Saturday night's 85-71 victory over Creighton was a lot of fun to watch. The team was clicking on offense, the victory was never really in question, and my friends and I were even texting back and fourth that if Ochefu can play like this in March it will be tough for anyone to beat us. It was a great night to be a Villanova fan. Then I sat down to research this article.
It quickly became apparent to me that I, like many of you I'm sure, had fallen victim to a pretty common equation in college basketball: Victory + Scoring = Let's Overlook Everything Else We're Seeing That Isn't Good. I'm not saying I didn't have a comment here or there on ways the team could improve, but I never would have guessed that Villanova only won One of the Four Factors in last nights game. The only other time that's happened this season was against Virginia. So were these some throw away stats or evidence of problems we should look out for?
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - Villanova wins by 24%
Offense: Game - 74%, Season - 56.1%, Last Year - 55.3%
When this offense is good, it's REALLY good. Against Xavier, we saw an eFG% of over 70% with the three, but tonight we got to see it with the two. Nova shot a blistering 87.5% from inside the arc and Creighton just simply couldn't stop them. Daniel Ochefu (19 points) and Josh Hart (25 points) lead the way with eFG%'s of 90% and 85.7% respectively. The performance didn't go unnoticed as Hart (7th) and Ochefu (8th) are now on KenPom's Top 10 Players of the Year.
It's pretty clear that reviewing their performance through the tougher non-conference schedule has given this team a blueprint for the offense: Play through the interior (posting, dribble drive, backdoor cuts) and when the scoring opportunity isn't there, pass back out to open shooters. If we can continue this type of elite interior play and see our shooting percentage increase from behind the arc, this team will have the ability to beat anyone in March.
Defense: Game - 50%, Season - 43.9%, Last Year - 45.5%
Sure our defense gave up more points than usual, but they also held Creighton more than 10 points below their season average. Honestly, the defense got in people's faces in man and did a fairly good job in the zone as well. I give the credit here to Creighton's shooters, specifically in the mid-range game. They consistently made tough, contested shots from 12-20 feet. Nothing you can do about that. Where the defense really shined was on the perimeter. While the Blue Jays did just flat out miss a couple wide open three's, they were for the most part contested. The Wildcat's only allowed their opponents to shoot 21.7% (5 for 23) from distance, and it was a big part of the reason why Creighton was never able to mount a comeback.
Turnover Percentage (TO%) - Creighton wins by 7%
Offense: Game - 19.7%, Season - 15.3%, Last Year - 16.3%
Holy Turnovers Batman! Early in the season we marveled at Villanova's ability to hold onto the ball as the team only had 1 game in their first 8 with a TO% of 19% or more. In 3 of their last 6 games, the team has eclipsed the 19% mark for TO%. In the previous game against Xavier, the point guard trio of Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, and Phil Booth combined for 7 turnovers, the most all season. Against Creighton, they had 8. Winning the turnover battle has been the main reason Villanova has been able to weather their poor rebounding this season. If the Cats start to lose that advantage, they're going to start losing games too.
Defense: Game - 12.7%, Season - 22.2%, Last Year - 21.6%
This result was a little more of a blip on the radar than the offensive turnovers. While it was the second worst defensive TO% of the season for Villanova, the Cats have actually been trending upwards in this category over the last few games. That being said, turnovers have been Nova's bread and butter this season and they'll need them in games where they don't shoot 68% from the field. While it was a down game for turnovers, it should be noted that Hart, Arch, and Ochefu were very active in the passing lanes and combined for 7 steals.
Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) - Creighton wins by 12.1%
Offense: Game - 0%, Season - 30.5%, Last Year - 32.5%
Zero Offensive Rebounds. I know it's fun to think that Villanova was shooting so well that they didn't have any chances for offensive rebounds, but in reality they went 0 for 20. Now a lot of those opportunities (16) came on three's and free throws which are statistically less likely to produce offensive rebounds. But still, zero? This marks the 3rd straight game where the Cats got 24% or fewer of their offensive rebound opportunities. Nova is still going to have a poor shooting night or two this season, and that's when hitting the offensive boards hard keeps you in the game. Without them, you better keep hitting your first shot.
Defense: Game - 12.1%, Season - 32.5%, Last Year - 31.2%
The trend this season seems to be that when Villanova does exceptionally poorly in an area on one side of the court, they step up their game on the other side. This was Villanova's best defensive rebounding performance of the season, and it truly was a team effort. While Ochefu lead the way with 7 boards, every Wildcat that played had at least 2 defensive rebounds. The team still struggles on the boards when playing larger teams, but it's good to see them cleaning the glass when they have the size advantage.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate) - Creighton wins by 4.4%
Offense: Game - 32%, Season - 29.2%, Last Year - 41.8%
Even if it didn't always get them to the line, Villanova was noticeably better in this game at drawing and creating fouls. Kris Jenkins is becoming increasing more proficient at this skill, specifically using his shot fake at the arc and then driving past/into defenders. As the Cats continue to play through the interior, they're drawing more fouls and creating more scoring opportunities from the charity stripe. They're still not getting to the line the way they did last season, but progress is progress.
Defense: Game - 36.4%, Season - 30.6%, Last Year - 30.4%
During the non-conference, Villanova gave up a FTRate of over 30% twice in 12 games. Not only have they gone over that mark in both Big East games so far, but they're averaging over 43% in those games. It might just be adjusting to the Big East Refs, or maybe the refs got a memo at the start of conference play to be sure to enforce the new NCAA rules like they did at the start of the season. Whatever the reason, the cats are giving up an average of 17 points from the charity strip in Big East play, and that can't continue. Let's hope they return to their non-conference level of elite man defense without fouling, and fast!
Looking Ahead - Seton Hall (Nova 90% projected winner, 76-63)
Offensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Nova, FTRate - Hall
Seton Hall is no slouch on defense, and should be a good challenge for a Villanova offense that's been hot as of late. The Pirates excel at turning the ball over, so Villanova will need to be mindful of their recent turnover woes. The one area Nova can take advantage of is the offensive glass, where Seton Hall ranks 200th in OR%. Hopefully the Cats can use this as an opportunity to rebound (horrible pun intended) from their poor showing on the offensive glass in Omaha.
Defensive Projected Winners: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Hall, FTRate - Hall
On offense, Seton Hall runs primarily through star sophomore Isaiah Whitehead. Shut him down and they're in trouble, although that's easier said than done. The Pirates will look to take advantage of Nova on the offensive glass, where they excel at getting second chance points. Where they're vulnerable is ball security, so look for Nova to try to turn them over early and often with their press and man defense.