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Villanova Basketball Cat Stats: J-Mo Hitting ‘Em with the Hesi and the Luck of the Cats

This week’s edition of Cat Stats explores Justin Moore’s devastating hesitation move and whether VU is lucky or unlucky when it comes to opponent shot making.

Pennsylvania v Villanova Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

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.

Although the season is still young, we are starting to see what this Villanova team is about. Jay Wright has both his youngest and longest team in years, and we’re seeing new wrinkles to the offensive and defensive game plan. On this week’s cat stats, we break down Justin Moore’s game, and try and figure out if the ‘Cats have been lucky or unlucky.

Justin Moore and the Art of the Hesi

There’s so much to like about Justin Moore’s offensive game it’s hard to know where to start. Despite being a freshman, Moore has earned starter’s minutes and even been called upon to lead the offense when baskets were hard to come by. That’s not to say Moore can’t continue to develop — He still has many facets of his game that he can improve — But his offensive bag of tricks has been a revelation for Villanova.

The one trick that stands out is Moore’s hesitation move. Here’s how it works: To get to the hesitation, Moore needs to gain a step on his defender which can happen by design or by breaking them down off the dribble. Once he gets in the lane, he slows his dribble just as the trailing or help defender expects the opposite. With his man off-balance, Moore explodes with another dribble move or finishes at the rim.

The play above is the basic Moore hesitation drive Villanova runs several times a game. Collin Gillespie initiates the play and gets Moore going downhill using a dribble hand-off. Against Mississippi State’s switching scheme, this will also get Moore on a onto a slower defender by using JRE to screen against the trailer. JRE’s screen doesn’t connect, but Moore has the speed mismatch, and he takes his defender off the dribble easily. As he gets into the paint, a help defender arrives to contest, but Villanova’s freshman guard uses a slight hesitation to freeze him and finish at the rim. (The shot counted).

Even if Moore’s hesitation isn’t enough to fully cook his defender, the change of speed can set up a variety of moves that gets the VU freshman going to the rim. In the sequence above, Moore receives the ball with no set play or screen coming and takes his defender one-on-one. The St. Joe’s defender plays the hesitation well, using his body to absorb the slow-down move. Moore, however has more tricks ups his sleeve. He uses the slowdown to set-up a devastating spin that generates the space he needs to finish at the rim.

When Moore combines the hesitation with other elements, such as spins and crossovers, he becomes nearly impossible to guard. In the clip above, Moore blows by his man on his initial head-fake, but is walled off by the Penn center. This would necessitate a kick-out from a less-skilled player, but the Wildcat guard keeps his dribble alive to set up his next move. The hesitation Moore uses when he meets the center accomplishes two things: Freezing the big and allowing the trail defender to get back in position. Moore uses a slick behind-the-back crossover to get to the ball and his defender on his right side, only to spin back left and finish over his man. Hang it in the Louvre.

Shooting Luck: Is this Wildcats Defense Lucky or Unlucky?

Shooting luck is a new, but fairly simple concept that has strong predictive power. The idea is simple: A team defense that sees unusually high or low opponent field goal percentage can expect to see that percentage move back towards the average.

This is not always the case, especially for two point shots. Because of basic basketball strategy, an offense is much better off taking shots closer to the rim. Some relative advantages, such as having an elite shot blocker, can therefore help maintain a larger spread between D-1 average and a team’s 2P% allowed.

However, there is very little a defense can do to deter its opposition when it comes to three points shots, which by nature are at least a set distance from the basket. In a 2012 blog, Ken Pomeroy explored this subject and concluded that, broadly speaking, defenses cannot impact opponent three point shooting percentage.

VU FG% Allowed vs D-1 Average

Season 3P% Allowed D-1 Avg 3P% 3P% Spread 2P% Allowed D-1 Avg 2P% 2P% Spread
Season 3P% Allowed D-1 Avg 3P% 3P% Spread 2P% Allowed D-1 Avg 2P% 2P% Spread
2015-16 33.9% 34.7% -0.8% 44.1% 48.7% -4.6%
2016-17 31.1% 35.0% -3.9% 49.1% 49.3% -0.2%
2017-18 31.7% 35.1% -3.4% 49.0% 50.0% -1.0%
2018-19 34.3% 34.4% -0.1% 49.7% 50.1% -0.4%
2019-20 33.5% 33.0% 0.5% 48.7% 49.0% -0.3%

Pomeroy was looking at a large sample of teams in his analysis, but at the team-level, there can be more to it. In Villanova’s case, the Wildcats are seeing their opponents shoot 0.5% better than the D-1 average. At first glance that implies Villanova is a little unlucky, but that’s not the full story.

Jay Wright has been at the helm of Villanova for more than eighteen seasons, and in that time has established a defensive identity. This identity has manifested itself in Villanova almost always outpacing the D-1 average 2P% and 3P%. That’s evident looking at the table above, but over the last 10 seasons, the Wildcats beat the D-1 average in 2P% and 3P% by -2.4% and -1.0%, respectively. Moreover, over the last five years, the ‘Cats have been especially good in 3P% against, outpacing the average by -2.4%.

What this amounts to is simple: Expect Villanova’s opponents to miss more threes as the season continues. The numbers back this up, but intuitively, Jay Wright has his longest roster ever this season. This Villanova group is able to close on shooters more effectively than in years’ past, creating tougher shots.

Though, as Pomeroy writes in his blog, if a team wants to play three point defense they should start and end by limiting threes. Villanova is well on their way to doing that, ranking in the top third of CBB in 3PA/FGA ratio. It will be fascinating to monitor this number and the ‘Cat’s opponents shooting luck as the season progresses.