The ‘Cats got their marquee win of the season by going into Providence and thriving in one of the toughest atmospheres in college basketball this year.
The tempo of the game was great from start to finish for the most part and Providence kept it close enough to make it a one possession game a few times in the closing minutes. The ‘Cats were able to make every clutch play they needed to though to seal the win.
Villanova is now only one loss behind Providence for the Big East regular season title. The Friars will only play 17 league games to Villanova’s full slate of 20. If they finish equal in losses, no tiebreakers will be needed as the ‘Cats will have the higher winning percentage.
Providence has to go to Hinkle, then they have home games against Xavier and Creighton before a rematch against Villanova at the Finn. There are no automatic wins let alone easy wins in that stretch. The last three games are obviously tough, but Butler has played much improved as of late with wins over Creighton and Marquette at Hinkle. Providence will have to certainly take the regular season crown; it isn’t there waiting for them.
Point God of America
Collin Gillespie is likely to win Big East Player of the Year again and will also likely add the Bob Cousy award to his accomplishments. On Tuesday night at the Dunk, he showed why.
Gillespie didn’t score until a pull up jumper for two with nine minutes left in the first half. Why point this out? Well, he finished with 33 points on 10 of 17 shooting. That’s 33 points in a 29-minute span with 23 points in the second half.
Obviously, Gillespie plays point but he’s absolutely deadly when he gives it up early in a possession and plays like a de facto two guard off the ball. He’s got great movement without the ball and he’s a sniper of a jump shooter that all it takes is even a decent look for him to be a threat in the catch and shoot. If it’s a better than decent look then it’s usually money as his 43% from beyond the arc suggests which is every bit of elite considering he takes seven 3-pointers a game. Gillespie is tied for eighth in the country in made 3-pointers and out of the entire top 10 he has the second highest percentage.
What makes Gillespie really special is his ability to score off the dribble. He’s really good at getting a big switched onto him and creating space for a jumper which he did many times against Nate Watson and Noah Horchler. The dagger 3-pointer that put ‘Nova up five with 30 seconds left was a play made by Gillespie, getting Horchler switched onto him and then knocking down a 3-pointer in space.
He also has the ability to dribble into a post-up which isn’t a skill you see a lot of. There are players who have the ability to dribble drive to the rim or get position on the low block during a set play. Gillespie uses his dribble to create a post-up. You can tell last night that this skill was awkward for Providence to handle. Even a bigger player like Justin Minaya didn’t look comfortable having to cut off the drive then body up and keep Gillespie from getting position. Gillespie was able to get position and get a 3-point play in the post.
I know there is a system in place from a leader who is in the Hall of Fame now, but I like Gillespie taking 17 shots. He averages just under 12 shot attempts per game. Do any of you think that’s too low?
Some games we will see teams make an effort to keep him from getting shots but I’m a proponent of giving Gillespie the keys and let him look for his shot first and play off of him every possession that he’s on offense and not just swinging it wing to wing. Swinging it like that works more effectively when a team has more individual firepower.
Jay Wright has talked about his trust in Gillespie and has given him a green light. I’m asking for more though, I think the offense is at its best when it’s Gillespie looking for his shot first. If he took more shots, he would be averaging over 20 and I would argue that he would make the non-shooters more of a threat if he went for his own shot more by drawing their defender’s attention.
Villanova needs more iso Gillespie or running more screens for him when he doesn’t have the ball. If teams take it away on a possession, go back to it on other possessions. Get Gillespie his shots. I understand it may not be Jay Wright’s way, but it gives the ‘Cats the best chance to avoid these long droughts that we’ve seen this season. It’s a wide-open year and many, many teams can get to the Final Four. The Wildcats’ best chance may be if Gillespie is scoring first and scoring second.
It’s certainly working for Johnny Davis and Wisconsin this season. Davis is a different player, so my intention isn’t comparing their playing styles. It’s the concept on offense that is the point. The headline in the AP for the Wisconsin win over Indiana on Tuesday noted the ‘Davis’ closing flurry.’ He led Wisconsin to a huge road win in Bloomington by taking 15 shots and 14 free throws.
After Gillespie, Justin Moore had the most shots attempted with 16. No other player had double digit attempts. I think Gillespie and Moore looking for their shot first and taking the most shots should be the core of the offense. Moore deserves almost as much credit as Gillespie for the win because he was hitting everything in the first half on his way to 18 in the first 20 minutes. This first half outburst gave ‘Nova some rhythm and let them play in front a lot which is a huge key when on the road against a top team.
Threatened in the Post
Nate Watson was eating against ‘Nova and eating well. He had his sixth 20-point game of the season and did it while shooting 67% from the floor. He also knocked down eight free throws. I thought Eric Dixon did an alright job on Watson, but I do think the ‘Nova defense fared better when Jermaine Samuels was on Watson.
I actually think Villanova was let off the hook a bit with Watson not getting more touches than he did.
‘Nova isn’t the only team struggling to contain the leading scorer for the Friars. Watson is one of if not the best big man in the Big East and is averaging 15.8 PPG on 55% shooting over his last five games.
It’s no secret this ‘Nova team is undersized, but they play great team defense and switch really well. The guards even do a good job of fronting big men to try and keep them from getting the ball.
There’s only so much a team can do against a great player though. Just like Gillespie and Moore make tough shots, a great big man can get his position and score on the block through good defenders or good team defense.
I’m still dreaming of a ‘Cats trip to NOLA and that might include a date with a great low post scorer such as Zach Edey of Purdue again or one of the great bigs that Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, or Duke have.
At least the ‘Cats will have experience in battling a great big man down low.
Big East Title
I touched on the chase for the Big East crown in the opening and that seems like a good place to leave off. We know what Providence has in front of them but what about the ‘Cats?
This is what is left in the regular season for ‘Nova.
Home against Georgetown, at UConn, Providence at the Finn, and at Hinkle
Those last three games are the very definition of Big East basketball today. UCONN and Providence could be in the Sweet 16 and Butler has given ‘Nova trouble since the Bulldogs have joined the Big East, including wins the last two times ‘Nova has visited Hinkle.
Those last three games may be difficult to sweep so if ‘Nova finishes 3-1 the rest of the way, then Providence would need to split their last four games and finish 2-2.
Either way whichever team finishes second won’t have any less of a chance of winning the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.