Final Four Fact Sheet: Villanova Wildcats

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 28th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. First, Villanova. 

Villanova hopes to do more celebrating in Houston. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

Villanova hopes to do more celebrating in Houston. (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

How the Wildcats Got Here

South Region Champions. Villanova handled #15 seed UNC Asheville in its NCAA Tournament opener before crushing #7 seed Iowa in the round of 32. The Wildcats then headed to Louisville, where they posted 1.56 points per possession – the most efficient performance in college basketball all season long – en route to a 23-point drubbing of #3 seed Miami. Two nights later, the Big East champs came up with the necessary late-game stops to grind out a victory against #1 seed Kansas and clinch its first Final Four appearance since 2009.

The Coach

Jay Wright. Before Wright took over for Steve Lappas in 2001, the Wildcats had not reached the Sweet Sixteen since 1987-88. In the 15 years since, Villanova has made five second weekend appearances, including Final Four trips this year and in 2009. The 54-year-old coach, known for his cool demeanor and sharply tailored suits, has elevated the program to even greater heights in recent seasons, posting a 95-13 record since 2013 and earning a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament three years in a row. With another Final Four now under his belt, Wright should now be considered among the finest regular season and tournament coaches in college basketball.


Villanova runs a four-out, one-in motion offense that relies on floor spacing, crisp ball movement, dribble-penetration and the ability of its guard-heavy lineup to knock down threes. In fact, five different players have hoisted more than 100 three-pointers this season, and more than 43 percent of all Wildcats’ shots are taken from behind the arc. When they do go inside, it’s often the result of a cutter finding space underneath the basket or a wide-open look in transition – a major reason why Villanova ranks second nationally in two-point percentage (56.8%). Defensively, the South Region champion mixes defenses – including a stingy zone scheme that bewildered Kansas in the Elite Eight – and consistently attacks passing lanes. The Wildcats, which ranked second in defensive steal percentage and third in turnover rate during Big East play, forced 16 Jayhawks miscues on Saturday night, highlighted by Ryan Arcidiacono’s Final Four-clinching steal in the game’s closing seconds.


Villanova's Game-Clinching Steal Sent the Wildcats to Houston (USA Today Images)

Villanova’s Game-Clinching Steal Sent the Wildcats to Houston (USA Today Images)

  • Balance. Villanova features five different players who average 9.8 points or more per game, including four high-volume three-point shooters who each shoot at least 35 percent from deep. Against Kansas, four players scored in double-figures, but no one tallied more than 13 points. In the team’s Sweet Sixteen victory over Miami (FL), no player took more than 11 shots, but four players attempted at least nine. On some nights it is Kris Jenkins who is the hot hand (21 points on 5-of-6 threes vs. Miami), and on others it’s Josh Hart (19 points vs. Iowa) or Arcidiacono. On top of that, Villanova is the only team in college basketball to rank among the top seven nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, enabling it to win games in more than one way — the Wildcats scored 92 points on 1.56 PPP against Miami, then held Kansas to just 0.91 PPP.
  • Ball movement. This may seem obvious, considering that Wright’s system depends on it, but Villanova’s ball-movement – both in the half-court and in transition – is truly a sight to see. Since the Wildcat “forwards” are effectively just bigger guards, nearly everyone on the floor can dribble penetrate, get into the lane and cause help defenders to collapse. In turn, that often creates open dunks for big man Daniel Ochefu or open three-point attempts on the perimeter. Likewise, when opposing teams try to press Wright’s bunch – as Iowa and Miami (FL) did in their blowout losses – they usually get burned, since the majority of Villanova’s roster is adept at handling the ball.
  • Free throw shooting. At 78.4 percent on the season, Villanova is the second-best free throw shooting team in college basketball and easily the best of the bunch heading to Houston. The Wildcats went 18-of-19 from the stripe against both Miami (FL) and Kansas and have shot nearly 85 percent in their four NCAA Tournament games. While Oklahoma generally does a great job of defending without fouling (28.1% defensive free throw rate), the Sooners managed to send Texas A&M and Oregon to the line 24 and 30 times, respectively. Similar numbers against Villanova should be a boon for the Wildcats.


  • Three-point defense. Villanova doesn’t do a great job of taking away the three-point line, a defensive weakness of which could be its undoing against the sharp-shooting Sooners. The Wildcats, a team that allows opponents to attempt 37.5 percent of all shots from behind the arc, are at risk of being bludgeoned by Buddy Hield’s crew if they don’t do a better job of limiting opportunities from long distance. As a team, Oklahoma shoots 42.8% from three-point range – one of the highest overall percentages this decade.
  • Interior depth. In four of Villanova’s five losses this season, 6’11” big man Daniel Ochefu either fouled out, sat the bench for a significant amount of time because of foul trouble, or was limited because of injury.  His presence as an offensive post threat and defensive rim-protector has been instrumental to the Wildcats’ success, but they don’t have much depth behind him when things go awry. In fact, Ochefu is the only active player on the roster standing taller than 6’8” – which could become a serious issue against, say, North Carolina in a potential National Championship bout.
  • Elite defenders. The Wildcats are an exceptional defensive club, make no mistake. But they don’t necessarily have the long, NBA-caliber defenders necessary to stop elite offensive talent. Future draft picks Ben Bentil (31 points, 13 rebounds) and Kris Dunn (13 points, 14 assists) carved up Villanova in Providence’s road win over the Wildcats in January. Xavier’s Edmond Sumner – a big, athletic guard – attempted a season-high 13 free throws in his 19-point performance against Villanova in February. Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead – who recently announced his decision to test the NBA waters – dropped 26 points on the Wildcats in the Big East title game a few weeks ago. Players like Hield, or even  Syracuse’s Malachi Richardson, could have their way with Villanova in Houston.

Go-To Scorer

Kris Jenkins is Key to Villanova's Continued Advancement (USA Today Images)

Kris Jenkins is Key to Villanova’s Continued Advancement (USA Today Images)

Kris Jenkins (13.5 PPG). Junior Josh Hart (15.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG) is Villanova’s leading scorer and best all-around player, but Jenkins – who’s scored 15 points or more in 11 of the Wildcats’ last 13 games – might be the team’s most important offensive weapon. As mentioned earlier, Wright’s team depends heavily on making three-pointers, and Jenkins’ ability to get hot from behind the arc – like he did against Miami (FL ) (5-of-6 3FG) – has been instrumental to its success this March.


Daniel Ochefu (10.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG). Whether he’s scoring in the post, passing out of it, or protecting the rim defensively, Ochefu is a key to Villanova’s National Championship aspirations. When the senior is effective, the Wildcats are tough to beat. When he’s in foul trouble or hampered by injury, the story quickly changes.


Oklahoma shot 14-of-26 from behind the arc on its way to a 22-point manhandling of Villanova back on December 7. The Wildcats, on the other hand, went just 4-of-32 from long range in that game – one of the worst displays of outside shooting imaginable. While the outcome should be far less extreme this time around, the rematch in Houston should once again come down to each team’s ability to knock down threes. If the Wildcats continue their torrid shooting (46% 3FG in the NCAA Tournament) and stellar defensive play, a National Championship is very much within reach. If Hield and his teammates get hot, time might be up for the Big East champs. Regardless of the outcome, Wright’s group – now ranked first in KenPom – has put any doubts about its legitimacy to rest.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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