There's no point in dressing up Monday's ugly loss for Villanova at the hands of Oklahoma - it was ugly through and through. Poor shooting, poor effort, and frankly just some poor luck all contributed to a 23-point loss that somehow felt worse than that even though the game was relatively close for a short amount of time.
But remember, it's just one night and this program has been on a tear for the last 2 seasons. It's not that they suddenly forgot how to play, or that they forgot how to win. This dark feeling you have inside you will subside and life will seem full of possibilities soon enough.
Here are the three biggest things I took away from Monday night.
Villanova has a big offensive identity problem
As the excellent Gary Parrish pointed out (and even published an analogy I was planning to use!), Villanova has shot over half of its FG attempts from downtown this year. This is while shooting 28.6% on the long ball. What's even more stark is that they're shooting a very healthy 59% from 2-point range. So clearly, an adjustment needs to be made. Villanova currently opens the game gunning from 3 to set up...I'm not sure exactly. Instead, they need to drive the ball early to set up the outside. That's an easy fix.
Villanova is full of tough guards like Phil Booth, Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson that can absolutely drive the ball and finish. They need to do it more. And Mikal Bridges and Daniel Ochefu have looked good down low too. For right now (and especially against good defenses like Oklahoma and Virginia), plan A needs to be establishing this early.
Here's the thing though - Villanova did adjust when the shots weren't falling (they actually outscored the Sooners 20-10 in the paint). And so did Oklahoma, which clogged the lanes, doubled the post, and dared Villanova to beat them from deep. It's easy to scream to go to the hole, but when you're doubled and you've got a guy wide open, you pass him the ball. The biggest issue plaguing the team is being able to make open shots.
(And here's where you all yell at me) Long term, there are just too many good shooters to suggest that they became this poor overnight. This is a prolonged slump across the board for sure, but it will turn around. There are just too many wide open shots not going in to suggest this is going to last for the entire season.
Poor luck was a contributing factor
Despite being of mostly Irish heritage, I'm not a big proponent of the concept of luck. But even last night I found myself chuckling at how many Sooner shots hit the rim 3 times and bounced in, or circled the rim twice before dropping. And just how many Wildcat shots went in and out. It wouldn't have changed the result, but if all of that normalizes it is a much closer game.
The second part of this is that Villanova was executing their defense until late on. They were jumping passing lanes and getting deflections, tipping rebounds out to the guards, and just not coming up with anything. That was more frustrating than the shooting for me. Defense has held them in games so far, and it probably should have done better by them last night.
Part of that was down to effort to secure loose balls, and part of it was down to focus (more on this below), but I did walk away slightly encouraged that the defense wasn't totally exposed, it was just one of those nights.™
The Hawaii-effect didn't help, but slow starts have been a season-long issue
It was was pretty clear from the get-go that one team was locked in and one wasn't. In Villanova's case, this is just a single game issue either. They've been plagued by poor starts in nearly every game this season. On a team with five upperclassmen, that's just inexcusable. For all the talk about experience and leadership, it's frankly missing at this point.
The long LA-Hawaii trip didn't help either. Villanova left Philly last week and has been on a whirlwind tour of an alumni stop, NFL pregame show, Waikiki Beach and a Pearl Harbor history lesson. This wasn't solely a basketball trip and it looked like it last night. I can forgive this because it's a great experience for the team, but in a big game I expected a more focused group.
Jay Wright bears some responsibility for the slow starts and complete lack of focus last night, but he's also not playing the game. Ryan Arcidiacono, who his teammates point to as their leader, needs to wake everyone up. Come out with that energy vs. Virginia and it will be a repeat result.
As much as the long trip hurt them on the way out, it may be just what this team needs to band together, figure out what's wrong, and right the ship.