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Three takeaways after ‘Nova rules over old Big East rival Syracuse

The ‘Cats started slow but ran over Syracuse in the second half in a matchup between two Hall of Fame coaches.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Syracuse Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Jimmy V Classic is always special and when you add in an old Big East rivalry in the World’s Most Famous arena, then you have the makings of a special feeling. While the first half was rough for both teams offensively, the second half offered some great tempo and rhythm. Oh yeah, this was also one of the very few matchups of the season to feature two Hall of Fame coaches.

Before we see what stood out, here are links to the V Foundation and Jimmy V’s iconic speech.

How to Donate to Cancer Research | V Foundation Jim’s 1993 ESPY Speech - YouTube

You mean Caleb Daniels!?

After missing Villanova’s last game, Caleb Daniels more than made up for lost time against Syracuse. This team has six starters when Daniels is knocking down shots, rebounding some, and not turning it over. He was in double figures last night against Syracuse for the fourth-straight outing. He’s averaging 12.8 points and making three 3-pointers a game over that same stretch. He was the Wildcats’ most efficient shooter in the Garden and knocked down shots when ‘Nova needed it most after a quiet first half.

Syracuse survived Villanova’s early run to start the second half and went on an 11-6 spurt of its own from the 16-minute mark to 12 minutes left in the game. It was the only tough stretch for the ‘Cats in a brilliant second half. Daniels salvaged some momentum for ‘Nova by knocking down consecutive 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions during this run. These were the biggest shots of the night as ‘Nova was only down two instead of eight. The ‘Cats would close on a 24-8 run after a Collin Gillespie 3-pointer with under 12 minutes to play. They may have not been in position to close that strongly if not for the shooting by Daniels.

The lineup during the two 3-pointers from Daniels was Gillespie, Daniels, Moore, Slater, and Samuels as a small ball five. When Daniels is knocking down shots like this, he helps alleviate some of the Wildcats’ troubles of getting good looks below the arc by creating more space. It also gives ‘Nova five capable shooters at once, again, opening up space on the floor.

When a team doesn’t have great isolation rim attacker, it’s imperative they generate space and at least get good looks from distance. ‘Nova did just this in the second half and in this lineup, the shooting by Daniels was huge. He’s not going to create looks for himself but, in this lineup, if he’s knocking down shots at a solid rate, he’ll be key playing off ball when Gillespie or Moore are winning 1 on 1’s or beating the switch. The threat of Daniels being able to spot up shoot will also help Gillespie and Moore get more 1 on 1 opportunities.

The offensive rebounding was the biggest team factor for Villanova in this win and Daniels was tied with Samuels with a team-high four apiece. ‘Nova was able to take 21 more shots than Syracuse. The success on the glass wasn’t limited to just Daniels, though, as the Wildcats racked up 27 offensive rebounds. As a team, they finished with more total rebounds (57) than attempted three-point shots (50).

If Daniels can contribute a couple three-pointers and some rebounding in Villanova’s biggest games, then the ‘Cats could very well have one of the five best top six-man rotations in the country.

Gotta Have Those Dimes

Without a big time scoring big with some range up into the high post to draw attention, ‘Nova struggled to get good looks in the 1st half. Not every team has a player like JRE or Indiana’s Tracye Jackson-Davis to attack a zone with. If a team doesn’t have a player like that then a really quick lead guard with a tight handle helps by zipping into the second level of the zone. The ‘Cats don’t have that either but what they do have is arguably the best team passing in the country and fortunate for the ‘Cats, passing is the best way to attack a zone.

The incredible passing has been just as important as the shot making over this excellent run of offense for the ‘Cats over the last decade. The ‘Cats had 15 assists on 25 made shots against Cuse. We would have liked to see more shots fall and if they did, that ratio would have been even higher. This was one of the slower Cuse teams as far as foot speed is concerned and the passing from ‘Nova took advantage of this and had great ball movement, even when the shots weren’t falling early on they had good looks.

We saw great big to big passing from Samuels and Dixon. We saw great bounce pass after bounce pass which helped negate the length of the Syracuse zone. At one point Jay Bilas commented that ‘Nova might be the best bounce passing team in the country. We saw quick swing passes when the ‘Cuse zone swarmed the perimeter. Patience is very key against a zone and it’s easier to be patient when a team emphasizes passing. This patient passing led to good looks in the second half for Villanova.

All The Ways to Win

My biggest takeaway from the victory over Syracuse is also my biggest takeaway about this ‘Nova team overall. This team once again showed multiple different ways they can be effective and help themselves win games.

Basketball is about variety more than anything. When scouting a player, you’re taught to break the player down into three aspects.

1. What gives him/her playing time - Helping
2. What keeps him/her on the bench - Hurting
3. What do you see him/her potentially improving upon

Variety dictates all three of these aspects more than anything. The more a player can do, the more ways they can help their team thus getting more playing time. The less a player can do, the fewer ways they can help their team, keeping them on the bench more than on the floor.

It’s really the same concept when a team is scouting their opponent. What ways does this team help themselves and what ways do they hurt themselves?

This ‘Nova team helps themselves in a variety of ways.

Are they undersized? Yes.

Would we like more depth? Of course.

Sure, there isn’t a player who's going to drop 25 at will when everything else isn’t working. There almost certainly isn’t a player who can be an NBA starter. Don’t you just love seeing Mikal, Saddiq, JRE, and Donte (when he’s back and healthy) in starting lineups in the league? Also, Josh Hart was starting before his knee was injured. That isn’t to mention Jalen Brunson near the top of the Sixth Man of The Year race again.

Those factors do not detract from the positive variables that this team does have. They have high level passing, great consistency switching on defense, a handful of physically strong players. They are one of the best spot up shooting teams around. Their hands are constantly active on both sides of the ball. We saw Eric Dixon once again tap out a ‘Nova miss to the perimeter, finding Gillespie for a 3-pointer. That sparked the 24-8 run mentioned above. They are constantly on the glass on both sides of the ball. Their 27 offensive rebounds last night helped lead to their +21 in FGA.

They also have a Hall of Fame coach whose program develops talent seemingly better than any program in the country. The includes in season development.

This team does a lot of things well and will be in position to win any game late against any team in the country as proved by the Purdue and UCLA games.