On Sunday afternoon, the Villanova Wildcats return home to the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Virginia Cavaliers in a Big East-ACC showdown. The Wildcats have had a few days to cool off after a tough road loss to Marquette in which they blew a 17-point 2nd half lead and will look to stay undefeated at home this season.
The game will conclude a home-and-home series that started last year in Charlottesville, VA when UVA handed Nova one of their five losses en route to a National Championship season.
Back in December 2015, the 8th ranked Cavaliers beat the 12th ranked Wildcats 86-75 in a surprising shootout. Former Cavs’ Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill led the way with 20+ points each while current PG London Perrantes added 19. Kris Jenkins led the ‘Cats with 23 points, but only Josh Hart and Daniel Ochefu joined him in double figures. The Wildcats got crushed on the boards 31-19 while allowing the Cavaliers to shoot 56.5% from the field and sending them to the line 30 times! Jay Wright should have the guys fired up to play better defensively this time around and get some revenge at home. Here are a few things to watch for on Sunday.
Penetrating the Pack-Line D
Since Tony Bennett has come to Virginia, he has turned them into one of the nation’s best defensive teams year in and year out. Even after the departure of 2 time ACC defensive player of the year, Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavs are still a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end. The team currently allows the fewest points per game in the country at 53.3 and ranks 3rd in the country in defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com.
The ‘Cats were efficient offensively in last year’s game scoring 75 points on 49% shooting, but they still need to respect the pack-line D. The key concept behind Tony Bennett’s defensive philosophy is to halt dribble penetration and force teams to beat them with outside shots. UVA forces their opponents to take 37.6% of their shots from beyond the arc and only give up 15.3 free throw attempts per game.
The key for the Wildcats offensively will be shot selection. Josh Hart and company can’t fall in love with the outside shot too much or they will be playing right into Virginia’s hands. The ‘Cats will have to pass up some decent shots to try to work for a better one in order to be efficient against this defense. As long as they take good shots, there’s no way they can shoot as poorly as they did against Marquette.
Who Can You Stop?
Somewhat reminiscent of the Nova team from last year, UVA has a balanced scoring attack with no one guy you can look to shut down. Point guard London Perrantes leads the team scoring 12.3 ppg and only Marial Shayok joins him in double figures at 10 ppg. The Cavs employ a 10 man rotation with 9 players logging 10+ minutes per game.
While no single player can hurt you too much, they play efficiently from top to bottom. As a team, UVA shoots 49.6% from the field and 40.4% from three point range, both of which are top ten in the nation. Incredibly, Devon Hall is the single worst shooter from the field out of their 10 man rotation at 45% (Compare that to Jenkins at 40.7% for Nova). The bottom line: This team does not take bad shots.
Now for the elephant in the room: How will the team respond to the devastating Marquette loss?
Not a single player on this team has lost back to back games in his Villanova career! Jay Wright knows how to get his players to respond after facing adversity. Senior leaders Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are proven winners.
As far as the Xs and Os, I don’t think there’s any reason for Coach Wright to change much heading into this game. The team had an awful shooting night against a worthy opponent on the road. It happens. Better now than when the stakes are higher.
For what it’s worth, the ‘Cats should be a 4-5 point favorite in Vegas. I wouldn’t bet against Jay Wright and these seniors coming off a loss!