That’s back-to-back wins against ranked Big East opponents. That just doesn’t sound good for the Big East, having multiple ranked teams, but oh so good for Nova Nation after getting hammered in consecutive games by Baylor and Creighton. The Pirates battled back a few times and took the lead really late, but the ‘Cats wrestled back control and hung on for the 73-67 win.
Live in the paint
‘The Cats shot a season low in three-point attempts. As discussed before, this isn’t a great jump shooting team — at least in the current slump. There are guys who can shoot in the right scenario. The 20 3-point attempts against Seton Hall and the 21 against Xavier is around the right number for this team.
There have been a number of wasted possessions this year where a guy who isn’t a true shooter takes a bad three-pointer, or forces it. I can live with an open look even if it doesn’t go in, but the bad threes just kill the offensive rhythm. Too many of these kinds of possessions eventually bail opponents out. Opponents aren’t forced to work as hard to get stops which isn’t conducive to winning basketball.
While Brandon Slater is an improved jump shooter, he cooled off tremendously after his hot start through the first three games of this season, and is shooting 17.6% from distance since then. He’s also missed his last 14 3-point attempts. He had a great scoring game against the Pirates though and he did it by attacking the rim. All of Slater’s made shots just didn’t come in the paint but at the rim. This is where he is at his best, but he also needs the appropriate space. Hopefully Slater gets to play the bulk of his minutes with Bryan Antoine and Collin Gillespie so he will have as much room as possible to operate. When Slater is attacking off the dribble it gives the ‘Cats a different element that they haven’t had much of this season yet.
Slater wasn’t the only one to find success inside the arc or in the paint. Not settling for long jumpers and instead working below the arc more leads to a higher chance of getting to the line as well. ‘Nova did just this against Seton Hall, attempting nine more free throws and making nine more. Even with Seton Hall fouling the last 30 seconds of the game to stay alive, Nova was still a +6 in free throw attempts. Both teams had 22 fouls, so it’s not that the ‘Cats got more calls, it’s that they were more aggressive in trying to get an easier look. Seton Hall took 10 mid-range/long two’s and missed eight of them while the ‘Cats were 1-for-4 in that regard.
This was great execution by the ‘Cats and good to see them build off a similar gameplan that was executed against Xavier.
A Dixon Delight
The first takeaway wouldn’t have been possible if not for this takeaway, Eric Dixon.
*standing ovation at my laptop ensues*
The kid is good Nova Nation, really good. I know he only had four points albeit taking 3 shots but it’s no surprise that Nova has beaten back-to-back ranked teams with Dixon logging 32 minutes per game in both.
Being able to throw it to Dixon on the low block is huge for this offense. He doesn’t have to try and score although he can. This gives the defense something else to think about. If a guard gets locked up on the outside, they can get it to Dixon to get out of trouble and he can kick it back and they can restart the set. There are times when he is apprehensive and gets himself into trouble, that happens with a young player and those are the minority. The majority is Dixon making a good play. Outside of scoring 1 on 1 or kicking back out to a guard, he has gotten Samuels and Slater good looks when they move or cut to the rim. This de facto big to big passing has helped make Samuels more of a threat.
This isn’t to mention how active he has been on the glass, averaging 8.7 rebounds over his last three games. Even if he isn’t securing the board, his activity still contributes via the tap out. Many games this year, he has tapped out a miss which has led to second chance points. Against Seton Hall he was directly rewarded after getting three offensive rebounds when Samuels fed him for a dunk.
Dixon should be at these many minutes throughout the rest of the season, 30 minutes a game minimum. I know when teams play faster, or smaller Villanova doesn’t want him switched onto a perimeter player but his effort on defense is always all out. Nobody is a perfect player, and he defends bigs pretty well. The Wildcats are better when Eric Dixon is getting these kinds of minutes.
Strength is Defense
Villanova put on another good defensive performance, holding Seton Hall to under 40% shooting and outrebounding the Pirates by 13. The Wildcats had a season high seven blocks with Jermaine Samuels having four of his own. The ‘Cats also had six steals.
They did a great job of contesting shots and forcing Seton Hall to settle for jumpers after shutting off driving lanes. As mentioned above, they did a good job making Seton Hall take long 2-point attempts.
The quality of this defense has been brought up by other writers and this performance is why. It’s also been mentioned in The Sun’s Arizin that this defense is consistently getting better which brings up the question, is this the side of the ball that will win the most games for ‘Nova?
13 games is not an entire season but thus far, but I would say yes. The offense has showed growth the last two games, specifically in intention. This defense though, is where ‘Nova has looked it’s best. Outside of the last eight and a half minutes against Creighton, I’ve been pleased with the consistency on defense this season.
A real rim protector isn’t here but their activity with their hands and their switching helps alleviate that as much as a team can.
Wednesday will be the biggest gut check defensively so far when Creighton visits. The Bluejays shot 54% against Nova a couple weeks ago whereas Xavier shot just 40% in the game after and Seton Hall just 39%. How good this defense really is will show Wednesday.