Villanova cruised to another comfortable win by beating Marquette 85-68, taking them to 8-1 for the season and 3-0 in the Big East. As Wildcat fans may get used to hearing this season, the win was led by Collin Gillespie’s hot hand from deep, scoring 22 points and going 6-for-11 from three point range.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Collin Gillespie’s leadership will be crucial
Earlier on in the first half, after Gillespie had hit a number of shots from deep and seemed in control of the floor, the game’s announcers made a comment that resonated with Villanova fans everywhere, emphasizing the senior’s leadership role and saying that having Gillespie on the court alongside you is akin to having Jay Wright there himself. This comment couldn’t be more true.
Alongside Jermaine Samuels, Gillespie is one of two starters on Villanova’s team who can say that they are donning the blue and white uniform for the fourth year in a row, and both have the ring to prove it. Gillespie and Samuels were freshmen on that 2018 Championship team, but they have run the race to completion before, know what it takes to do so, and are ready to do it again.
Gillespie saw minutes in every game that the ‘Cats played in the 2018 March Madness Tournament, including the final, and his role has only grown with time. After just nine games this year, it’s clear that Coach Wright has unwavering trust in his senior guard, who has grown so much since 2018, and looks to him to run the team on the court. When they need a three, an end to a scoring drought, or whatever it is they might be lacking, it’s Gillespie that they turn to, as the box score showed once again last night. As the Wildcats go deeper into the season, fans will be hoping that the guard can resemble a 2015-16 Ryan Arcidiacano or a 2017-18 Jalen Brunson and lead the team to their third National Title in six seasons.
First half shakiness can hurt Villanova
Okay, this one might be a slight exaggeration after watching last night’s game. After all, we went into halftime leading a good Marquette team by 6 points, right? That performance couldn’t have been shaky, right?
Normally, this would be true. But comparatively to how they seemed to flow on the court in the second half, the Wildcats’s first half once again seemed to come up short. The lead changed hands a number of times in the first 15 minutes, finding the Golden Eagles ahead by five points at the peak of their scoring. This is not a poor performance from Jay Wright’s men by any stretch of the imagination, but it does add to a highlight of games with similar storylines.
In Villanova’s wins against Boston College (76-67) and Georgetown (76-63), the ‘Cats found themselves at halftime level with BC at 34 and trailing the Hoyas by 13. Prior to these two games, few analysts would have expected anything less than dominance from a ranked Villanova going up against unranked opponents, and yet in both games the Wildcats struggled to take the game by the scruff of the neck in the first twenty minutes. Although the Marquette game’s first half performance was good enough to see Wright’s men walk into halftime with a lead, it is worrying to think how another Top 10 team (see: Gonzaga, Baylor, etc.) could punish the ‘Cats in a tournament setting if they don’t come out as strong as they can.
Consistency in ball security will be key
If the game against Georgetown a few weeks ago was a tale of two halves, the matchup against Marquette was a tale of two stats: the turnover stats. Villanova ended the night with only 4 turnovers, while their counterparts gave the ball up a whopping 17 times. The numbers tell two stories, and both are heartwarming for 'Nova fans: Villanova is exceptional at keeping the ball and exceptional at making sure their opponents do not.
Indeed, the Wildcats lead the country at the moment in ball security, averaging only 8.4 turnovers per game. If there’s one thing that can help boost a sub par first half performance, it is this stat. Maximizing their time on the offensive side of the ball will be an integral aspect of the tournament run that the ‘Cats hope to make this year. While it will undoubtedly be tougher to do against talented teams in a Sweet 16 and beyond setting, the Villanova defense has to aim to continue their streak of forcing turnovers and capitalizing on those turnovers at the opposite end of the court.