Villanova suffered only its fourth loss of the season, on Saturday, to NCAA Tournament-bound Creighton in a close overtime contest. The loss, while painful, reminds us that the ‘Cats are mortal, suffer lapses, and occasionally falter.
Understanding how and why Villanova loses helps provide context for what we see moving forward. While it’s likely Villanova is going to be in every game it plays in, objectively looking at the common threads in losses—both from the team and from the players’ perspective—is both a way to reflect on what went wrong and also appreciate how right it’s gone for the Cats this season.
On the most basic level, Villanova suffers losses less because it can’t score and more because it can’t stop its opponents. This was surprising to uncover, as the eye test would suggest that Villanova struggles to score in its losses. While it’s the case that the ‘Cats average 8.1 less points per game in losses, the team also gives up 17.5 more points to opponents.
Villanova Team Stats
Diving into the offensive categories first, the stat that pops off the screen and wretches the heart is the -15.6% differential in 3P% shooting in losses. All teams suffer shooting dips in losses, but the “live and die by the three” vultures that have circled Villanova for years eat this stuff up and that differential is their bait.
Beyond the 3P% shooting, Villanova also experiences dramatic declines in free throws attempted per game and assists per game. While the FT drop off is compounded in losses, it’s still significant to see a fall of that magnitude and it tends to indicate that the team relies more heavily on outside shooting than getting to the rim.
The drop in assists is probably the most concerning, with the team dishing out four fewer assists in its losses. Moving the ball is a hallmark of these Wildcats teams, and stagnant offense in the half-court breeds bad shots, explaining the FTA and 3P% decline the team sees in its losses.
Defensively, opponents are raining threes, no doubt skewed by the Butler game. In wins, Villanova is one of the best in the nation at defending the three point line, but in the four losses, opponents shoot on average 13.9% better.
Opponent Team Stats
Villanova is also allowing its opposition to get to the line more regularly in its losses. While this stat may be skewed higher because all four games were relatively close, a differential of 9 FTA points to a weakness defending the drive and a lack of attention to detail.
With just four losses, overly emphasizing a small sample of data would be a mistake, but there are insights to be gleaned. I looked at the core four of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Omari Spellman and found that Brunson and DiVincenzo to have the most interesting splits. In Spellman’s case, the 3P% understandably falls off. Bridges, meanwhile, actually shoots better from the floor in losses but sees a fall off across his counting stats with nothing remarkable. With Brunson and DiVincenzo, however things get interesting.
As you might expect, Jalen Brunson’s stats tell the story of a player doing everything in his power to help his team despite his own struggles. While the trio of Bridges, DiVincenzo and Spellman all see no change or slight drops in points per game, Brunson adds to his scoring, tacking on 5 more points in losses. Primarily, he does it by getting to the line more and shooting the same high percentage from 2PT range.
Where Brunson struggles is from 3PT range. Villanova’s PG is shooting a lowly 18.7% from three in the team’s four losses while taking almost 3 more 3PT shots per game. Brunson tends to force the action more when the team is down, which by the same token earns him more trips to the line but results in 1.5 more turnovers per game. The captain is doing his best, but when his shot isn’t falling things get harder.
In DiVincenzo’s case I found the biggest variation across his win-loss splits. While he can light it up at any given time, in losses efficient scoring disappears for the redshirt sophomore. His 10.3% drop off in shooting percentage is by far the biggest across the four players, and it’s the primary reason he’s averaging 3 fewer points per game despite taking one more shot in losses.
It’s staggering how efficient DiVincenzo is in wins with an eye-watering 61.0% and 40.8% split from 2PT and 3PT range. But in losses, those numbers nosedive. The Villanova SG isn’t attacking the rim to compensate like Jalen Brunson either, instead giving up 1.5 trips to the line per loss. The box score drop off is also evident, as DiVincenzo pulls down fewer rebounds and creates fewer assists while turning over the ball more often.
Jalen Brunson’s stats in losses further prove that he’s a player worthy of national POY consideration. Every player has a bad game here or there, but Villanova’s leader avoids the ugly statlines by being aggressive and compensating for his team’s problems. For Donte DiVincenzo, bad games are few and far between, and while there’s a part of me that wants him to ease off the long jumpers, there’s a bigger part of me repeating the mantra over and over.
Shoot ‘em up or sleep in the streets.