Prior to the game against the Seton Hall Pirates, a friend of mine told me that this team needs to lose in order to get better. He insisted that we don't play our best as the favorites, and that a loss could help put the Villanova Wildcats in the right mindset going forward. I could not disagree more. Now I'm not saying that you don't learn anything from a loss. Take the Oklahoma loss, where the team learned that they don't have to shoot from outside the arc 9 out of 10 times.
But a loss only provides players with a wake-up call if they haven't been buying into the system or if they need to make a fundamental change in how they play that they weren't willing to make before. This Villanova team HAS bought in, and they're running on all cylinders. What this team needed was exactly what they got; a hard fought victory in a close game over a tough team away from home. In post season play, it's not enough to be able to play at the same level as other elite teams. Often times you'll need the experience of coming up clutch in the final seconds and fighting for that W. And that's what the Cats did, winning two of the Four Factors in their victory over Seton Hall.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - Villanova Wins by 12.4%
Offense: Game - 56.3%, Season - 53.8%, Last Year - 55.3%
With Daniel Ochefu on the bench for more than half the game, the rest of the Wildcats had to find ways to contribute offensively. Ryan Arcidiacono (2-4), Kris Jenkins (2-4), and Jalen Brunson (3-5) all shot 50% or better from behind the arc. Mikal Bridges went 4 for 4 from the field and finished with 10 points. Phil Booth attacked the paint and was able to consistently get to the free throw line, adding 7 points.
But the clear player of the game for Villanova was, again, Josh Hart. Not only did he score from everywhere (two 3-pointers, 2 of 4 from inside the arc, 5 of 6 from the line) but he did it in spectacular fashion. Hart has scored double digit points in every game this season, and now has a double-double in 4 of his last 5 games. He almost seems to get better in the second half, and when the team needs a basket he finds a way to make it happen. Hart is having a career season, and it's a lot of fun to watch.
Defense: Game - 47.4%, Season - 43.9%, Last Year - 45.5%
Early on, Villanova did a good job of forcing Seton Hall star sophomore Isaiah Whitehead to give up the ball and make someone else beat them. Unfortunately Desi Rodriguez got hot from deep right out the gate and Khadeen Carrington was able to keep the Pirates in the game early in the second. But once Ochefu had to go back to the bench with 4 fouls mid-way through the second, that's when Whitehead started to take over the offense for Seton Hall.
It was a little unsettling to see how effectively an elite player like that could cut through Nova's defense without Ochefu to meet him at the rim. Darryl Reynolds played one of his best games of the season, but it was clear that he can't take Ochefu's place when it comes to altering shots inside. Now the big man did come back late to have the best block of the season in the final seconds of the game. But going forward, Nova will have to work on stopping or at least slowing dribble penetration when their big man is on the bench.
Turnover Percentage (TO%) - Seton Hall wins by 6.4%
Offense: Game - 17.5%, Season - 15.9%, Last Year - 16.3%
Early this season, we marveled at Villanova's elite level TO%. In their first 8 games, Villanova only had double digit turnovers 3 times. But then things went south as the Cats have turned it over 10 or more times in every game since (11 and counting). They're still below the national average TO% (18.5%), but they're not dominating the ball like they used to. There's no one player you can point to as a reason for the increase, but there is one change that corresponds to the increase: 3-point shooting. Since the Oklahoma game, Villanova has been much better at playing through the paint, whether it's interior passing or dribble penetration, instead of jacking up more than half their shots from behind the arc. Anytime your focus shifts down-low, you're going to have more turnovers, but it's also resulted in a more efficient and explosive offense. That's a trade-off I think we all can live with.
Defense: Game - 9.5%, Season - 20.7%, Last Year - 21.6%
For the first time all season, Villanova had a TO% of under 10%. But I think this one had a lot more to do with Seton Hall than the Wildcat's defense. The Pirates have a lot of talented players that can control the ball and beat you off the dribble. On top of that, they came out ready to play. Seton Hall came out with a ton of energy, and if it wasn't for Villanova's hot 3-point shooting, the Pirates could have pulled away early. I think this ends up being a throw-away stat for a Nova defense that has used pressure defense to effectively create turnovers on more than 20% of their opponent's possessions.
Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) - Seton Hall wins by 0.3%
Offense: Game - 26.7%, Season - 30.6%, Last Year - 32.5%
The Wildcats held their own on the boards in this one, and actually out-rebounded Seton Hall by 3 overall. That's impressive considering that Daniel Ochefu only played 17 minutes. Josh Hart (3 OR's) was the only player credited with multiple offensive rebounds (there were 2 team OR's). OR% has dipped slightly in conference play as Nova faces bigger opponents, but it's always something that can be worked on.
Defense: Game - 27%, Season - 30.8%, Last Year - 34.5%
While Nova did win the rebounding battle, they still allowed double digit offensive rebounds (10). The good news is that only Seton Hall and Xavier have been able to reach that mark against Nova in conference play this season, but you still can't allow that many second chances. It's not a coincidence that the Pirates also ended up with 10 more shots than Villanova for the game, and had things gone differently the might not have been as close at it was. But as far as individual performances go, give credit to Darryl Reynolds, who has been a reliable and efficient rebounder for Villanova this season. In Ochefu's absence, he and Josh Hart each brought down 7 defensive rebounds.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate) - Villanova wins by 19.7%
Offense: Game - 54.2%, Season - 33.5%, Last Year - 41.8%
Either Villanova is improving their ability to get to the line, or Seton Hall fouls a lot *wink*. Actually, it's a bit of both. While Nova has had a FTRate of over 54% in each game against the Pirates this year, they've also put up a FTRate of over 46% in 4 of their last 5 games. Last night was another great team effort, with each player except Jalen Brunson getting to the line for at least 2 attempts. Phil Booth lead the team with 7 attempts and Kris Jenkins was the most efficient going 4-4. Villanova has now rounded out their point distribution in conference play to 27% from 3-Pointers, 49% from 2-Pointers, and 23% from Free Throws. With more balanced scoring from the line and behind the arc, Villanova's offense becomes much more reliable and less likely to be effected by poor shooting.
Defense: Game - 34.5%, Season - 31.2%, Last Year - 30.4%
Considering how tightly the refs called the second half, I'm actually surprised by how low Nova's defensive FTRate was. When Ochefu got into foul trouble early in the second half, Seton Hall made it a point to go right at the lane every chance they could. While early on this resulted in several trips to the line, especially for Isaiah Whitehead, the Cats were eventually able to regain their defensive positioning and keep from fouling. The games against Seton Hall this year have resulted in 2 of the Top 5 highest defensive FTRates, so it's safe to say this can be chalked up to the rough and grinding style of play they tend to take on rather than anything to be worried about long term.
Looking Ahead - Providence Friars (Villanova 90% projected winner, 72-59)
Offensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Prov, FTRate - Prov
Providence comes into this game with the Big East's most efficient defense to challenge Villanova's most efficient offense. The Wildcats' biggest advantage on offense will be that Providence allows open shots, ranking outside the Top 100 in defensive eFG%. However, if you can't hit those shots, you're going to be in for a rough night. Don't let the edge in TO% fool you, Kris Dunn is ranked 6th nationally in Steal Percentage, averaging almost 3 per game. The key for Villanova will be to control the ball and find the open shot.
Defensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Prov, OR% - Prov, FTRate - Nova
On defense, it's all about stopping/limiting Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. As good as Dunn is at creating turnovers, he's just as good at controlling the ball, so Nova's usual advantage in turnovers goes out the door. The Friar's weakness is that outside of their 2 stars, they're not that great at shooting the ball. Outside of Dunn (36%) and reserve Kyron Catwright (52%), they don't shoot well from behind the arc, and as a team they shoot under 50% from inside. Villanova's pressure defense should keep those shooting percentages down, which means rebounding will be the key to stopping Providence's offense.