The ‘Cats will finish their regular season on Saturday in Indianapolis against the Butler Bulldogs. Providence may have won the Big East regular season crown, but Villanova beat them this past Tuesday which gives the ‘Cats the season sweep of the Friars.
Villanova has also clinched the most Big East wins for this season with 15 and has a chance to get to 16. A win at Hinkle will also give Villanova a 16-3 finish in conference play to the regular season.
Hurting at Hinkle
Hinkle....not a word that evokes good feelings from Nova Nation. Villanova is just 4-4 against Butler at Hinkle since the realignment, including losing the last two against the Bulldogs in their backyard.
On top of the issues Villanova has had against the Bulldogs in Indy, this is the same venue where the ‘Cats only mustered 51 points in their Sweet 16 loss to Baylor to end last year. With that loss, Villanova has lost three straight in Hinkle while averaging only 56 points in the last two.
Those are just numbers and Davion Mitchell is on the Sacramento Kings now and the ‘Cats smacked Butler by 40 about a month and half ago. It is worth mentioning that Hinkle is one of the toughest atmospheres in all of college basketball.
The 40-point smacking Butler received from Villanova six weeks ago was due in large part to Villanova knocking down 12 3-pointers. It was one of their best shooting performances from behind the arc this season. 3-point shooting has been up and down this season for the ‘Cats but in mid-January their best shooters hit shots. Gillespie, Moore, and Daniels combined to go 10 from 14 from distance in the first game against Butler.
‘Nova is like any team in basketball, at any level, they’re better when their best players hit shots. We’ve seen the difference on offense when only one of these guys is making shots or when none are in losses to Creighton and Baylor. We’ve also seen what the offense looks like when two or all of these guys are knocking downs shots in both wins against Providence.
This hasn’t been the kind of season that is expected of Butler, but they have been more competitive in the second half of the season with wins at Hinkle against Creighton and Marquette. In late February they were up 19 against Providence in Hinkle before falling by a point in overtime.
This kind of environment will be perfect in getting Villanova ready for the Big East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
Rolling With Six
The depth of this team has been a big talking point for Nova Nation all season. Time will prove what happens, but I’ve accepted that six players will probably play all but 10 or so minuets from here on out. Is that ideal? No, it’s not. Does it completely define the ceiling of a team? No, it doesn’t.
Every Final Four team had flaws and every National Champion had flaws. 2018 Villanova did, 2012 Kentucky did, and even the ‘06-’07 Gators did. I’m not comparing this Nova squad to those, just that there are always weaknesses to point out and maybe this is a newsflash to some, but the other team is flawed as well and also trying to actively win the game.
Granted, possibly even double granted, those Gators had probably the greatest front line in D1 history with Noah, Horford, and Brewer but they didn’t have a good dribble drive player. Now, they didn’t need one with Noah and Horford’s big to big passing and post up’s. The fact is though they didn’t have a guard who could clear out and go to work. Taurean Green was nice but more of a pace setter which was perfect for those Billy Donovan squads.
Teams adapt, coaches adapt, and teams have to find a way.
I prefer a nine-man rotation, I always have but I’m not going to be upset if the 7th and 8th guys don’t see more than five minutes a game for the rest of the season. Jay Wright wants this team to play with a specific pace and win with toughness.
Heading into this season, one could see the limitations on offense. There was an inexperienced player getting the starting gig at the five. There were forwards that really don’t shoot well. We didn't know who, if anyone, would be able to help as a secondary ball handler.
Eric Dixon has improved consistently and the five position isn’t a concern. Samuels and Slater offer a variety of positives on the floor but the shooting lacks. That’s ok. Teams adapt.
I wrote earlier in the season that whatever ceiling this team does have will come from the defensive end and playing with intention. I was thinking the Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Mike Conley. I was thinking this more in concept rather than personnel. This Nova team had to find a way to take games into the mud, slug it out, and beat teams up. Since the loss at Creighton, I feel they have done this.
This is one of the better defensive teams that Jay Wright has had. I don’t know the exact numbers right now; I did when Antoine was getting 15 or so minutes a game and they were up around the top 20-25 defensive units in the country. They more than pass my eye test on defense.
They’ve done a much better job this season at keeping dynamic guards from getting to the rim. They’ve done a great job in team rebounding. Their switching on defense has been consistently good all year. The struggles they have had on defense has been miscommunicating or a younger player getting lost.
Nova Nation wants the depth, why wouldn’t we but it’s not happening and for this last stretch, these ‘Cats will roll with it.
Let’s March, Nova
It’s March and if you love the ‘Cats and college basketball, you probably want to take the whole month off.
If Villanova can make the Big East Final, that gives them four more games before the NCAA Tournament. If that is the case, then at least a 3-1 finish will give them no lower than a three seed.
There is a lot of talk in Nova Nation about seeding and the East region specifically. A two seed feels better than a three seed but if the three seed is in Philly would that be a better tournament path for Villanova?
What do you guys think? Do these ‘Cats finish 26-7, 25-8, 24-8? Is there a Big East Tournament title coming? Do you want Nova to get the highest seed possible or would you rather them be in the East region no matter the seed? This Nova team will stay in games with their defense, and they have two guards that can catch fire and fill it up quickly. A deep run wouldn't surprise me.
Sound off and Go ‘Cats!