Villanova dropped a big one to Creighton in a Big East Battle, losing 86-70 on Saturday.
As we’ve said, losses are learning experiences. After St. John’s earlier this month, Coach Jay Wright and the Wildcats recouped. Hopefully, this Creighton loss will give some perspective and act as a jumping off for the next week of practice.
Let’s go through three takeaways from the game:
Struggle to win when JRE and Gillespie can’t score
It seems that in order for the ‘Cats to win, they need their two best stars to play well: Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. Both have been named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Team for National Player of the Year and watch lists for other awards.
However, Saturday did not seem to be the night for the two. Gillespie and Robinson-Earl combined for 6-of-25 from the floor.
The tempo change by Creighton was a killer to Villanova’s rhythm. The Bluejays, a run-and-gun transition powerhouse, sped Villanova into poor shot selection, unbalanced offense, and a defense that always seemed to be a step too slow.
Luckily, to keep the ‘Cats in the game Justin Moore, Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater showed up. Justin Moore had a little more success around the basket and beyond the line posting a team-high 21 points. Slater looked exceptionally good on the defensive end when guarding Zegarowski, although that might have been a little late. Jermaine Samuels, who tallied a trio three-pointers, stepped up and showed real determination, despite not getting as many touches in the second half.
Villanova doesn’t need to rely on two stars and can create good offense all the way through the lineup, but Gillespie and Robinson-Earl needed a little more of an impact to outdo Creighton’s barrage.
Creighton took one out of Villanova’s book, but there’s need for defensive improvements.
Not much you can do when a team is shooting lights out like you usually do. Well, let’s just say, the ‘Cats were sleeping in the streets after this shooting performance.
Even with a team shooting as well as they did, the ‘Cats struggled on the defensive end. The Bluejays had four different players in double digits.
Defensively, the matchups did not work in Villanova’s favor. Even with switches, the team seemed to struggle guarding in open space and keeping their man in front of them.
Every screen by Creighton’s offense Villanova hedged hard over the top, yet allowed for Zegarowski to create off the dribble and throw alley oops to the rim. Unfortunately unlike past years where Villanova had a big man to stay home like Spellman or Ochefu or even Paschall, this year the rim has no such protector to serve as that imposing last line of defense. Creighton saw this and scored 36 points in the paint in their win.
Even as Villanova started to slow down Zegarowski, Mitch Ballock promptly took over and picked up things for the Bluejays in the second half.
It will be interesting to see moving forward if Villanova makes a shift towards more zone looks if necessary or find more beneficial matchups, maybe even utilizing Slater or Dixon some more.
Rebounding and Second Chance Efforts
Although Villanova struggled to buy a basket at different points of the game, the patented Villanova hustle was still there even down by a large margin.
Even with the struggles in first half, Villanova posted nine offensive rebounds which led to second-chance points that helped keep the ‘Cats in the game. Forcing the Creighton defense to focus on boxing out on every shot, which slowed Creighton’s transition to offense and avoided players leaking out for fast break.
The ‘Cats this season have taken an impressive number of charges in the paint. Just another testament to the underlying hustle and heart that runs through Villanova’s program.
Unfortunately, for the Wildcats, the Bluejays started cleaning up on the boards and built momentum to pull away and put the game out of reach.
Looking toward the future
Although there are some negatives coming out of a large-margin loss like this, Villanova has plenty of games and time left to get ready for the college basketball postseason and March Madness. This upcoming week is just another opportunity for the team to improve on the mistakes and errors from Saturday’s game, either through hard work in practice or line-up adjustments from Coach Wright and the staff in time for their next game.
The ‘Cats are back in action against UConn on Saturday, Feb. 20 at 1p.m. on FOX. Hopefully, we see them take these takeaways and learn from them. Only time will tell.