All this week all the college sports world could talk about was how the top teams in the country keep losing. While that's a fun narrative to run with, it's not completely true. Sure, 5 of the current Top 10 teams notched a loss this week, but those aren't the "top" teams. Villanova and Kansas, both of which received first place votes the last two weeks, are each on 7 game win streaks, the longest active streaks of any current Top 25 team. Villanova in particular hasn't lost a game in 4 weeks. But for the Wildcats, living with a narrative has become the norm. No one will mention the nation's number one team without bringing up their struggles in March. And, fair or not, it's not going to stop until Jay Wright's crew can prove that narrative wrong.
The good news is that the Villanova Wildcats aren't worrying about what they can't control. In a game that could have easily been a trap with a trip to play the Xavier Musketeers on Wednesday and emotions running high on Senior Day, the Wildcats took care of business at home. Butler came into this game desperate for a big win, and while they pushed Nova hard in the second half, the Wildcats still had too much offense for them to overcome. Did I say offense? I meant Junior class, but we'll get into that in today's Four Factors.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - Villanova wins by 10.2%
Offense: Game - 53.7%, Season - 53.4%, Last Year - 55.3%
Villanova's performance behind the arc this season has been hot and cold at best. But make no mistake, they own every inch of the court inside the arc. Nova shot a collective 60.7% from inside the arc while holding the Butler Bulldogs to 41.9%. Six of the eight Wildcats that played today shot 50% or better from inside the arc. Villanova is currently 4th in the nation in offensive 2FG% and 7th in defensive 2FG%. It's the main reason why they won't have to rely on hitting threes to win in March, although that's not going to stop the Cats from taking them.
As for individual performances, Josh Hart decided to remind everyone that he can still score whenever he wants on whoever he wants. The 'Cats leading scorer had a double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 50% from the field and a perfect 3 for 3 from the line. For those who were worried that he scored under double digits in his last two games, his average for the last 3 games is now 11 PPG. His classmate Kris Jenkins put up 20 points of his own, also shooting 50% from the field and a perfect 5 f0r 5 from the line. In my mind, Jenkins has been the most improved player for the Cats this season, and most of that improvement has stemmed from better shot selection. Throw in a pair of beautifully executed pick and roll dunks by Darryl Reynolds, and the Junior class has simply been a joy to watch this season.
Defense: Game - 43.5%, Season - 44.7%, Last Year - 45.5%
While sitting in the stands today I commented to a friend how truly impressed I was with this defense. You don't get as great an appreciation of their movement just from watching on TV. But from my seats up in the nosebleeds behind the North Basket, I could see how seamlessly and efficiently this man defense rotates and helps. While mistakes are still made, these guys have amazing communication and make their switches like it's natural without thinking. But if the eye test doesn't convince you, the numbers should. Nova ranks 5th nationally in defensive efficiency. Their 90.9 rating is the third best in Jay's tenure, right behind the '05 "4 Guard" Team (90.4) and the '09 Final Four team (90.8).
Also don't look now, but Villanova's zone defense is coming together too. And it's not just that the team is becoming more comfortable in its execution, Jay's getting better at picking his spots to keep opposing offenses off-balance. It worked to perfection against a Butler team that entered the game as the top scoring team in the Big East.
Turnover Percentage (TO%) - Butler wins by 1.5%
Offense: Game - 12%, Season - 16.9%, Last Year - 16.3%
While the Wildcats turned the ball over 1 more time than Butler, this was still a big step forward for Villanova in the turnover department. Their 8 turnovers were the fewest yet in a Big East game, and their fewest since (gulp) December 1st. The Cats have now had single digit turnovers in 2 of their last 3 games, and the last came against a Butler team tied for 4th in the Big East in defensive TO%. Hopefully they can make it 3 of 4 when they head to Xavier on Wednesday.
Defense: Game - 10.5%, Season - 20.7%, Last Year - 21.6%
This is one of those battles that you don't feel terrible about losing. Butler is a Top 10 team nationally in offensive TO%, so the game plan was never going to rely on creating turnovers. Instead, the Wildcats did a great job of forcing the Bulldogs into contested shots. The problem is that strategy doesn't work if you lose the battle on the boards. Jalen Brunson lead the team with 2 steals and Ryan Arcidiacono added one of his own, but the team will need to step up their pressure if they can't keep opponents off the offensive glass.
Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%) - Butler wins by 13%
Offense: Game - 17.2%, Season - 30.7%, Last Year - 32.5%
Villanova hasn't been dominant on the offensive glass this season, but today they didn't show up. With only 5 total offensive boards and fewer turnovers than usual, the Cats didn't leave themselves with much breathing room on their FG%. Luckily, it was a good shooting day, but Nova's improved rebounding efforts are supposed to take pressure off their shooting, not put more pressure on it. Foul trouble may have been the culprit, as Daniel Ochefu, Mikal Bridges, and Arcidiacono finished with 4 fouls each and were forced to play conservatively in the second half. Josh Hart snagged a team high 2 offensive rebounds, but they'll need those numbers to improve both on Wednesday and in March.
Defense: Game - 30.2%, Season - 29.1%, Last Year - 31.2%
Nova's defensive rebounding was the same as it's been all year, just ok. Don't get me wrong, they've been improving as a team, but this game didn't show it. Hart had 10 defensive boards, Ochefu added 7, and Jenkins had 5, but you still don't want to see 13 second chances for the opposing team. Especially not off free throws. Again, foul trouble effected the aggressiveness of several Wildcats, but that's when other members of the team need to step up and attack the boards.
Free Throw Rate (FTRate) - Villanova wins by 3.4%
Offense: Game - 38.9%, Season - 34%, Last Year - 41.8%
The downside of being a jump-shooting team is fewer trips to the free throw line. Even with this games inflated numbers because Butler was forced to foul at the end of the game, Nova currently ranks 242nd nationally in FTRate. This is especially frustrating because at 78.1%, they're tied for the 2nd best FT shooting team in the country. That was on display again Saturday as they went 19 for 21 to shoot over 90% from the charity stripe. I don't know if Jay's trying to hide this success rate so that he can use it like a secret weapon in the post-season, but I know I'm not alone in wanting to see the Wildcats get to the line more often.
Defense: Game - 35.5%, Season - 29.9%, Last Year - 30.4%
Foul trouble was a problem this game, with Villanova giving up it's highest FTRate in the last 12 games. Nova's a Top 50 team nationally in defensive FTRate, so this is just a blip on the radar for now. But they have gone over their season average in 3 of their last 5 games, and now isn't the time to start giving teams free points. Again, this isn't setting off any alarms yet, but it's something to keep an eye on, especially for a team that's already thin in the front court.
Looking Ahead: Xavier Musketeers (Xavier 51% projected winner, 71-72)
Offensive Projections: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Xavier, FTRate - Xavier
For just the third time this season, Villanova will enter a game as the underdog according to KenPom.com. Xavier's 1-3-1 defense has been susceptible to Nova's 3point attack in recent years, and Nova was able to shoot 52% from deep in their last meeting. But if the shots aren't falling, Nova will have to use crisp passing to create driving lanes to attack inside, a.k.a. exactly what Xavier wants you to do.
Defensive Projections: eFG% - Nova, TO% - Nova, OR% - Xavier, FTRate - Xavier
This is really where the game will be won or lost. Villanova's defense and Xavier's offense each rank in the Top 3 of the Big East in each of the Four Factors. The new wrinkle for the Wildcats to deal with will be Edmond Sumner, who's coming off a 22 point performance against Georgetown, including going 9 for 9 from the line. Sumner suffered a game changing injury the first time these teams faced off, and he'll be looking to lead his team to victory on Wednesday.