Rushed Reactions: Villanova 87, Butler 68

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Maestro of the Villanova Juggernaut (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova’s offense is back to textbook form. The skids were widely observed this season and gave pundits some momentary pause, but if there was ever any doubt, the Wildcats are officially back on track. They followed up a 94-point, 1.43 points per possession domination of Marquette last night with a 19-point rout of Butler in the semifinals. The shocking part was that the Bulldogs didn’t even play badly, they were just never in the game — literally, falling behind 19-0 from the opening horn. With 12 steals leading to open transition baskets and a 14-of-34 perimeter display from the Wildcats, there was no shot at slowing their offense. This kind of domination of quality teams feels like 2016 all over again…
  2. Perhaps more importantly, Villanova is finally playing like a cohesive unit on the defensive end. The passing lane gambles have been better timed, offensive rebounding opportunities are shored up and close-outs on perimeter shooters were noticeably less frenetic. Jay Wright‘s group held Marquette’s high octane offense to 70 points, just the sixth time this season they have failed to eclipse that mark. Then they followed that up tonight by holding Butler to 68 points and just 0.99 points per possession, its seventh lowest of the season. Freshman center Omari Spellman has greatly improved in taking up space in the paint and is no longer routinely exposed in the pick-and-roll.
  3. Butler remains overly match-up dependent. The Bulldogs’ offensive output is highly correlated to the performances of Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin, who account for 46 percent of their scoring. When they’re able to exploit opposing guards (like against Seton Hall last night), ball movement is fluid and players are quick to attack the rim. But when matched up with longer defenders, it stagnates. Baldwin dealt with the 7’0″ wingspan of Mikal Bridges for most of the night and struggled to get into the lane and find open looks. Similarly, Martin faced ball denial defense all night and notched just 13 points as a result.

Star of the Game. Villanova’s entire starting lineup. When each starter totals between 12 and 17 points, it’s hard to identify just one who contributed most to the team’s success. Instead it was a collective team effort with each Wildcat starter knocking down at least two three-pointers.


  • Phil Booth, on the team’s roaring start: “I didn’t even notice the score was 19-0… we called timeout, then I looked up.”
  • When looking ahead to the championship game, Jay Wright had some concerns: “Providence has the length and athleticism that can really bother you and take away your three-point shooting.”
  • Speaking of defense, Wright had the following to say about his team’s: “That was one of our best defensive performances.” And then later: “This is a hard league to defend in… even though they shot 48 percent, I thought we did well.”
  • Kelan Martin, on his offensive struggles: “It wasn’t frustration, they just denied me. Every play we had, they denied me the ball… sometimes you just can’t beat it.”

Sights & Sounds. It was a loud arena, and then it was a quiet arena. Villanova took a commanding 19-0 lead to start the game and never looked back, correspondingly sucking all the air out of the building. It gave ‘Nova fans plenty to cheer about, but it’s the kind of performance they’ve all become accustomed to over the last several years.

What’s Next? Villanova will hang around and attempt to take down a surging Providence team in the Big East championship game Saturday evening. It feels eerily similar to last year’s tournament when #6 Creighton made a run to the finals before running out of steam against the Wildcats.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

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

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