The Cats In the Back: Villanova’s Increased Depth Fuels Their Success

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 11th, 2016

Villanova is #1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history. At no point in the successful tenure of Jay Wright or even back to the Rollie Massimino era have the Wildcats reached this kind of regular season heights. But Nova Nation shouldn’t be celebrating just yet. Since its magical run to the national championship in 1985, Villanova has spent time among the top 10 of the AP Poll in nine different seasons but only advanced as far as the Elite Eight twice in that span. In this year of nationwide parity, every fan base worries that it will be their team that will be an early upset victim in March, but that’s a feeling already well-engrained among Villanova faithful.

Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)

Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)

Even as the Wildcats have steadily climbed the rankings this season, fans had reasons to be wary. This is, after all, a team with an eight-man rotation that prominently features two freshmen and a sophomore. It is also a team that scores more than a third of its points from beyond the three-point arc, but ranks among the 100 worst three-point shooting teams in the country by percentage (32.9%). Cold shooting nights – the fear of any jump-shooting squad — have proven to be Villanova’s kryptonite, as it has shot a paltry 22-of-80 (27.5%) from long range in their three losses this season. When the cornerstone of its frontcourt, Daniel Ochefu, missed several games with a concussion, it seemed like Jay Wright’s team might have yet another issue to contend with.

No reason for immediate concern, though. Despite Ochefu’s absence, Villanova has shot to #1 in the AP Poll, USA Today/Coaches Poll, and the KenPom rankings. But for an overtime slip against Providence, the Wildcats have won 13 of their last 14 games, including road games at top 60 clubs Creighton, Butler, Georgetown, Seton Hall and Providence. Over the course of the regular season, the Wildcats have evolved into one of the most consistent teams in the nation. This has been in large part because of the back half of the rotation — Wright never needed to worry about his stars. Ryan Arcidiacono is a senior and the reigning Big East Co-Player of the Year; Jalen Brunson was a highly-touted recruit; and Josh Hart is playing better than either of them. The rest of Villanova’s rotation, however, was more concerning. Thanks to Ochefu’s injury and the natural flow of the season, however, this group has found greater comfort along with success. Mikal Bridges and Darryl Reynolds, for example, have both seen a steady rise in their minutes as the season has progressed.

reynolds and bridges pt

But it’s been more than just an increase in minutes for the role players. They are also scoring more often and with enhanced efficiency. Shooting percentages from both inside and beyond the arc have resulted in a more potent Villanova offense. When the players around the playmakers can’t be relied upon to make open shots, the trio of Arcidiacono, Brunson and Hart is forced into more difficult and inefficient attempts. But the entire offense opens up when players like Booth and Jenkins are regularly making threes.

nova improvements

The role players’ success this season, especially during Ochefu’s absence, proves that Villanova may finally be ready to put together a long and successful March run. For now, though, the Wildcats are focused on winning the Big East and locking up NCAA Tournament weekends in nearby Brooklyn and Philadelphia as a #1 seed in the East Region. For a program that has suffered more disappointment that glory over the last three decades, perhaps the time to break through is now.

Shane McNichol (30 Posts)

Shane McNichol is a national columnist for Rush The Court. He is also the founder, editor, and writer at and has contributed to and Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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