Are Villanova’s Smallest Lineups Its Most Effective?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 11th, 2017

Much has already been written about Omari Spellman’s ineligibility ruling at the beginning of the season, leaving Villanova light in the frontcourt with 6’9″ center Darryl Reynolds acting as the lone interior player. The prevailing concern at the time was that Jay Wright‘s team would struggle to both defend in the post and get abused on the glass, but that line of thinking has proven incorrect. Instead, Villanova’s offense has flourished, and the key to unlocking its full potential might just be re-calibrating the lineup to completely embrace small-ball. For all the discussion over the Wildcats’ elite offense last season, it’s hard to believe that this year’s team is almost two points per 100 possessions better. If Villanova finishes the season at this level of offensive efficiency, its 1.232 points per possession would rank as the fourth-highest of any college basketball team in the last five years. More remarkably, though, is what happens Wright removes Reynolds from the lineup. Take a close look a the table below.

The table shows a Wildcats’ lineup that includes Jalen BrunsonJosh HartKris Jenkins, Eric Paschall and either of Donte DiVicenzo or Mikal Bridges — in other words, a lineup that features no player taller than the 6’7″ Paschall, who was a wing at Fordham and has deftly assumed the role of an undersized center at Villanova. In this even smaller-ball lineup, offensive efficiency spikes further (1.28 PPP) and, given that all five players are comfortable handling the ball, turnovers correspondingly drop (-4.3%). Paschall is a better passer and more viable scoring threat than Reynolds (averaging 15.9 PPG at Fordham) with a demonstrated ability to hit perimeter shots. Moreover, he is dangerous in pick-and-roll situations and Wright can also choose to park him on the three-point line if he wants to open up the lane.

Having the ability to roll out five scorers who are also capable shooters is every coach’s dream. While many units around the country could conceivably do it, few others can implement such a potent lineup without sacrificing defensive effectiveness. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion from the data here is that frontcourt size appears to have little impact on Villanova’s defense — there is little difference in using Reynolds or Paschall at the center position. This is likely for two reasons. The first is that Villanova still lacks an influential rim protector in either scenario — the Wildcats allowing opposing teams to shoot 59.4 percent at the rim (190th nationally). That means Villanova’s defensive success relies on switching to contain dribble penetration and limiting second chance points. This brings us to the second reason. Despite its size limitation, Villanova still ranks 36th nationally in defensive rebounding rate, which is a function of how the Wildcats rebound. Both Paschall and Reynolds serve the important role of boxing out the opposing team’s center, but more often than not, Hart or another wing player pull down the rebound.

The senior NPOY candidate leads the team in defensive rebounding at 18.1 percent and Wright encourages a team rebounding philosophy. So while most teams might be forced to choose between offensive and defensive success in employing a small-ball lineup, Villanova can still excel on both ends. Midway through the regular season, it needs to be acknowledged — the Wildcats have no true post presence this year and it’s time they simply embraced it.

Justin Kundrat (143 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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3 responses to “Are Villanova’s Smallest Lineups Its Most Effective?”

  1. Nick Romano says:

    The 7 man rotation will catch up to them eventually. They have done a great job so far, but doubt they can avoid being worn down in tournament. Without Booth they are one injury or one player in foul trouble away from trouble.

  2. Anitra says:

    Nick, they don’t play as many games as those in the nba. I think people forget that. I think if it was going to catch up to them, it would hv already. Them losing only one game without Spellman or Booth speaks volumes.

  3. george sant says:

    It just caught up with them on Tuesday night.

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