Every year the Villanova Wildcats will have at least one game like this that splits the Nova camp in two: Optimists and Pessimists. While you're going to have people that see the positives and negatives of any game, this one gave both sides plenty of ammunition. For every Debby Downer out there, there's a positive spin you can put on it. It was the worst shooting performance in the last 10 games, but they found a way to win. They showed they can win with our big men in foul trouble, but not really because the Butler Bulldogs didn't have anyone who could take advantage of it. Hart is truly stepping into the leading scorer role, but no one's consistently stepping up behind him.
I could go on and on with examples, but one fact remains the same. A win is a win. And now that we're more than half-way through the regular season, those win's are going to become harder and harder to come by. We saw that last night when Nova had to hold off a furious comeback at the end of the game. Nova prevailed, winning Two of the Four Factors. Let's break down how the Wildcats pulled it out.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - Villanova wins by 6.6%
Offense: Game - 45.3%, Season - 54.5%, Last Year - 55.3%
It was a second straight poor shooting night for Villanova, that is unless your name is Josh Hart or Mikal Bridges. Hart and Bridges both shot over 66%. The difference was that Bridges' only took 3 shots to Hart's 15. Hart has really come into his own this season, scoring double-digit points in every game. In Big East play he boasts the #1 offensive rating (137.8) in the conference. He's climbed all the way up to 3rd in KenPom.com's Player of the Year rankings, only behind Buddy Hield of Oklahoma and Denzel Valentine of Michigan State. How the national media hasn't picked up on him yet is bonkers to me, but I don't think it'll last much longer if he keeps putting up these numbers.
The reverse side of the coin is the poor play of Jalen Brunson against ranked teams. Against Butler he had just 2 points on 1 attempt, 0 assists, 2 turnovers, and 4 fouls in just 13 minutes. On a night where most of the team was in foul trouble, Brunson still played the fewest minutes of any Wildcat. In 4 games against the Top 25, Brunson is averaging an offensive rating of just 75.25. In the other 12 games, his offensive rating is 120.5.
I can't help but think that it's more mental than anything else. Brunson has been a leader on almost every team he's played for. Now, he's on a team that has two senior leaders and another being groomed in Hart. The one game he played well against a ranked team was against Xavier. In that game, he didn't start due to illness. Without the pressures of being a starter and with the distraction of his illness, he was able to get out of his own head and let the game come to him. He's a freshman, and Jay's staff has developed some amazing leaders and guards on this team, so I have full confidence that he will begin to improve. Brunson has no where to go but up.
Defense: Game - 38.7%, Season - 43.4%, Last Year - 45.5%
When this team isn't making shots, they step up on the defensive end of the court. Since their poor showing in Hawaii against a very talented Oklahoma team, any time the Wildcats have shot under their season average eFG%, they've performed better than their season average in defensive eFG%. Sunday night was a great example of that. They held Butler to their lowest eFG% of the season at 38.7%, which is over 15% below their season average. A big reason for that was the perimeter defense, holding the Bulldogs to just 20% from behind the arc. This defense continues to shut down the perimeter with length, speed, and pressure while holding Big East opponents to just 27.4%. The philosophy is simple: If your opponents can't hit threes, you don't have to.
Turnover Percentage (TO%) - Butler wins by 7.9%
Offense: Game - 20.6%, Season - 15.8%, Last Year - 16.3%
Villanova had its 3rd straight game with a TO% of over 19%. But unlike the last two games where the point guards were guilty of coughing up the ball, this time it was on Daniel Ochefu. The big man was guilty of a season high 5 turnovers, and is averaging 4 over the last three games. This is in part due to the big man having the ball in his hands more as the offense funnels through the interior. But most of these turnovers are coming as Ochefu drives from 10 to 15 feet from the basket. If he can get the ball closer to the hoop, it would cut down his turnovers dramatically.
Defense: Game - 12.7%, Season - 21.4%, Last Year - 21.6%
Butler is by far the best team in the Big East when it comes to protecting the rock. In fact, they're 2nd nationally when it comes to TO%. So it's not too surprising that VIllanova had their 2nd worst TO% of the season. This can be chalked up to Butler's skill rather than anything against Nova's defense. The Wildcats still found other ways to shut down the Bulldogs and secure victory.
Offensive Rebound (OR%) - Villanova wins by 7.4%
Offense: Game - 25.8%, Season - 31.2%, Last Year - 32.5%
Villanova may have won the battle of the boards, but it wasn't all that impressive on the offensive end. When you shoot less than 42% from the floor, you'd hope to come away with more than 8 second chance boards. Hart and Darryl Reynolds both brought down 2 a piece, but against a smaller team like Butler you'd hope to take advantage on offense. Now some of this may have to do with how tightly the game was being called, but this will continue to be an area for the Wildcats to improve on.
Defense: Game - 18.4%, Season - 31.7%, Last Year - 31.2%
Is there anything Josh Hart can't do? He lead the team with 9 rebounds in their 3rd best rebounding night of the season. Everyone had at least 1 board on defense. Villanova's help defense creates a lot of missed shots, but it also allows opportunities on the offensive glass. But Sunday Nova was able to dominate the boards, holding Butler to their 2nd worst OR% of the season. The Wildcats continue to out-rebound smaller teams, which is especially helpful after their recent increase in turnovers.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate) - Butler wins by 9.5%
Offense: Game - 24.5%, Season - 30.6%, Last Year - 41.8%
At 30.6% FTRate, Villanova currently ranks 300th in getting to the charity stripe. The most disappointing part of that is the Cats are the 19th best team in the country when it comes to FT%, connecting on over 75% of their attempts. This was even more apparent when Nova shot 92% (12-13) from the line against Butler. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Nova's best free throw shooter, Phil Booth at 92%, has the worst FTRate at 23.6%. Conversely, the team's worst shooter, Darryl Reynolds at 57%, has the best FTRate at 118.8%. Bottom line is that when shots aren't dropping, Nova needs to do a better job at getting their best shooters to the line.
Defense: Game - 34%, Season - 31.5%, Last Year - 30.4%
I'm not one to call out the refs very often, but that was a very tightly called game. So much so that I actually think it contributed to the poor shooting by both teams. With so many fouls called (37 total) it was difficult for either team to get into a rhythm. For that reason I look at this as a throw away result, even though it wasn't too far off from the season average. Villanova currently ranks 7th in defensive FTRate during Big East play. But based on their season track record, better days should be ahead for the Cats.
Looking Ahead - Marquette Golden Eagles (Villanova 96% projected winner)
Offensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Nova, FTRate - Marq
Villanova just edges out Marquette in Three of the Four Factors. The biggest obstacle for the Cats to overcome will be getting to the free throw line. The Golden Eagles are second in the country in FTRate, so Nova will have more pressure to make their shots at home. The biggest advantage for the Wildcats will be controlling the ball and therefore the tempo of the game. Marquette plays at the fastest tempo of any team in the Big East while Villanova plays at the second slowest.
Defensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Marq, FTRate - Nova
Marquette may play at a fast pace, but they're not very efficient when it comes to scoring. They're especially bad at hanging onto the ball, ranking 278th nationally in offensive TO%. The Cats should be able to take advantage with their 3/4 press and pressure man defense. The Golden Eagles and their star freshman Henry Ellenson can expose teams on the offensive glass, but Nova should be up for the challenge. Look for a great match-up of Ochefu vs Ellenson on both ends of the court all night.