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Villanova Basketball’s biggest issue has been their pace of play

Injuries were a big factor in 2017, but Villanova needs to get back to pushing the tempo going forward.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Wisconsin vs Villanova Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Jay Wright has certainly been at the forefront of the small-ball revolution in college basketball. His 4-out and at times this year 5-out looks have been devastating at times, and they’ve been timed perfectly with key rule changes.

Also (somewhat surprising to me), Villanova’s defense hasn’t suffered all that much. They’re consistently at Top-15 defense — far from the elite, but more than enough given their offensive prowess.

My big issue? The tempo at which Villanova is operating. I’m not advocating they start playing like North Carolina. But given the offensive and defensive efficiency and their talent level, they’d be better served by getting more possessions in a given game.

Here’s all three of those metrics, and how they stack up nationally. I used the last four years (considered a ‘problem’ outside of the National Championship) as well as 2005-2009 (widely considered Jay’s most consistent period of March ‘success’)

Key Villanova Efficiency Metrics (via KenPom)

Year Adjusted Offensive Efficiency National Rank Adjusted Defensive Efficiency National Rank Adjusted Tempo National Rank
Year Adjusted Offensive Efficiency National Rank Adjusted Defensive Efficiency National Rank Adjusted Tempo National Rank
2017 122.7 4th 92.8 12th 63.9 323rd
2016 121.7 3rd 89.7 5th 67.2 267th
2015 120.6 4th 89.9 11th 64.9 169th
2014 115.7 21st 92.1 12th 67.8 110th
2009 110.1 27th 86.8 9th 71.8 41st
2008 105.6 72nd 91.8 41st 71 78th
2007 108.3 46th 88.6 17th 68.9 141st
2006 111.7 13th 87.7 11th 69.1 139th
2005 110.2 23rd 85.9 4th 69.7 126th

I want to present these objectively. I’m not saying ‘faster is better’ by any stretch, because I haven’t done all the research required (i.e. comparing it to other teams success). But a few things that jump out to me, and and they support my opinion (I think):

  • Since the resurgence, Jay has been playing slower and slower every year in relation to the rest of the country. I’m not him so I can’t say why. But he’s stacked the roster with length and athleticism, so I’m not sure slower is the way to go.
  • On that note, I think it’s clear injuries played a part in the tempo this season. A healthy Phil Booth means we’re likely pressing a whole lot more, and a healthy Omari Spellman just adds another body to the mix down low which adds even more depth on the wing.
  • Maybe the increased efficiency on offense IS related to the decreased tempo i.e. less mistakes/bad shots. Definitely a possibility.
  • Oddly, Jay’s “best” years in March weren’t all that great on the offensive end. But they were typically very good defensive teams. Look at this year’s East region and the teams that advanced. There’s a common trend every March, as much as I hate the “Defense Wins Championships” crap. It’s true, and it’s good that Villanova continues to prioritize that end of the floor.
  • Even crazier to me, those mid-2000s teams played at a faster tempo, despite not being as good offensively. You’d think that wouldn’t hold true. But the roster makeup was similar. Lots of guards and wings that wanted to attack and athletic frontlines that could cover ground.
  • It’s Important to note those faster paces were from an era where fouls were celebrated — thus slowing the clock and leading to more possessions, but still interesting.

My hope - and I think it’ll play out - is that next year with 9-10 available bodies that Jay Wright will push the tempo back a bit closer to where it was in 2016. And not just because that year resulted in a National Championship.

With this talented of a roster, this dominant of an offense, and a more than capable defense (that leads to easy offense), more possessions is just more of a chance for the best team to win.

The advanced metrics say Villanova has been one of the best teams recently — they need to give themselves the best chance to win when the competition stiffens up.