In my office, it's not hard to find my desk. Just look for the two big interlocking Villanova V's on top of my shelf, the Big East schedule on my wall, the hand-tallied Wildcats record and ranking on my white board, the blue and white beads around my pen cup, or the Villanova sweatshirt draped over the back of my chair. Let's just say people know who I root for. So for the past few years, February has become a difficult time of year for me. Most of the people in my office know that I'm always willing to share tips for filling out their bracket or updating them on how the season's going, but they ALL know that I will become irrationally frustrated by 6 simple words: Is Villanova going out early AGAIN?
I'd love to say this is limited to my office, but it's everywhere. Sure, there are a few analysts that will stick their heads out and say that Nova deserves their current #1 ranking, but even they will hedge their bets by bringing up the team's recent NCAA resume. Well I, like many of you, am tired of it. So for those of you who want to brush up before outing yourself as a Nova fan this year, here are some common point, counter-point arguments I've seen out there this season:
Point: Nova sucks.
Counter-Point: You suck.
Sure, this one doesn't take much effort. But if your friends are idiots like mine, this will be their opening and closing argument.
Point: Villanova lives and dies by the three, and they only shoot 32% this year.
Counter-Point: They live and die by the D and the 2, and they're Top 5 in both.
Villanova is a 4-guard team that takes 44% of its shots from beyond the arc, so of course the 3pointer is all that matters, right? Not even close. This team begins and ends with their defense, currently ranked 5th in the country. They force teams to shoot over them from the corners, which happens to be the lowest percentage shooting spot on the court. Come inside and you'll be surrounded, that is if you don't lose the ball first. With mostly man and a touch of match-up zone, this defense keeps you guessing and doesn't let you attack it the same way twice.
On offense, all of those 3's are taken because teams have to overcommit to the paint. Stay on the perimeter and Daniel Ochefu, Josh Hart, and Mikal Bridges will have a field day creating mismatches with your bigs. Villanova shoots 56% from inside the arc, 4th best in the country. And the more they get inside, the more they get to the line where they shoot 78%, the best Free-Throw rate in the nation. But if you decide to pack the box, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, and Phil Booth are fine passing around the perimeter to the wide open man for a 3. Sure they won't all go in, but enough of them will that you'll need to be reigning 3's over their elite defense to keep up. Either way, one thing is for certain: Kris Jenkins will shot fake you out of your socks.
Point: The Big Least is weak, that's the only reason Villanova looks good.
Counter-Point: They're better than your conference, and Jay Wright's the reason they look good.
I'm not arguing that the Big East is the country's best conference top to bottom this year, but they certainly have more to offer than most other conferences. According to KenPom.com (and yes, I'll be referring to their stats a lot), the Big East is currently ranked 4th among all conferences, only behind the Big 12, the ACC, and the PAC 12. Sorry Big 10, SEC, and everyone else, but your argument ends here. As for the other 3 conferences, they're not without flaws either:
- The Big 12 is without question the best conference this season, but certainly not in every department. The conference plays its games at a very slow pace, averaging 25th among the 32 conferences, compared to the Big East's 4th fastest rate. The Big East also relies on ball movement as the #1 conference in assist%, where the Big 12 relies on 1 on 1 matchups. In a game where a single player can get into foul trouble, that's not ideal in a 6 game tournament.
- The ACC is top heavy and everyone knows it. If you thought the Big 12 played slow, the ACC is even slower at 66.7 possessions per game, compared to the Big East's 70.8. It's also not a very physical conference, with a 29th ranked FTRate. No one would be shocked to hear that you can get into the heads of ACC teams with physical play. This might not be your father's Big East, but I wouldn't want to go up against Ryan Arcidiacono for a loose ball
- The PAC 12 is... on this list!? Villanova has been a statistical darling the past few years, so I won't knock them on that, but this is a conference without a team that jumps out at you on first glance. In fact, a closer look at the stats only back that up. It's a conference that doesn't do anything especially bad, with only 2 of KenPom's 13 stat categories outside the Top 24, compared to the Big East's 4 of 13. But they also don't do anything especially well, with only 2 of 13 stat categories inside the Top 10 compared to the Big East's more impressive 6 of 13.
Point: They lost by double digits to the only good teams they played, Oklahoma and Virginia.
Counter Point: Name for me one other stat from either of those games.... nothing? Because you didn't watch them and just looked at the scores? Oh ok, here are two numbers to consider: 53% and 66%.
I'm not going to argue that Villanova shouldn't have lost those games. They got beat away from home by teams that played better that day. But I think it does need to be stressed that it was just THAT DAY. I don't have an easy way to look this up, but I have yet to find a team that won a game away from home despite their opponent shooting 53% or better from deep. Oklahoma, the nation's 2nd best 3point shooting team, shot 10% better than their season average from deep, a feat they've only achieved against 2 other major conference opponents this season. In their last 6 games, Oklahoma is barely shooting over 30% from deep, and they've lost half of those games.
Virginia was even more of an outlier! The Wahoo's shot more than 26% over their season average from deep, by far the highest against major conference opponents. Heck, if those are valid reasons for not taking Nova seriously, how is the reverse not true when Nova beat Xavier at home by shooting 52% from deep and winning by 31? Villanova knows better than any school that one game of near perfect shooting is all you need to beat anyone in the tournament, but I'm not going to let fluke efforts like that be the reason Nova gets written off as a Final Four contender.
Point: Villanova can't beat Top 25 teams.
Counter-Point: No one else can beat unranked teams.
In the "craziest season ever" for NCAA Basketball, Villanova is 3-4 against the AP Top 25, and only 1-3 against KenPom's current Top 25. This week's loss at Xavier didn't help. Sure all 3 of those KenPom losses came away from home, but a losing record is still a losing record. However, what people seem to forget is that as a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, you don't play the other Big Dogs first. You play the little guys. What's made this season so unpredictable is that none of the big guys have been able to hold off the little guys. Nobody that is, except Villanova. The Wildcats are the only team in the country that haven't lost to an unranked team this season. I'm not going to sit here and say that Nova will run through the best teams in college basketball, but if this year is any indication, you can bet they'll still be on their feat when some of those other teams go down to the underdogs
Point: Villanova hasn't gotten out of the first weekend since 2009
Counter-Point: Well as Prince would say, "Tonight we're going to party like it's 2009"
And there it is. Everyone's big dig against Villanova is that they haven't done well in the Tournament, especially in the last 2 seasons when they were either a 1 or 2 seed. The big question here is how did Villanova become the school that got singled out with this distinction? Kansas has also gone out in the first weekend as a Top 2 seed the last 2 years without anyone giving them a tough time. But the more digging you do, the more clear it becomes: that's what happens to everyone in March Madness. Let me throw some numbers at you:
- Since 2009, a 1 seed has lost in the first weekend in 5 out of 6 years.
- Since 2009, an average of two 1 and 2 seeds are eliminated in the first weekend, with 3 going out early in each of the last 2 seasons.
- Since 2009, an average of two 1-4 seeds are eliminated in their first game. cough**DUKE**cough.
- Since 2009, an average of six 1-4 seeds are eliminated in the first weekend, with 7 going out early in each of the last 2 seasons.
And just in case you don't believe that this happens to everyone, here's the list of teams who haven't made it out of the first weekend as Top 4 seeds since 2009: Baylor, Creighton, Duke x2, Florida State, Georgetown x4, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Kansas x3, Kansas State, Louisville, Maryland x2, Michigan, Missouri, New Mexico x2, Notre Dame, Pitt x2, Purdue, St. Louis, Syracuse x2, Texas, Vanderbilt, Villanova x3, Virginia, Wichita State, Wisconsin.
So out of all of those teams, how is it that Villanova is the one saddled with this label? Only 48 of the 351 Division 1 college basketball teams have made the sweet 16 since 2009, but it's Villanova that doesn't do well in the tournament. In my opinion, they can't find anything better to knock this team with. And once you have all of the facts in front of you, there's no reason to think Villanova can't make a run this season.