Each week, we’ll be using this space to highlighting the stats, concepts, and general observations that stood out over the previous week of Villanova Basketball.
After a drubbing at the hands of Ohio State, Villanova salvaged its second week of games by outclassing Ohio University. The showdown with the Buckeyes exposed the relative youth of this Wildcats team, but the bounce back performance against Bobcats highlighted Villanova’s potential when things go right. This week, we look at the Wildcats’ issues defending the post against an imposing Buckeyes team and Jermaine Samuels’ progression as a creator.
No Pressure, No Problem for the Buckeyes
While some things may change year to year, there are central tenants to Jay Wright’s schemes that remain constant regardless of personnel. One of those core identities of modern Villanova teams is their feel-based switching scheme. “Feel” because the players are relied on to communicate, verbally or otherwise, when a switch will (or will not) occur.
Because Villanova switches so frequently, the team must deal with the consequences of mismatches strategically. When mismatches occur on the interior, such as when a guard is switched onto a forward, the Wildcats insulate themselves against easy post buckets by applying ball pressure to the passer. This creates difficult entry passes, and allows the smaller post-defender to jockey for better position. By now you should be recalling any number of Villanova guards fighting tooth and nail for post position.
Villanova Defense: 5 as 1— PickandPop (@PickAndPopNet) March 3, 2019
Communication, anticipation, hand-to-hand combat (physicality), ball pressure, effort, and fronting the post. pic.twitter.com/sB0UF5bPrj
Chalk it up to early season lack of preparation, but the Wildcats struggled considerably to defend the post, due to a lack of perimeter ball pressure. It didn’t matter if the defense was switching or sticking with their man, Nova just couldn’t keep the Buckeyes out of the paint. Ohio State’s forwards, led by Kaleb Wesson, went off for 22 points on 9-14 shooting and added 5 assists.
There were numerous examples of Villanova’s lack of ball pressure. In the clip above it’s plain to see how easy it is to get an open look if the pressure isn’t applied. Jermaine Samuels is too far off his man, allowing Kyle Young to out-muscle Collin Gillespie while Gillespie tries to front. Even though Villanova’s junior guard recovers, he is outmatched and beaten for a layup.
On a sequence not much later, Samuels again concedes a simple entry pass and that allows the Buckeyes to get into their action. To compound things, Samuels scurries to double Wesson and his man rotates to the top of the key. It’s not common for Villanova to double in the post, especially against good passers. Wesson predictably makes a simple read and finds the wide open shooter.
The first few minutes of their loss to Ohio State clearly discombobulated the Wildcats in a way that permeated throughout the rest of the game. The pressure was uneven from the get-go, and the strategy on the interior seemed to change haphazardly.
Against the other Ohio team, Villanova showed improvement and generated several turnovers off of entry passes. Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young are as dynamic a frontcourt as Nova is likely to see this year, but that’s no excuse for the Wildcats lack of execution. Villanova’s post defense and ball pressure will be put to the test against a strong Myrtle Beach field.
Jermaine Samuels: Point-Forward or Point-God??
Jermaine Samuels has 10 assists in three games. This could mean a lot, or not much at all. Let’s make the case that it means a lot, and Samuels will be a primary creator for the Wildcats this season.
Jermaine Samuels Ballhandling Stats
Samuels, who had just 36 assists all of last season, has suddenly found himself with opportunities to create plays. This development seems to be by design, and for the most part the junior forward has done done quite well. The spike in raw assists and assist percentage, which is an estimate of the percentage of teammates’ shots a player assists on while on the floor, is considerable. Samuels has more than tripled his per game output while assisting on almost 25% of all baskets when he’s on the court. In both metrics, that puts him second on the team behind only Collin Gillespie.
Some of Samuels assists are simply right place, right time. For example the junior has found himself the lucky recipient of a beautifully executed swing around the horn and made the extra pass to an open shooter. Other assists, however show real playmaking and court vision.
In the clip above, Samuels makes a strong but somewhat clumsy straight line drive and comes to a jump stop(aka the Villanova Way). Despite being hounded by multiple defenders, Samuels lets the play develop, almost willing Justin Moor into the corner where Samuels will have an open lane to pass. When Moore makes the cut, Samuels already begins the passing motion, hitting Moore as he reaches his spot for a catch and shoot three.
Against Army, Samuels showed off a polished feel in the pick and roll with Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Samuels takes the screen and takes his time to dissect the play. The Wildcat forward takes a few dribbles to bait the Army big into freezing, knowing that once he stops backpedaling, the screened guard will not be able to make up the ground to stop a pass to the rolling big man. The end result is a well-weighted pass that leads to a layup and the foul.
There are some to-be-expected negative consequences of Samuels’ increased load on offense. The Nova swingman is still a work-in-progress when it comes to dribbling, and as a result he leads the team in turnovers through three games. Still, Jay Wright empowering Samuels is good for the team. Even if it hurts some in the short-term, the Wildcats will need more creators come March.
Overall, it was a mixed bag in week two for the Wildcats. How the team responds at the Myrtle Beach Invitational will be telling, especially on the defensive end. Thankfully for us there’s going to be plenty more to breakdown after the three games, and watching the game-to-game progress of this team will be fascinating against stronger opposition.