Villanova’s long-awaited return to the court was a final second home win over Seton Hall 76-74. We’ve all been waiting patiently to see how this team would look after the prolonged pause.
Let’s dive into the three takeaways from the game:
The Cats are Back!
Regardless of the outcome, it was just great to see Villanova back in action. When we last saw them on Dec. 23, they looked like they were really establishing themselves as the league favorite and a Final Four contender with a dominant win at Marquette. With just a handful of practices between then and now, some struggles were certainly expected.
Villanova came out hot, but a combination of fatigue, rust, and impressive perimeter defense from Seton Hall made for a mostly ugly last 30 minutes on the offensive end. In particular, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl looked completely out of sync, and Caleb Daniels was a total non-factor in 12 minutes before fouling out.
Fortunately, big performances from seniors Collin Gillespie (22 points) and Jermaine Samuels (20 points), as well as some very fortunate breaks in the final seconds allowed the Wildcats to escape with a 76-74 win. I’m sure Jay Wright will be thrilled to get out of this game unscathed, and will begin to try to build this team back to where the they were in late December.
It Might Be Time to Shelve the 1-2-2 Press
Jay Wright deserves a ton of credit for his tactical principles. He was way ahead of the curve on a number of things – the value of the three-point shot, the importance of offensive spacing, and switching screens, to name a few. But the game has changed to the point where a 1-2-2 soft press attempting to slow the pace of the game is no longer effective. An extended press is going to leave someone open up the floor in the deep wing or corner area. As recently as five years ago, an early three from the wing before running any offense was considered a bad shot. So when teams broke the press with a pass up the sideline, they would then pull it out to run a set, exactly as Jay Wright intended. Now, teams just take and make those early 3s. Jared Rhoden, who scored 17 first half points, got two incredibly easy early looks against the 1-2-2 press to get himself in rhythm.
The press shouldn’t be scrapped completely. It can be used sporadically to provide the other team a different look. But it has consistently been taken advantage of to start games, and it’ll be interesting to see how long Jay Wright continues to open with it.
Big Game Jermaine
Senior Jermaine Samuels, coming off a COVID diagnosis and just one practice preceding the game, came off the bench to score 20 points in 32 minutes. He was 3-3 from beyond the arc, finished several impressive drives, and was key to slowing down Jared Rhoden in the second half. It’s been mostly an uneven season for Samuels, who was just 4-of-17 from 3 before the game, and had been struggling to be the consistent scorer he became towards the end of his junior season.
But this isn’t the first time Samuels broke out of a slump in style. Last night was reminiscent of the 29 point outburst he had against Marquette as a sophomore, after he had connected on just two 3-pointers over the previous 10 games. What followed was probably the best prolonged stretch of Samuels’ career, as he scored in double figures in five of the remaining seven games to close out that 2018-19 season.
It’s unrealistic to think we’ll get hot shooting from Samuels every night. But nights like this don’t allow future opponents to leave him alone on the perimeter, which will create critical spacing for primary creators like Moore, Gillespie, and Robinson-Earl more space to operate.