Can Villanova Shake Its Doubters?Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on January 30th, 2014
On Monday night, Villanova came to the Verizon Center ready to play Georgetown. The Wildcats were ranked 4th in the latest AP Poll and carried one of the most impressive resumes in the country — Jay Wright’s team is 4th in RPI, has played the 15th most difficult schedule, and are 10-2 against the RPI top 100 with wins over Kansas and Iowa. Despite all this, Villanova is usually mentioned with a caveat whenever the issue of its ranking comes up; while they are certainly deserving of it given the sterling resume, most pundits do not believe the Wildcats are one of the few best teams in the nation. After a drubbing from Creighton and an escape from subpar Marquette, Villanova had an opportunity to take advantage of the hobbled and sinking Hoyas to show the doubters that they’re for real and to boost their own confidence. Instead, the Wildcats were involved in a back-and-forth game where their offense never seemed to click but ultimately doing just enough to eke out a 65-60 win. So which is the real Villanova? Is it the elite team Villanova appears to portray on paper, or the team the media is waiting to fall back to earth? I looked into the numbers to get a better handle on this question.
According to KenPom, the Wildcats have an adjusted offensive efficiency of 118.0 points per 100 possessions (9th in the nation) and an adjusted defensive efficiency of 95.0 points per 100 possessions (26th). Villanova has a great inside-outside game, switching between Jayvaughn Pinkston to do work on the blocks, and a strong perimeter corps where James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono can launch it from deep. Forty-five percent of Villanova’s shots come from the three-point line (where the Wildcats are shooting 34.8 percent) and thirty-five percent of their shots are coming at the rim (where they are 63.1 percent from the field). Jay Wright also has them playing excellent man-to-man defense – working in concert to make the correct switches and protecting the weak side. So, what’s the problem? What may be giving writers and talking heads some hesitation is their complete lack of size in the frontcourt and the absence of a premier player who can get buckets down the stretch.
Villanova’s primary frontcourt weapon is Pinkston (195 shots), who stands at just 6’7”, and he is paired with fellow starter Daniel Ochefu (70 shots) who is 6’11”. While Ochefu has pro size, he is not nearly the offensive presence of his front line teammate. That said, Villanova’s lack of talented offensive big men beyond Pinkston has been an issue against bigger teams. If we look at three of the four games when the Wildcats’ offense averaged less than one point per possession, it’s been against those teams with some combination of length and athleticism in their defensive post: Kansas, Syracuse, and Georgetown. As for the Wildcats’ lack of a star player, this is probably not as serious a point of contention as plenty of teams in recent years have made deep runs without a NPOY-type player (e.g. Wichita State in 2013; Louisville in 2012; VCU and Butler in 2011). Given all this, it seems reasonable to think that Villanova could be a legitimate contender as one of the Final Four teams in April. But at some point in the postseason — whether in the round of 32 or all the way down the line in Arlington, Villanova will come across a team with significant size and length in the frontcourt, and it will be interesting to see if Wright and his players are able to adjust their offense accordingly.