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Mid-Season Musings on Villanova Basketball

Now that we’ve hit the mid-way point of the regular season, here’s some general thoughts for Nova Nation

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

As the Wildcats gear up for their match with Xavier, I’d like to take a minute (just sit right there) and run through a number of topics too small for a full article, but too big not to be addressed regarding Villanova basketball. The Marquette game was the mid-season mark, at least for the regular season, and that’s usually a good time to start assessing how far the team has come this year, and how far they still have to go with just 15 games left before tourney time.

As we approach mid-January, sample sizes are no longer small. Rookie mistakes are no longer acceptable. Senior leadership needs to kick in. Basically, the honeymoon is over, and now is the time to start bringing it all together. For example, last year Kris Jenkins scored in double digits in 8 of his first 16 games. He went on to hit double digits in 14 of his last 15 regular season games, averaging 16 points through the home stretch. The second half of the season is the time to step up.

So with that in mind, here’s my “State Of The Nova-Nation”, including thoughts on some of the players and other topics. Granted, I’m going have to do some major nit picking here because we’re talking about one of the best teams in the country. But that’s a much better problem to have then needing to fix major issues.

It’s time to press pause on the Phil Booth conversation

I, like many of you, have participated in the almost year-long debate that’s been what to make of Phil Booth’s injury status. Many people have questioned why medical red-shirt should be such a hot topic right now, but that’s not really what’s being discussed. The real question is, “Will Phil Booth play this post-season?”

The answer: We don’t know. Jay Wright doesn’t know. Not even Phil Booth knows.

Right now the plan is simple. Throughout the season they’ve been resting Phil before letting him “test out” the knee in some controlled activity. If there’s pain, they shut it down, let him rest, and then the cycle repeats. So far, there’s always been pain.

Once Booth is pain free, they’ll start getting him back into game shape. Only then is the team going to start considering when or if he’ll be back on the court. At least that’s what they’re telling us. And honestly, I believe them. As much as the team and its fans would love to be at full strength for another deep run in March, no one wants it to come at the expense of a player’s long-term health. So until there’s some new information out there, and I’m guessing there won’t be anything soon, it’s time to put this conversation to bed.

Villanova’s Defense is outside KenPom’s Top 21, so we’re all doomed!

Since KenPom started doing all his KenPoming 15 years ago, no team has ever won the national championship with a defensive efficiency outside the Top 21. In fact, most times the champ was ranked in the Top 10. So with Villanova currently ranked 31st in defensive efficiency, we should all start panicking, right?

Well, obviously, NO. You know what all 15 of those Championship teams have in common besides being ranked in the Top 21? They all played 20+ more games than Villanova has so far this season. There’s more than half a season left when you pull the post-season into the picture, so it’s a little premature to start worrying that the team is 10 spots off the pace. It also helps to mention that Nova is #1 in offensive efficiency, the same as North Carolina was in 2009 when they finished 21st in defensive efficiency.

In addition, Nova has played one of the more difficult schedules this season, which has somewhat deflated their defensive rankings. Nova’s SOS against opposing offenses this year ranks 22nd per KenPom. Currently in the Top 21 of defensive efficiency teams, only 5 teams have a SOS against opposing offenses in the Top 50! So as the current Top 21 teams face better offenses, their rankings will drop, while Nova should stay fairly consistent, if not get a little better as they rise up the ranks. Bottom line, worry about rebounds and turnovers for now, and save those other numbers for the post season.

Reynolds and Bridges are money inside the arc... and that upsets me?

I don’t think anyone would classify these two as volume shooters. But when it comes to efficiency around the rim, they’re clutch. Reynolds (75.6%) and Bridges (75.5%) rank 9th and 10th nationally in 2P shot percentage for players that use a minimum of 40% of their positions minutes and take at least 2 shots per game (basically all rotation players).

This is a great stat, and it’s indicative of how Villanova has been one of the most efficient offenses in the country. But unfortunately, it’s also an indicator of what frustrates me most with these players **Warning: Nit Picking Alert**. While waiting for the efficient shot is the right thing to do 75% of the time, sometimes you need to get aggressive. Too often these guys miss scoring opportunities because they just don’t attack aggressively enough, even when we’ve seen them do it in the past!

Bridges is still developing, and I’ll admit I’ve seen him improve on this throughout the season while maintaining his shooting efficiency. But then he has a game like Butler where he only takes 3 shots all game (tied for fewest this season). You can’t be a starting wing on this team and only take 3 shots. He’s so athletic that at worst he should be driving the lane to draw fouls, even if it’s going to be a low efficiency shot or better yet a kick-out. It opens up the offense, and then boom, you get your shots.

Reynolds case is entirely different. Unlike Chef before him, he’s not being asked to be a force down low. They’re not even looking to run the offense through him. He gets his shots and the stats show that he makes the most out of them the few times per game that his number gets called. My problem is his reaction when he gets a loose ball under the net or comes down with an offensive rebound. Almost always he looks to kick the ball out or dribble out to reset. JUST GO UP WITH IT!

Sure getting it out to the other offensive options is a fine play, but giving up ground when you’re within 3 feet of the basket can’t be the right move every time. We know he can finish through contact, we saw it last season. And he IS shooting over 75% this year, and it would probably cut down on his team-high 28.7% turnover rate. Worst case scenario he goes to the line (just 66% on the season, but still getting fouls on opponent bigs and making more than he misses). But we need him to be more aggressive in those situations, especially on nights when the shots aren’t falling.

Donte DiVincenzo is doing better than you think

He’s a freshman. Yes, it’s his second year in the system, but he’s still a freshman. Freshman make mistakes. It’s what happens during a season where a young player like DiVincenzo’s main focus should be developing the core values of Villanova Basketball.

Unfortunately, he’s doing it under a spotlight. Phil Booth’s injury has forced DiVincenzo into more minutes on the court, and more significantly, more minutes as the primary ball handler. Like Booth, his rookie season was supposed to be one in which he could develop under the radar, being used more as a spark of energy off the bench. Instead, he’s being asked to play point guard when his natural position is wing.

With these added responsibilities come a lot of criticism. Every mental error, every missed opportunity, they’re all scrutinized at the same level as every other teammate that already has a full season under their belts. But if you look closer, this guy might be the leading candidate for most improved in the second half of the season.

If you’re looking for aggression, DiVincenzo’s got it in spades. Through four conference games he’s second on the team in Free Throw Rate (FT attempts/FG attempts) and 5th overall in the Big East. In fact he’s great when attacking the rim, making over 51% of his shots from inside the arc on the season. Since conference play began, he’s already improved his offensive rebounding, assist rate, and free throw %.

However in searching through all the stats on, it was a name that stood out to me more than any number. For every player each season, KenPom lists other players whose stats they’re tracking closely to. It can be any player from any season, and for DiVincenzo the list includes names like Matt Jones’ 2015 season at Duke, Durrell Summers’ 2009 season at Michigan State, and even Shane Clark’s 2007 run for Villanova. But the first name listed that DiVincenzo is most closely tracking towards this season: Josh Hart’s 2015 season, during which he won the Big East Tournament’s MOP Year as a 6th man. If that’s where Donte’s heading, sign me up!