turn Over Percentage (TO%)
Offense: Game - 12.1%, Year Avg - 13.7%, Last Year Avg - 16.3%
Another game, another excellent effort controlling the ball on offense. The Cats are now up to 4 consecutive games with 10 or fewer turnovers, only coughing up the ball 8 times Tuesday night. Extra congratulations go to the Junior class as Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds were the only Wildcats without a turnover. Head Coach Jay Wright has said that the team's proficiency with turnovers has helped make-up for their struggles rebounding. That makes it even more important for Villanova to continue with their excellent ball control this season.
Defense: Game - 10.6%, Year Avg - 23.5%, Last Year Avg - 21.6%
For the first time since their opening game against FDU, Villanova failed to turn over their opponent on at least 23% of their possessions. In fact, it's the first time all season that Nova gave up more turnovers than they created. This was due largely in part to how effectively St. Joe's was able to handle Villanova's press. The Hawks did a good job of moving the ball quickly and efficiently to find open shooters or create space to drive the lane. The good news for Villanova is that they were able to make up for fewer possessions created off turnovers with a higher shooting percentage, but that won't always be the case. The Cats' defensive efficiency starts with pressure, and if they can't create that, they won't create turnovers.
Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%)
Offense: Game - 34.4%, Year Avg - 32.3%, Last Year Avg - 32.5%
As long as we're making Super Man references, this game must have been played in Bizarro World. While the Wildcats couldn't create extra possessions off turnovers, they were able to secure and convert second chance opportunities with offensive rebounding. This was especially surprising considering Daniel Ochefu's early foul trouble. If this team is going to continue to gather second chance boards, it will be crucial for Ochefu to stay on the court. In the meantime though, Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges have had effective spurts on the offensive glass, especially against a team that didn't feature a true power forward.
Defense: Game - 32.4%, Year Avg - 34.8%, Last Year Avg - 31.2%
Also making up for a lack of turnovers was the effort to limit St. Joe's second chance boards. For the first time in three games the Cats were able to out-rebound their opponent (36 to 33). Hart (9) and Jenkins (6) lead the way, with every Wildcat except DiVincenzo (only played 2 minutes) recording at least one rebound. The one player they weren't able to stop was Isaiah Miles, a long athletic forward who secured 5 offensive rebounds. Against players like Miles, Villanova needs to do more than just box out, they need to attack the ball. Hart and DiVincenzo are especially good at this, and hopefully their efforts will rub off on their fellow guards.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate)
Offense: Game - 24.2%, Year Avg - 27.2%, Last Year Avg - 41.8%
Villanova can make free throws, that's nothing new. But the problem has been getting shooters to the line. The Wildcats have been very good at creating open shots and finding driving lanes, but they're not drawing contact like teams have in the past. The one player who does seem to be seeking contact (although he has to do a better job of finishing through it) is Brunson, who went 3-4 from the line Tuesday night.
The issue with Brunson, if you can call it an issue, is that he hasn't been selfish enough. Four or five times in this game, Brunson either passed or took a contested three in situations I thought he should have drove aggressively to the paint. This can easily be chalked up to a rookie mistake, but everyone says he's got the mental maturity of a senior. Brunson has all the tools to be able to step in and just take over a game. While he hasn't had to do it yet, that day is coming, and I hope he's ready to be aggressive when we need him to.
Defense: Game - 21.9%, Year Avg - 26.9%, Last Year Avg - 30.4%
With the exception of Ochefu's early fouls, the Wildcats did a fairly good job limiting fouls and keeping the Hawks off the line. Most of St. Joe's free throws came from either aggressive efforts rebounding, which Jay Wright will have no problem with, or contested shots in the paint. While there were a few more of the latter than I'd like, it wasn't anything to be concerned about. This will continue to be an area of strength for a disciplined Villanova team throughout the season.
Looking Ahead: Oklahoma
Offensive Projected Winner: eFG% - OK, TO% - Nova, OR% - Nova, FTRate - OK
Here it is, the first big test of the season. Two Top 10 teams battling it out in paradise, it doesn't get much better. On offense the Wildcats will have their work cut out for them against an elite level Oklahoma defense. This isn't the type of team you can come out slow against, which the Wildcats have in every game this season. The Sooners aren't just built for great defense, they're specifically built to shut down opposing guard play. They're very similar to Villanova in that their biggest weakness has been giving up offensive rebounds. The Wildcats will need as many 2nd chance points as they can get while facing the Sooners 4th ranked defensive eFG%. Based on the Four Factors, the two teams should be evenly matched when Villanova has the ball.
Defensive Projected Winner: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - OK, FTRate - Nova
Just like every game this season, the Cats will look to win this game with their defense. That will be no small feat when facing POY candidate Buddy Hield. The biggest test will be if Villanova can continue to force turnovers at an elite level, especially coming off the St. Joe's game where they only got 7. Luckily for Villanova, the Sooners are also struggling to come up with 2nd chance boards this season, so rebounding will be a key to victory. Based on the Four Factors, Villanova will have should have an edge while on defense.