A lot of things looked good on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Omari’s slick new suit, the brand new championship banners, even the Villanova Dancing Guy’s new clean cut look (no beard/shaved head/same hat), it all looked good. But the defending champions? They looked GREAT. Now yes, this was an exhibition against a DII school (although the Crimson Hawks are no joke), but the Wildcats dominated from start to finish.
Villanova shot VERY well all game, going 58.6% (34-58) from the field, 54.8% (17-31) from beyond the arc, and 90% (9-10) from the line. They were effective in both the man and zone defenses, and had a great day in transition. Now because it was an exhibition, Jay was clearly trying out some line-ups and schemes for the season. But let’s go through some of the things that stood out overall that have a good shot at transitioning into the regular season.
Josh Hart, #3 on the court, #1 in your hearts
Any conversation about Villanova this season needs to start with Josh Hart. How important is Hart to this team? It’s not just that he’s the returning leading scorer or a senior captain. The best way to describe it is by just stating the truth. Josh Hart will arguably be the best player on the court in every game he plays this year. Saturday was no different.
Hart put up gaudy numbers on Saturday, the kind you expect from a preseason All American and the Big East preseason Player of the Year. His 27 points, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 30 minutes all lead the Wildcats. He added 4 rebounds while only committing 1 turnover and 1 foul. Want to knock him? He only went 2-3 from the line, so I guess he’s not perfect. :)
On defense, Hart was just as much a stud. Sure, against the larger more athletic players he’ll see this season things will be more difficult, but Hart was everything you wanted a shut-down defender to be today. He was one of three Wildcats to play at the point of the 1-2-2 press, the others being Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo, and was effective at not only slowing down the other team, but creating turnovers as well. This team won’t live and die by Hart’s performance this season, but the team’s a whole lot better when he’s in the zone.
At the Villanova Media Day, Jay Wright spoke to his approach with the team on three point shooting saying that he encourages them to be aggressive early in the season. That way they can work on shot selection as the season progresses, rather than trying to get the team to play more aggressive later in the season. Well it’s fair to say that the team was aggressive from behind the arc Saturday, taking over 53% of their shots from deep. Wright said he’d like to end up closer to 38-40% by the end of the season, so this looks like the exact approach the team took last season. And it’s hard to argue with those results.
As far as individual performances, some things stayed the same. Jenkins lead the team in attempts, going 2-3 in the first half before slumping in the second half to finish 3-9. Josh Hart was an efficient 3-5. Seriously, he’s already in mid-season form.
But it’s the “new” things we saw from deep that will please Nova fans the most. The three most efficient shooters from outside for the Wildcats were Jalen Brunson (3-3), Eric Paschall (2-2), and Mikal Bridges (4-5). Bridges and Paschall showed great touch and form from the wings, while Brunson hit each of his three wide open attempts from up top. If Villanova continues to shoot anywhere close to 50% from deep as a team while getting production from this many players, you can book your Final Four tickets now. But just in case that doesn’t happen, just know that it’s all a part of the plan.
The Center Position
This was probably the biggest surprise of the day. Going into the game, many had speculated that Reynolds would be the primary option at the 5, with Dylan Painter and Tim Delaney backing him up and Eric Paschall available if Jay wanted to go “small ball”. Well Reynolds is still the go to down low, but it looks like we’re going to get a lot more small ball than we thought, at least early in the season. Paschall and Jenkins were the next two options at the 5, with Delaney and Painter not even seeing the court until the final minutes of the game.
Let’s start with Reynolds. Defensively he’s going to do a good job of anchoring the defense, and he showed that today securing 8 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 blocks, and a steal. Sure there were a few miscues early on as a team, but that’s to be expected early in the season. It’s the offensive end that was concerning today for the Villanova big man. Reynolds had just 2 points, going 1-2. Unlike Ochefu, Villanova couldn’t run the defense through him. He wasn’t making especially great passes, and while he did come down with 4 rebounds, a lot of them got stripped away leading to 4 turnovers. There will be better days ahead for Reynolds, and we’ll need him if Jay Wright is this unsure of his freshman bigs.
Paschall got the second shot at the 5. He handled the defensive assignments well and came up with 8 total rebounds (2 offensive). Granted, this was against a smaller IUP team, but he has the size and strength to take on much bigger opponents. Offensively he had a great game going 6-7 for 18 points, including 2 3’s and a perfect 4-4 from the foul line. But a lot of that came when he was moved to the 3 or 4 position and got to set up out on the wing. While he can play the 5 effectively, it will handcuff his offensive ability.
Then, surprisingly, Jay gave Kris Jenkins some run in the 5 position. As a senior, Jenkins knows the defense better than most, but he’s not close to the shot blocker or rim protector that Reynolds, Paschall, or even Mikal Bridges are. His big body will allow him to keep opponents from simply pushing him over in the post, but it’s really not his strongest position. Offensively, Jenkins is one of the team’s best shooters, and keeping him down low takes away a big part of his game.
Tim Delaney got into the game with just 8 minutes to play, right when the starters were starting to make their final exits. He got a few minutes of play at the 5 spot, but he’s really more of a stretch 4. His length and height make him a solid rim protector, but he still needs to hit the weight room a bit, which is understandable coming off last year’s surgeries. Once Painter came into the game and he moved to the 4, Delaney did start taking some outside shots, going 1-2 from beyond the arc. But otherwise it was a quiet game as he served as mostly mop up duty with the “2nd Unit”.
Dylan Painter got into the game with just 5 minutes left, and by that point the team was in final shut down mode. He went 0-1 from the field on a missed put back attempt, and that was all from his day. This minimal play from a guy we thought was going to be the number 2 option at the position is concerning, especially when larger opponents like Purdue are only two games out. To me, the fact that Delaney and Painter sat for so long says that Jay’s not ready to trust them in the general rotation, and that they’ll probably see minimal minutes until they can gain that trust.
Holy Fast-Breaks Batman!
For a long time now, Jay’s philosophy has been to slow the game down on both ends of the court with efficient offense and stiffing defense. But now he’s in the unique position of having an uber-athletic team that can run with the best of them, and he’s fine with pushing the envelope when it’s available. And folks, it’s going to be available A LOT. Villanova looked amazing on their fast breaks, and it’s going to be a vital offensive weapon for them this season.
It starts with the passing. Anytime there was a defensive rebound, you could see that there was a priority on looking to push the ball up to court for fast break opportunities if they were there. Not surprisingly, Jalen Brunson was terrific at this, but Kris Jenkins made some great passes too. Multiple times they’d make brilliant passes to Josh Hart or Mikal Bridges who were cutting up court. Often they’d have a running mate or two up there with them, and it seemed that every time they made the right play of either passing to the open cutter or juking the defender for the easy layup. Not only is this demoralizing for the opponents, but it can lead to a slew of points fast. If the Cats can get up big early, they’ve proven they can put teams away.
- Jay Wright addressed the crowd before the game as they raised the 1985 and 2016 Championship banners at the Wells Fargo. He said that like a stone cutter, everyone that came before them had been chipping away at that rock until last year’s team finally cracked it, and that the Championship was as much due to those who came before as it was those who play today.
- The Villanova dance team is sporting new uniforms with... UNC colors? Not exactly, but close. It’s a white uniform with the Villanova baby blue trim, but it looks a little too much like Tarheel colors for my liking.
- Jenkins didn’t get the start today because he came into the game a little overweight. Many have speculated, and I agree, that this was more a reminder not to slack off after the championship than any type of serious offense.
- Brunson, Booth, Hart, Bridges, and Reynolds started each half.
- While the Wildcats played primarily man defense in the first half, they came out in primarily zone defense in the second.
- Outside of Delaney and Painter, Jalen Brunson was the only other Wildcat to play under 20 minutes with just 18.
- Hart (27), Paschall (18), Bridges (17), Jenkins (11), and Brunson (11) all finished in double digit points.
- The team only commited 6 personal fouls, with Phil Booth being the only player with 2.