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Three takeaways from another big, Big 5 win over St. Joseph's for Villanova

‘Cats finally produce a strong 2nd half in Big Five play, cruising to a 29-point win against Saint Joseph’s.

NCAA Basketball: St. Joseph at Villanova Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Now that’s more like it. This performance is the kind you want to see going into the Jimmy V Classic against a Hall of Fame coach at Madison Square Garden.

While the ‘Cats beat La Salle by 26 and Penn by 15, three out of those four halves left much to be desired. Against St. Joe’s though, the ‘Cats didn’t just play a strong first half, they finally followed it up and played a strong second half.

Let’s look at what stood out.

Gillespie, not just a Point God

Before the season I chose Justin Moore as our assumed leading scorer and while that still may be the case, Gillespie has the most offensive game on this team. He’s flat out, Nova’s best scorer.

“He’s played his way onto NBA radars and into the NBA draft, I think,” said Fox Sports analyst Casey Jacobsen of Colin Gillespie at half time.

In the second half of the game Donny Marshall said about Gillespie, “I don’t think they give enough credit to this kid for his 1 on 1 game.”

I agree with both of these statements.

Once known only as the pace setter and a knock down spot up shooter, he’s much more now. It’s never been more evident than today when on a possession he was able to weave in the paint and get a post-up all via his dribble. Then he used a turnaround one foot fadeaway to score. At any level, that is a difficult and high-level move.

Two things that have stood out to me and that were obvious in this game as to how Colin is scoring so well, is how quality his fluidity is and his ability to shoot off the pull up going left or right.

As far as his fluidity goes, you wouldn’t know this guy tore his MCL less than a year ago. In fact, not to be cliche, he’s moving better than ever. He’s not a speedster but he is fast and when he chooses to, he can play quick. His coordination is clear when he keeps his dribble alive in pick and pop situations and getting into the lane, all with a defender on his hip.

In scenarios like this, he may look to score on the switch or kick it out to a teammate for a good look if the defense doesn’t switch in time. He’s also able to go get it back and reset if he needs to. His handle is almost as good as it gets. It could be tighter but it’s very smooth and it makes a big difference that he can use both hands. There are elements of what Chris Paul does and what Steve Nash did in terms of his fluidity and really being able to get anywhere he wants to on the court thus using the entire court. His dribble, speed, and his coordination all contribute to his 1 on 1 success. His fluidity is just as key, being able to move athletically and getting into any area he wants to in the half court.

Having that kind of movement is one thing and it serves a lot of guards well. Gillespie though combines this movement with the ability to knock down jumpers off the bounce going left or right. Having this ability forces the defense to play both hands and this gives Gillespie more space than if he could only pull up in one direction. This was on display against St. Joe’s as he hit three pointers going both left and right when defenders decided to go under screens instead of fighting through and forcing Gillespie out of his space.

Most great iso players, no matter the level of play, rely on the ability to beat their defender downhill. While Gillespie at times can do this, it isn’t a strength of his in isolations. What’s mentioned above allows him to be a great iso player when he chooses to be. In my opinion, it should be more often.

Good Looks

I’ve pointed out previously that the ‘Cats aren’t as effective inside the arc this season as they have been in recent seasons. They’ve haven’t been anywhere close to the two-point effectiveness they had during the two national championship runs.

Against St. Joe’s, we saw a nice change. Nova shot 53.5 % from two. Not only did they shoot it well, they got good looks consistently. Some of what I saw was just more of an effort to make it happen. Sometimes it’s that simple.

Samuels had three finishes at the rim within the first eight minutes. Samuels wasn’t showing anything new; he’s been able to get to the rim off the bounce before. He was more so just more aggressive. I will take these over the mid-range jumpers we’ve seen him take recently.

Eric Dixon continues to have more effective reps. Nova played through him on a few offensive possessions in the first 10 minutes. Dixon was able to score 1 on 1 on the low block with jump hooks. Dixon’s combination of strength, weight, and foot work are the kernels for a great go to low post threat.

Justin Moore was great inside the arc, shooting 4 for 7. These buckets all came off driving downhill with one coming in transition. We know Moore’s post up chances haven’t looked as good as they have in the past. While we know that part of his game is still there, it’s encouraging to see him getting to the rim and finishing. He’s still Nova’s best downhill dribble drive player and there are times when a team needs its best driver to just attack and get to the rim.

Development U

Much is made of Jay Wright and his program developing players, and rightfully so. Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, and Saddiq Bey are all NBA starters. While they weren’t low recruits, none of them were huge recruits and they all stayed multiple years. They all improved year to year while improving during their last year as well.

“AAU coaches, parents, you know, a lot of them wouldn’t be this patient with him, but we saw what could be there and if we wouldn’t have been this patient with him, he wouldn’t have got here,” Jay Wright said of Brandon Slater in the post-game interview for FS1.

Slater’s development was on display again, specifically his shooting. After shooting 40 % from three against St. Joe’s, Slater now has more 3PT FG made this year alone than he did in his three previous seasons combined.

It’s not just players adding completely new skills and maximizing their talent under Wright and Nova. It’s also good players getting even better like what was mentioned with Gillespie and his expanded 1 on 1 abilities.

It’s exciting to see what player right now will be better in March and what he can add to help this team make a deep run.