One of the biggest aspects of coaching at any level is motivation. Sometimes, coaches will use speeches, conditioning, or any other number of devices to try to get the most from their players. But there are rare occasions when the players don't need any more motivation than just showing up. That's what we were treated to when the Villanova Wildcats returned to the Verizon Center for the first time since getting utterly blown out by the Georgetown Hoyas last season.
There were other factors. It was a nationally televised game, it's Villanova's biggest rival in the Big East, and many of the guys from Maryland (Booth, Ochefu, Jenkins, and Hart) were playing in front of friends and family. But nothing motivates you more than wanting to prove that you're better than a previous poor performance. And boy did the Cats put on a show. It wasn't a pretty show, but it was a gritty, exhausting, refuse-to-quit effort game. Despite a closely contested game, Villanova walked away having won all Four Factors for the first time in Big East play this season.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - Villanova wins by 8.6%
Offense: Game - 48.8%, Season - 53.7%, Last Year - 55.3%
In the first 5 minutes of the game, two things became very clear. First, it was going to be another rough day for Villanova behind the arc. Second, it wasn't going to effect the Cats effort on either end of the court. From the very first possession when Josh Hart stole a lazy pass and took it all the way in for the slam, you could tell that Villanova wasn't going to start slow when it came to effort on the court. Despite shooting a measly 16% from deep, the Wildcats aggressively penetrated but remained patient enough to find the open shot. The result was 51% shooting from inside the arc while simultaneously grinding the game to the Cats preferred slow pace of play. That was especially significant considering that Daniel Ochefu was playing through injury and illness. While the big man was limited, he still made good use of the few possessions he used (3 of 4 shooting for 6 points).
But the star of the game was again Josh Hart. Not only did he have a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, but he did it all without picking up a single foul. That's even more impressive when you consider that he spent most of the game matched up with many of Georgetown's long, athletic forwards. Hart has earned a double-double in 3 of his last 4 games, and seems to be playing even better as the team gets deeper into conference play. He's completely embraced the role of leading scorer, and he's excelling at it.
Defense: Game - 40.2%, Season - 43.6%, Last Year - 45.5%
Head Coach Jay Wright is known for a "defense first" mentality, and he's been that way since he stepped foot on Villanova's campus 15 years ago. Well Jay had to be happy with the defensive effort on Saturday. But this team has been more than just good this season, heck they've been more than just great. Statistically, this is the best defense Jay has had in his 15 years at Villanova. They currently have the best Adjusted Defensive rating (89.1), the best defensive eFG% (43.6%), and the best defensive 2-point shooting percentage (41.2%) ever put up during Jay's tenure. Sure, there's still plenty of games and a number of good teams to play still this season. But right now the Cats are playing Championship level defense.
Turnover Percentage (TO%) - Villanova wins by 3.4%
Offense: Game - 18.3%, Season - 15.9%, Last Year - 16.3%
In Ryan Arcidiacono's first six games this season he had a total of just 4 turnovers. In the six games since conference play began, he's had 16. Arch hasn't played a Big East game yet where he didn't have multiple turnovers. Now to be fair, he touches the ball more than any other Villanova player, and he currently ranks 9th in the conference in Assist Rate (25.3%). But you still can't have your primary ball handler have such a dramatic increase in turnovers. Look for Arch to improve on these numbers as conference play continues.
Defense: Game - 21.7%, Season - 21.3%, Last Year - 21.6%
Bill Raftery described Villanova's defense as suffocating, and based on recent results that sounds pretty accurate. Nova's perimeter defense forced Georgetown star D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera into a season high 6 turnovers. After a dip in production early in Big East play, the Wildcats have now forced 12 or more turnovers in 3 of their last 4 games. The Cats will need that production to continue with tough games coming up against Seton Hall and Providence.
Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) - Villanova wins by 2.5%
Offense: Game - 29%, Season - 30.8%, Last Year - 32.5%
Despite finishing lower than their season average OR%, I thought this was a pretty good effort by the Cats on the offensive glass. One of Georgetown's strengths is their length, specifically in the front court. Considering Nova's best offensive rebounder, Ochefu, was limited in the game, it's impressive that they were one board shy of double digits. Darryl Reynolds lead the team with 3, and surprisingly Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson each had 2. The second chance boards allowed Villanova to continue controlling the tempo and hold Georgetown at bay.
Defense: Game - 26.5%, Season - 31%, Last Year - 31.2%
Josh Hart had 11 defensive rebounds, by far the most by any player in the game. I'm starting to think that Hart is secretly some type of super hero with the amount of time he spends in the air. It's the rebounding that really separates him from other elite players. I can't think of another guard that works harder for rebounds, and that's saying something in a game that's become guard-centric in the past few years. One of these days, the rest of the country is going to pick up on what a special talent he is, I just hope that isn't until after the deadline for declaring for the NBA draft.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate) - Villanova wins by 28.4%
Offense: Game - 55%, Season - 32.6%, Last Year - 41.8%
Before the game we said free throws would be crucial in this game, and they certainly were. In a 5 point game, Villanova outscored Georgetown from the line 16 to 9. Not only that, 13 of Villanova's final 15 points were scored from the charity stripe, with Ryan Arcidiacono going 7 for 7 in the final minutes. Despite struggles getting to the line early in the season, Villanova has put up a FTRate of over 50% in 3 of their last 4 games. Combined with a Top 15 free throw percentage of 75.9%, it's going to be much harder to beat the Wildcats if they can keep getting to the line.
Defense: Game - 21.6%, Season - 31%, Last Year - 30.4%
Just as important as getting to the line on offense is keeping the other team off it. I once heard Hall of Fame Coach Bob Knight comment, "You want to make more free throws than the other team takes". I've quoted him here before, but it's worth repeating. Villanova has been able to establish a rare combination of pressure defense without fouling. It's a style that requires experience and discipline, but pays off dividends if it's executed properly. What's made this style of play possible right now is how quickly the younger players like Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges have learned how to mark their men without fouling. But they're not just executing it, they're excelling at it. Bridges had a great defensive possession, at the end of which he shot down Smith-Rivera and blocked his shot as time expired to secure a shot clock violation. I can honestly say I've never seen a freshman (red-shirt or otherwise) hand the senior star of another team so expertly.
Looking Ahead - Seton Hall Pirates (Villanova 72% projected winner, 70-64)
Offensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Hall, TO% - Nova, OR% - Nova, FTRate - Hall
Villanova will face another tough road test on Wednesday when they face the Seton Hall Pirates for the second time this season. In their last meeting exactly 2 weeks ago, Villanova won the game (72-63) and 2 of the Four Factors (OR% and FTRate). The last match-up got a bit... let's call it "physical", resulting in the Cats getting over 30 free throw attempts. If they can continue their recent trend of getting to the line and take advantage of Seton Hall's weak rebounding, the Cats should come away with another road win regardless of how they shoot from outside.
Defensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Hall, FTRate - Hall
Just like last time, the key on defense will be shutting down Isaiah Whitehead. Last time, the talented sophomore scored 20 points before fouling out late. The Villanova guards will have their hands full trying to limit his scoring this time around. In the frontcourt, Seton Hall has been the best offensive rebounding team in Big East conference play while Villanova has been the second best team at preventing them. Limiting those second chance boards will be a key to the Wildcats winning their 22nd consecutive Big East game.