One minute before Dante DiVincenzo laid the hammer down on Texas Tech in the East Regional Final with a monster put-back dunk, Eric Paschall saved Villanova.
With 5:30 left of game time, the Red Raiders were within striking distance, down five with possession. Energized by a block on the previous play and sensing that Villanova’s offense was out of ideas, Texas Tech ran one of their best sets of the afternoon.
The Red Raiders emptied the paint and ran a pick and roll through Keenan Evans. Evans made the perfect read, slipping the ball to Zach Smith for what should have been an easy layup, cutting the Villanova lead to just three with plenty of time left. Queue Eric Paschall.
Before Smith knew it, Paschall read the play from the weak side corner and slid into the space where Smith received the ball. As Smith went up for the layup, Paschall stripped Smith cleanly. The ball then fell into the hands of Jalen Brunson, who took to the open floor and found Phil Booth for an easy two in transition. The basket gave Villanova a seven point lead and Tech would never get the chance to cut the lead to one possession again.
When We Needed Him Most
Paschall’s sensational read-react play was the coup de grace on what should be considered his best defensive game in a Villanova uniform. On an afternoon in which Villanova struggled offensively, the All-Region forward stuffed the box score. He was a menace on the glass, pulling down a team-high 14 rebounds, 6 of which lead to extra Wildcat possessions. He also added 12 points, a steal and a block on the day.
Beyond the counting stats, Paschall was one of the primary reasons Texas Tech star Keenan Evans finished 3 of 14 from the floor. On numerous occasions, Tech, knowing they would have Villanova switching on screens, sought out a mismatch for Evans by running their pick and roll game through big men Zach Smith and Norense Odiase. What Evans and Tech didn’t count on is the emerging elite nature of Eric Paschall’s isolation defense.
In the clip above, Texas Tech is desperate to get a bucket before the half ends as the momentum tips in Villanova’s favor. The play-call is again to isolate Keenan Evans on Paschall in the halfcourt. The result is not great for Tech. Evans gets into the lane but Paschall is stride for stride with his man, eventually strip-blocking Evans. He makes the perfect outlet to Booth, starting a fast break which finishes with another DiVincenzo highlight.
He’s Been Here all Year
Paschall’s performance in Saturday’s regional final is the culmination of a year of growth for the junior transfer. He has become a key contributor offensively for Villanova, averaging 10.2 points per game and shooting 52.0% from the floor. His dreadful shooting from deep to start the season doomed his 3pt shooting percentage, but since December 30th he’s connected on 44.1% of his three point attempts, a better mark than any of his fellow Wildcats.
The inside-out aspect of Paschall’s game has created new opportunities for the Wildcat forward, enabling him to be one of the most efficient Villanova players. According to Hoop-Math, Paschall takes 83.5% of his shots either at the rim or from three. As a result, Paschall ranks behind only Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson in eFG% and TS% on the team, and he finished top-10 in the Big East in both categories.
However, it’s been on the other end of the floor that Paschall has had his breakout. Much of the counting stats have improved, including his rebounding, steals and blocks numbers, but these tell only a small part of the story.
Where Paschall has become indispensable for the Wildcats is in his isolation defense. As a nominal PF in the Villanova lineup, Paschall is responsible for pulling his weight on the block, both in post-up defense and on the glass. On top of that, he’s an integral part of Villanova’s defensive scheme, which requires switching and guarding the ball-handler if he’s engaged in a pick and roll. Luckily for Villanova, Eric Paschall is among the best at both.
Eric Paschall Defense by Play Type
Per Synergy, in scenarios where Eric Paschall is either in isolation or in post-up he is among the NCAA’s best. The junior forward is in isolation for 20% of the defending he does, and in those plays he holds opponents to only 0.52 points per possession, putting him in the 86th percentile of all NCAA players.
When Paschall sees post-ups, which is around 7% of the time, he’s a brick wall. The Wildcat forward has conceded a lowly 0.40 points per possession and forced turnovers on more than a quarter of all post-ups. He also rarely commits shooting fouls, doing so only 10% of the time on all possessions, but only 7% and 6% of the time in isolation and post-up plays, respectively.
Eric Paschall is Villanova’s Draymond Green, Minus the Attitude
When the Wildcats are firing on all cylinders, it’s rarely Paschall that’s reaping the benefits. That’s because by nature, Paschall’s role is similar to that of Draymond Green’s with the Golden State Warriors - Defend all positions, force turnovers, and make smart plays on offense.
Like Paschall, Green’s value to the Warriors isn’t something that’s worth counting with stats. His value stems from his ability to anchor a defense and facilitate offense to where it needs to go. In some ways, Eric Paschall is starting to develop into that kind of player for Villanova.
Junior Year Stats per 40 Mins
Comparing the two side-by-side isn’t particularly fair to Paschall, who is the sixth option for the Wildcats on offense and not quite at Green’s level as a play-maker or disrupter. The Warriors All-Star was the focal point of the Michigan State team he played on, and was relied on heavily to create offense and marshal the back-line of the defense.
Paschall has been fortunate enough to play within a defined system that doesn’t require him to always anchor the defense or create plays. While the junior forward has a long way to go to reach the heights of Draymond Green, he does resemble the NBA star in his ability to effectively guard all positions on the court, from isolation against guards to post-ups against bigger centers. More importantly, Paschall displays a willingness to do whatever it takes to get a win, whether it’s moving the ball to get a better shot, scrapping on the inside with big men, or cleaning up the glass.
In thinking about what Villanova will need from its players to take home its second championship in three years, you wouldn’t be wrong to single out Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, or Omari Spellman as players who need to rise to the occasion. That’s the thing about Eric Paschall, he’s going to be there like he’s been there all season for the Wildcats. And, if he’s anywhere as dominant has he was Saturday, Villanova will be in great shape.