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Villanova Basketball’s Monday Musings: Texas Sized Victory

Sophomore Studs, Slow and Steady, and ESPN Love.

NCAA Basketball: Roman Legends Classic-Villanova vs Hartford David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The stars at night, are big and bright,

::Clap:: ::Clap:: ::Clap:: ::Clap::

Deep in the heart, of Texas!

Yes the Wildcats picked up yet another HUGE victory in the Lone Star State, bringing their overall record to 4-1 and likely vaulting them back into the AP Poll’s Top 10. In fact, Texas has been a favorite state to play in for the Wildcats. Both of Villanova’s Championships under Jay Wright have come in Texas, and you’d have to go all the way back to 2006 for the last time Villanova lost a game there. Granted, that’s just five games in over 14 years, but still it’s a good streak.

So with that, let’s dive right into some takeaways from the big victory!

Texas Two-Step

Villanova’s pair of sophomore studs are a big reason why the Wildcats (for the most part) controlled and won Sunday’s game. Justin Moore and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl each finished with 19 points to lead the Wildcats to victory.

Justin Moore set the stage for this game and really led the scoring for Nova in the first half. On the day he went 80% from inside the arc, 50% from three, and 83% from the free throw line. We will have nights all year long where Moore is required to be the team’s scoring threat, and he’s shown time and time again he’s up to the challenge. But beyond that he’s proving to be a tough defender and an excellent rebounding guard. If the NBA scouts hadn’t been keeping an eye on Moore before Sunday, he’s certainly forcing them to take a look now.

NCAA Basketball: Roman Legends Classic-Villanova vs Hartford David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who also added 8 rebounds on the day, continues to show versatility inside the arc and an impressive mid-range game. He’s going to be talked about all season as one of the best players in the country, and right now I can really only find two areas of improvement in his game. First, despite adding a consistent 18-foot jumper, he still can’t stretch it out to the three point line. That doesn’t mean he should stop shooting, but at 2 of 12 for 16.7% on the season he’s just so much more lethal inside the arc. The only thing that’s still nagging there is that he can sometimes dribble his way into trouble and turnovers. But even that’s improved from where it was last season, and at this point I’m just being picky. The kid is a STUD, and he’ll likely make the jump to the NBA after this season.

A few other thoughts from the game:

  • Much improved use of the bench by Jay. Slater and Dixon didn’t show the same execution they did against Hartford, but they played solid minutes and both contributed.
  • Jermaine Samuels dunks are just the best way to get hyped up in the middle of a game.
  • Caleb Daniels is still finding his footing, but he’s simply lethal when it comes to scoring on most nights. Don’t let the Texas performance make you forget that he’s currently the team’s leading three-point threat at 42.9% on the season (9 for 21).
  • I thought Gillespie had an Arcidiacono-esque performance. Even in a game where he was out of rhythm and shots weren’t falling, he played his heart out. And at the end of the game when the team needed him to sew up the victory, he goes four for four from the free throw line. Ice Cold.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Did anyone else hear Jay Wright saying how this year’s team had the talent and skill to play an up-tempo game? I know I’m not crazy and that he said pre-season that they were going to push the tempo this year. The reason I know that is because Jay’s said it every year. And every year we believe him because, well, that would be really fun to watch!

NCAA Basketball: Roman Legends Classic-Villanova vs Hartford David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

And yet here we are again with a team currently ranked as the 10th slowest tempo in all of college basketball. It’s become a predictable aspect of Villanova’s blueprint for success, and not one that we should really be worried about Jay messing with. You know... cause it’s successful!

The fastest team in the last decade under Wright was, not surprisingly, the 2018 National Championship team. This was one of the greatest offenses ever assembled in recent college basketball history. Per KenPom, that Nova team was the second most efficient offense in the last 20 years. But even with their “blistering” adjusted tempo of 68.7, that only ranked 150th that season. Since then the Wildcats have barely broken out of the 300’s.

And yet, this works. Wright has found a successful formula where they know their offense is more efficient and their defense is tougher, so they’re just going to grind out wins. It may not be as exciting to watch as the high-wire act that is Gonzaga this season (#1 Offensive Efficiency and #14 Tempo), but at 4-1 with a big road win now on their resume I’ll take what the Cats are offering.

Lighting That Old Flame

The start to this season has had a strange feeling of the “Old Big East”, even before conference play starts. It’s not because these have been grind it out battles. It’s not even because they’ve been particularly physical or featured zany coaching antics. It’s because for the first time in a LONG time, every game Villanova has played in their first two weeks have aired on an ESPN channel.

That’s right, after several years on FS1, the Wildcats have been spending a lot of time in their former network due to Bubbleville and the Big East/Big 12 Battle. It’s been kind of nice to be featured back on ESPN and get some of the praise that’s normally reserved for the more “traditional” blue bloods. That’s right, ESPN has been loving Villanova right back, and not even just with commentary. Here’s the BPI rankings from this past week:

That’s right, despite a loss to Virginia Tech and the hot starts of Baylor, Iowa, and Gonzaga, it’s the Wildcats that sit atop the rankings. And I can’t believe that the Baylor/Gonzaga game being canceled and Nova’s win over Texas would do anything to knock the Wildcats off the top of the standings.

It may still be just December, and you may only get this if you’re a wrestling fan. But Villanova heading into conference play and a return to the FOX airways while sitting atop ESPN’s BPI feels like CM Punk walking out of the WWE with the Championship belt. Yeah, ESPN will always be the king when it comes to sports broadcasting. But man I bet they wish they still had Nova under contract.