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Villanova Basketball Four Factors: Lafayette

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Four Factors is back with a deep analytical dive into the Wildcats first game of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Lafayette at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova wins! It’s been a little over 7 months since we’ve officially been able to say that, and boy does it feel good. Now not all games will be a cakewalk like last night was (see Purdue analysis below), but it’s good to finally get a glimpse at how Jay Wright is going to approach this season without a true center, but with a lot more athletic talent.

It didn’t take long for us to get that answer, as less than 5 minutes into the game Bridges came in for Reynolds and Jenkins shifted down to the 5 spot. And guess what, it worked. Lafayette isn’t as talented, athletic, or big as many of the teams Villanova will face this year, but consider this a ‘proof of concept’.

Jay’s actually done this before with great success. Back in 2005 and 2006, he used this same strategy when he put four guards on the floor around one big man. “But Brendan, Jenkins, Bridges and Paschall are far from guards, and at least two of them will be on the floor!” Correct you are, imaginary opposing view I conjured to make a point. Jay wasn’t trying to put 4 guards on the floor at the same time, he was trying to put out his 5 best players. This year, that’s going to result in a lot of smaller, very athletic lineups that are going to use pressure defense to slow down and befuddle the opposition. So let’s see how these new look Cats shape up in the Four Factors.

P.S. ~ For those of you curious about what the Four Factors are, Kenpom.com (a sight we’ll be culling a lot of our data from) has a great explanation as to why these four advanced statistics are great indicators of a team’s chances at winning a given match-up.

Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - Villanova wins by 26.6%

Offense: Game - 60.5%, Season - 60.4%, Last Year - 56.1%

I’ve mentioned this in a few articles already this year, but it’s worth stating it again: Jay Wright has a method to his madness when it comes to 3-point shooting. Make no mistake, taking over 61% of your shots from beyond the arc IS madness, especially when the team only connected on 15 of 41 from deep for 36.6%. But Jay has said that he wants his players to be aggressive from 3 early in the season, and then work on getting better, more efficient shots. It worked last season, so I’m not going to argue with it now.

What makes this approach possible is that Villanova remains a VERY good shooting team from inside the arc. A lot of missed threes can be excused when you’re shooting over 69% from around the basket. But it’s important to note that those two go hand in hand. It’s the barrage from deep that spreads the court and opens up lanes inside to create easier shot opportunities. So if the team were to simply start going inside all the time, defenses would adjust and that lofty shooting percentage would fall quickly.

The key is finding a balance that works for the team, and that’s not something anyone was expecting them to figure out on the first night. That being said, Mikal Bridges DID figure it out on night one, and showed us all why he’s being viewed as an NBA prospect. Bridges shot 4-5 from inside the arc, 2-4 from deep, and a perfect 2-2 from the free throw line. Add in a team high 3 offensive rebounds and 4 assists, and it was an impressive offensive night that showcased increase skills and discipline from the red shirt sophomore. If he can bring that kind of offense to match his defensive prowess, it’s going to be very difficult for opponents to handle the 6’7” wing.

Defense: Game - 33.9%, Season - 33.8%, Last Year - 46.7%

The more athletic lineups we’re likely to see from the Wildcats this season are going to hinge on two factors. The first is the effectiveness of their pressure defense, which we saw a lot of last night. Using both a full court press and the 1-2-2 press, Villanova was able to create 13 turnovers, 8 of which were steals. This is the same pressure that we saw used so effectively in last year’s tournament run, with guards and wings getting up and putting pressure on ball handlers to deny easy entry to the paint. The big difference from last season is that whenever Reynolds isn’t out there, we lose that go to rim protector that could erase any mistakes made by the pressing guards up top.

So that second factor warrants a closer look at Kris Jenkins and Eric Paschall, the apparent defensive anchors whenever the Cats don’t have a traditional big man in the game. Whether it’s the press man or the press zone, the 5 position has one priority above all others: to step up and force contested shots or kick out passes anytime an opponent gets into the lane with the ball. While Paschall and Jenkins both recorded some blocks last night, the more important impact they had was they both showed an ability to force their man or opponents who drove the lane to alter their shots or kick back out. Granted, Lafayette didn’t really have the size to challenge them down low. But the fact that they were looking to play solid defense rather than try to sell out for the block is a great early sign for this team that’s still finding its defensive chemistry.

Turnover Percentage (TO%) - Villanova wins by 6.8%

Offense: Game - 11%, Season - 11%, Last Year - 16.3%

It was a pretty good night in the turnover department for the Wildcats, with just 8 total and no player committing more than two. Jalen Brunson, the team’s primary ball handler, had no turnovers. Same for big man Darryl Reynolds, who had showed some trouble hanging onto the ball down low this preseason. It’s not until you take a look at the assist numbers that you start to see a red flag. Last night the team assisted on just 45.5% of their made shots. To put that in perspective, last year’s team assisted on 58.7% of made shots.

When you think about the game, this makes more sense. Lafayette couldn’t keep up with Villanova’s athleticism, and so players like Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges were able to easily create dribble penetration and take the ball in themselves. On the perimeter, Jalen Brunson, Kris Jenkins, and Phil Booth were all successfully creating their own shots, and so again assisted shots were down. This may have worked last night, but it’s the kind of play that will lead to more turnovers in the Big East.

Because of the opponent and how early in the season it is, I’m not to concerned. This is the type of thing coaches will preach on in film sessions and drill in practice. That being said, it’s something to keep an eye on.

Defense: Game - 17.8%, Season - 17.8%, Last Year - 20.6%

I mentioned earlier that it was a good defensive night for Villanova, creating 13 turnovers on 8 steals. Now some of you may look at last year’s TO% and wonder, how could we not match/beat that against such a weak opponent? The answer is simple, it’s still really early. Last season’s defense, arguably one of Jay Wright’s best ever, started the season off against Fairleigh Dickinson with a TO% of just 16.8%, a full point below last night.

Turnovers tend to be a more fickle stat that can fluctuate due to game flow and style of play. So at this point it’s not worth putting too much thought into until we have a greater sample size to look at. Suffice it to say that double digit turnovers is always a good thing.

Offensive Rebound Percentage (OR%) - Villanova wins by 14.8%

Offense: Game - 27%, Season - 27%, Last Year - 28.2%

There’s no stat line that will make Villanova fans miss Daniel Ochefu more than offensive rebounds. That being said, the Cats actually did an ok job at bringing in the offensive boards last night. Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo stood out with 3 and 2 boards a piece, but 6 different Wildcats grabbed at least one offensive rebound. It’s that gang rebounding mentality that Villanova will need when it goes up against larger opponents (see Purdue below).

This was a weakness for last year’s team that ended the season ranked 224th in OR% on offense, and it’s going to be difficult to see this team improve too much on that number. That being said, rebounding is one of the most important aspects of Jay’s system, and he’s certainly going to be doing everything he can to put this team in the best position to handle offensive rebounding against larger lineups.

Defense: Game - 12.2%, Season - 12.2%, Last Year 29.4%

Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Cats on the defensive boards last night. Sure it’s a small sample size, so small that some teams haven’t even played their first game yet, but Villanova currently ranks 4th nationally in OR% on defense. Considering that rebounding was the biggest team question mark heading into the season, that’s a phenomenal first step.

What makes these numbers so great is that it wasn’t just one guy acting like a human vacuum, it was an entire team effort. Darryl Reynolds, Eric Paschall, and Jalen Brunson all led the team with 6 defensive boards a piece, and Kris Jenkins, Donte DiVincenzo, and Mikal Bridges all chipped in another 5 each. Villanova is going to need these guys, especially the guards, to crash the boards from the perimeter as a team, and hope that their athleticism can overcome the size they’ll face in the post. So far, it looks like it can.

Free Throw Rate (FTR) - Villanova wins by 7.1%

Offense: Game - 17.9%, Season - 17.9%, Last Year - 34.1%

The charity stripe was anything but charitable to the Wildcats last night. Not only did the team struggle to get to the line, but they shot a sub-par 58.3% (7-12). Josh Hart led the team in attempts with 3, but he uncharacteristically missed them all. The best thing to do here is just chalk this up to an off night, throw away the tape, and move on.

But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas to improve. Jay will no doubt get the FT% up to team standards (78.2% last season), but it’s the FTR that’s still very concerning. Last year, Mikal Bridges (45.5%) and Darryl Reynolds (85.5%) had far and away the best FTR’s on the team, but a lot of that was due to their offense being concentrated in the paint. So far in the preseason and last night, Reynolds doesn’t seem to be an offensive factor and Bridges game is expanding further from the basket. Both of these facts have me scratching my head as to how Villanova plans to get to the free throw line this season, and the simple answer may be that they don’t.

Defense: Game - 10.8%, Season - 10.8%, Last Year - 30%

For as bad as this team is at getting to the line, they’re exceptional when it comes to keeping other teams off it. It’s especially impressive when you consider the kind of pressure defense the Cats play. A lot of it goes back to what I mentioned earlier, the focus on altering opponents shots instead of trying to block them. But the basic fact is that Villanova plays fast but controlled, discipline defense. Last night only 6 Wildcats committed a foul, and only Josh Hart, Donte DiVincenzo, and Eric Paschall got up to three. Keeping teams off the line has been a staple of Jay Wright’s defense, and I wouldn’t expect that to change any time soon.

Looking Ahead: Purdue Boilermakers

Villanova 60% projected winner, 75-72 according to Kenpom.com

Offensive Four Factors: Purdue wins 3-1 (eFG% - PUR, TO% - NOVA, OR% - PUR, FTR - PUR)

This is going to be a classic match-up of speed vs. size when the Wildcats travel to West Lafayette on Monday. The Boilermakers have a dominant front court that’s equal parts size and strength that should give Villanova a lot of trouble when it comes to dribble penetration and offensive rebounds. The one advantage Villanova has is that Purdue isn’t especially good at applying pressure or creating turnovers, so the Cats should be able to break down the defense with efficient ball movement to create open shots.

Defensive Four Factors: Villanova wins 3-1 (eFG% - NOVA, TO% - NOVA, OR% - PUR, FTR - NOVA)

Villanova’s pressure defense should cause a lot of problems for the Boilermakers back court. Expect to see Jay Wright make use of the 1-2-2 and full court presses early and often to try to create turnovers and force Purdue’s guards to make plays before they have a chance to get it into the big men down low. Nova will also need to do it’s best to limit offensive rebounding, where the Boilermakers are currently ranked #1 nationally.