Saturday's game was quite the roller coaster for Nova fans. They were in it, they were out of it. Then they were back in it again. Then it was over. I admit I got caught up in the excitement, and it wasn't until my friend I was watching it with reminded me what this game really was that I was able to settle down a bit. This game, like the Oklahoma game, was meant to be a learning experience for this team. Sure it would have been a great opportunity for an early season win over a Top 10 team, but more importantly it gives us a better idea of where this team still needs to improve. Out of conference games matter a lot, but not as much as the games in January, February, and March. And maybe even April.
When you want to improve, it's important to play great teams. According to KenPom.com, Virginia and Oklahoma are the two best teams in the country, in part because they beat a quality opponent in Villanova. Virginia is a GREAT team, and on their home floor they shot the lights out in the second half to win 86-75. Despite what I thought was a really good game by the Wildcats (rebounding aside), the Cavaliers were able to win three of the Four Factors. So let's take a look at what we learned from this game, and how the team can improve in Tuesday's match up against Delaware.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - Virginia wins by 12.1%
Offense: Game - 58.5%, Year Avg - 53.1%, Last Year Avg - 55.3%
The Villanova offense did a fantastic job in this game considering the opponent and venue. For the second straight game they made double digit 3's (10-26, 38.5%), and they shot almost 60% from inside the arc where Virginia has held opponents to 47.4% shooting this season. Kris Jenkins worked out of his shooting slump (although shot selection still needs work), shooting over 45% from deep and going 8 for 9 from the charity stripe. Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart also finished in double digits as Villanova scored more points against Virginia than any other team so far this season. According to KenPom, no team is projected to score more than Villanova did for the rest of the season. Any time you can cause a team's defensive efficiency rank to drop from 5th to 13th, you're doing something well.
But this game did reveal a disturbing trend, and that's Jalen Brunson's performance in big games. On Saturday, the highly touted freshman went 3-6 from the field and 0-1 from the line with 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers, and a steal. If you're only taking 6 shots as a point guard that played 24 minutes, the assumption is that it's because you're making plays for others (see Ryan Arcidiacono's 10 shots and 9 assists in 34 minutes). But another look at the stat line reveals that Brunson didn't have any assists against Virginia.
Brunson clearly has the tools and ability to score when he wants, make plays for others, and be a leader on the court. But against the three best teams the Wildcats have faced this season (Virginia, Oklahoma, and Akron), Brunson has put up an Offensive Rating, a measure of personal offensive efficiency, of 85 or lower. In his other 7 games he's averaging an ORtg of 129, where anything over 110 is considered very good. Brunson was touted as a mature and poised player even as a freshman, but these numbers indicate that he's been less decisive and far less efficient in big games. This isn't something I expect to continue, he is still a freshman with plenty of time and ability for improvement. That being said, it's something we may need to keep in mind when evaluating him against top competition going forward.
Defense: Game - 65.2%, Year Avg - 43.3%, Last Year Avg - 45.5%
If you just looked at the stat sheet from yesterday's game, you might think that Villanova put up a lack-luster effort on defense. But for those of us who watched the game, one thing was abundantly clear: Virginia can score. Sure there were a few defensive lapses that stick out, but give credit to Virginia for not only having patience to find their shot, but also for making contested shots when the Nova defense forced their hand. And trust me, they made a lot of difficult shots. We'll get into the rebounding troubles later, but otherwise Villanova put up a strong effort against a great team on their home court. Despite Virginia and Oklahoma both winning by double digits, it's important to remember that they both did that while hitting over 66% of their 3's, a lot of which were contested. Not many teams will get that lucky against the Cats this season.
Turnover Percentage (TO%) - Villanova wins by 3.3%
Offense: Game - 16.7%, Year Avg - 14.6%, Last Year Avg - 16.3%
While Virginia has been creating turnovers on over 20% of their opponent's possessions, Villanova was able to control the ball and create shots against one of the country's best defenses. Ryan Arcidiacono was especially impressive, recording 9 assists with zero turnovers while playing more minutes than any other Wildcat. The lack of turnovers is even more impressive when you consider that over 65% of Villanova's made shots were assisted (17 of 26). The Cats ability to move the ball quickly without turnovers has really opened up their offense in the last 2 games, and has resulted in great inside-out opportunities. We should see this continue as the team closes out the non-conference.
Defense: Game - 20%, Year Avg - 22.4%, Last Year Avg - 21.6%
Villanova also won the turnover battle on the defensive end against a Virginia team that averages a TO% of 14.4% on the season. Villanova didn't back down from Virginia, and was frequently jumping into passing lanes and playing tough man defense. Five different Wildcats had at least one steal, and Phil Booth looked especially active on defense. He has really improved on both ends of the floor. His energy and basketball IQ on defensive end have lead to drawing offensive fouls, creating steals, and taking some of the oppositions best guards out of their game. The Wildcats will especially need his play off the bench against some of the better, deeper teams they'll face in the Big East.
Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) - Virginia wins by 23.4%
Offense: Game - 35.7%, Year Avg - 31.7%, Last Year Avg - 32.5%
The Wildcats have done a much better job cleaning up the offensive glass in their last two games. Instead of just boxing out, they're attacking the ball and beating out other teams. Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins in particular were impressive, grabbing 3 offensive rebounds a piece. The increased efficiency of Villanova's dribble penetration and kick-out passing has created the space on offense that not only creates open shots, but also opportunities on the offensive glass. There's still room for improvement, but it's a step in the right direction. That can't be said about the defensive rebounding.
Defense: Game - 59.1%, Year Avg - 34.9%, Last Year Avg - 31.2%
That was awful. If you're looking for a reason to panic about Villanova's play so far this season, here it is. The Wildcats didn't just get out rebounded in this game (31 to 19), they got out rebounded on their own glass. Virginia had 13 offensive rebounds to Villanova's 9 defensive rebounds. The Cats haven't been out rebounded on defense like that since they faced Louisville in January of 2010 (and they won that game). Only 4 players recorded a defensive rebound, with Daniel Ochefu and Mikal Bridges each grabbing 3. Starters Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Ryan Arcidiacono all finished the game with zero defensive rebounds.
Jay Wright has not only stated his concerns about his team's rebounding, but preached that it's one of the most important aspects of the game. Every player has said that the coach drills "defense and rebounding" into them as the keys to success, but the results haven't been there this season. The help defense that Villanova plays does lend itself to more offensive rebounds, but it can't be the reason that teams beat you. With bigger teams like Xavier and Butler looking better than expected, Villanova will need to improve their rebounding if they want another Big East Championship.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate) - Virginia wins by 33.1%
Offense: Game - 32.1%, Year Avg - 26.3%, Last Year Avg - 41.8%
Villanova's 3rd best offensive FTRate of the season was still lower than Virginia's average FTRate allowed. That pretty much sums up Villanova's struggles getting to the free throw line this season. Outside of Kris Jenkins (8-9 from the charity stripe), the rest of the team got to the line just 8 times, going 5 for 8. The improved ball movement and attacking the paint that the team has shown over the last 2 weeks should get the Cats a few more trips to the line over the long run. But for now, they'll need to keep attacking the rim if they want to get more opportunities at easy points.
Defense: Game - 65.2%, Year Avg - 28.9%, 30.4%
This was a bit of a throw away game when it came to the number of fouls Villanova gave up. Between some questionable calls (both ways) by the refs and the intentional fouling late in the game, this result wasn't indicative of a normal game. The Cats continue to play tough man to man defense without fouling, something most teams in the country can't pull off. Villanova will continue to have an exceptional defense that is a few rebounds away from being elite.
Looking Ahead - Delaware (Villanova 97% favorite to win)
Offensive Predicted Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Del, FTRate - Del
Villanova's offense should continue to roll against a Delaware team that lacks the size, speed, and skill to keep up defensively. While Villanova already is elite at controlling the ball with a 14.4% TO%, Delaware forces even fewer turnovers with the 2nd worst TO% in all of college basketball. Expect to see more dribble penetration and a high rate of assisted scoring in this one.
Defensive Predicted Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Del, FTRate - Del
Delaware, already struggling to find some offense this year, should continue to have trouble scoring against a tough Villanova defense. The one area that Delaware has had success this season is getting to the foul line. If Villanova can use their superior athleticism to stay in front of the Blue Hens, they should be able to negate that advantage. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Bench Mob make an appearance in this one.