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Three Takeaways from Villanova’s Win Over Penn

The ‘Cats pulled away from the Quakers but it wasn’t pretty

The #6 Villanova Wildcats secured a 71-56 win last night against the Pennsylvania Quakers. While a win is a win, this one highlighted some issues that have lingered for the Wildcats thus far in this early season. Let’s dive in.

The Offense is Broken

In the past, Villanova has been able to generate quality shots via crisp ball movement that exploited a moving defense. Eventually, the ball would find the open man and “splash.” However, before any of that started, the defense needed a reason to move in the first place. In the past, this was accomplished by, say, a vintage Brunson post-up or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl taking his man off the dribble at the elbow. These initiating plays caused the defense to crack - to send help where it was needed. This would start the carousel of ball movement that would ultimately exploit the shifting defense and find the open man.

This year, while the “bones” of this offensive philosophy remain, the “meat” just isn’t there, at least not yet. Yesterday’s game, against a weak Penn team, made clear that Villanova presently lacks the individual talent to exploit an initial defensive match-up. Penn saw absolutely zero reason to send help on any of Villanova’s attempted post-ups. Samuels and Moore were unable to punish their man and get to the basket. As a result, Penn stood straight up and forced Villanova into taking bad shots because the good one never came. This is a problem.

I am not sure there is a clear answer to this problem. We’ve gone blue in the face on this site debating whether Jay should introduce new schemes to his offense to kick it off in the halfcourt - it just never happens. It’s not who Jay is and that’s fine. However, that means there needs to be a more effective use of the current personnel, which I will touch on next. At a minimum, it appears obvious that players with physical advantages - namely Samuels, Slater, and at times Dixon, need to take advantage of said advantages.

Samuels has the athleticism to take his man to the rim and pierce the defense. But, as seems to happen at least once a year, his confidence is shot and he disappears in a stagnant offense. Slater has been the bright spot this year but may need to shoulder an even bigger load and look to slash, slash, slash. As for Dixon? He has the ability to pull his man away from the basket but getting him to shoot an open three is like pulling teeth.

This team isn’t 2018. No team will ever be. But there is talent here and the philosophy can work. However, it is going to take a little more than a Chris Arcidiacono post-up to execute it.

The Rotation Needs to Expand

Evaluating Jay’s short rotation is a yearly tradition at this point and, as noted above, it is just something Jay does. Every year, with some limited exceptions, we end up with a short rotation and canned Jay postgame quotes claiming he needs to improve at expanding the rotation. Rinse. Repeat.

The issue this year is that our present rotation is, um, not working.

Chris Arcidiacono is an asset to the program in his own way - that way is not on the court. He does not provide a single advantage on either side of the ball. Some have argued that Arcidiacono “knows” his assignments, which presumably warrants his sixth (maybe seventh) man status and extensive minutes. I would counter that his complete inability to execute any of those assignments should cut against that. It’s nothing personal - it’s just reality.

Jay tends to be stubborn - his unwavering commitment to perfection, growth, and development is one of his best traits. However, sometimes one doesn’t have the luxury to be stubborn. This team cannot survive playing the starters and Arcidiacono/Daniels. It cannot survive. Is there a longterm benefit to giving the freshmen limited minutes at the expense of this season? Will they ultimately develop better? Will they be standing on a ladder in 2025 recounting their Round of 32 exit in 2022? Because that feels like what we are discussing at this point.

I will end by saying I trust Jay to develop players - few do it better. But, for the purposes of a program, are three year projects the goal? Is the goal Brandon Slater - a player who, when he leaves campus, will arguably have contributed one major season? Will we be in the same position a few years from now when Nnanna Njoku finally looks ready to contribute his senior year? Normally, we have the luxury of watching good players block the development of younger players - we accept it, sometimes we wish it were different, but ultimately the team is better. That is not the case this year.

Collin Gillespie is Back

I have been mostly negative about this game so far so I will end on something positive. Collin Gillespie is presently averaging 17 points per game and his 26 points against Penn were a game high. He is shooting 43.9% from deep and hit 4 triples against UPenn. He took over the game last night when absolutely nothing was working for Villanova. Long term, it is not a winning strategy, especially against better teams, but it is scary to think where the ‘Cats would be this year without him.

Collin is in place. That’s a big start.