You’re Right, Villanova is Trending

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 16th, 2019

Villanova might not be the team that some of its fans originally hoped for, but months of incremental improvements have finally manifested in Jay Wright‘s club. The Wildcats’ rocky 8-4 start to this season featured a pair of head-scratching losses to Furman and Penn, along with a 27-point home court defeat to Michigan. So heading into Big East play, many had already written off Villanova as the league’s team to beat, opting to place the target on the back of Marquette or St. John’s. That has quickly been proven premature, as just two weeks into conference play, Villanova sits alone atop the conference standings at 4-0.

Jay Wright Isn’t Worried (USA Today Images)

As discussed ad nauseam, Villanova’s early struggles were attributed to the overwhelming burden placed on seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to generate offense while the team’s less experienced players became acclimated to high-level basketball. This led to a clear nosedive in the team’s efficiency during off nights, and it’s no surprise that the Wildcats’ four losses coincide with poor offensive performances from both players.

The other thing to note is that Booth and Paschall’s efficiency has been more consistent in recent weeks despite playing better competition. So what’s driving the improvement? Largely the growth of Wright’s role players, whose budding confidence is forcing opposing teams to defend them honestly. Swingman duo Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey have improved drastically on the defensive end while attacking the rim with less hesitation, and freshman Jahvon Quinerly is creating the necessary dribble penetration to keep the floor properly spaced. None of these players have scored consistently enough to average more than 8.0 PPG in conference play, but sometimes the threat by itself is sufficient. It’s for this reason that Booth and Paschall’s growing share of the team’s offensive output isn’t as concerning as it looks.

In non-conference play, the pair accounted for 43 percent of Villanova’s total points, a figure that has ballooned to 57 percent in Big East action. But given their unbeaten league start, the Wildcats are winning not because Booth and Paschall are hogging the ball and forcing shots, but because they are getting better looks given the threat of others. This data reconciles with the finding of the first chart, wherein both players have posted some of their best performances of the season. Furthermore, this kind of “pump fake and pass until the defense gives up” scheme looks eerily familiar to the teams of years’ past:

Even for Wright’s standards, Villanova’s three-point attempt rate is at a program all-time high (51.7%), which can be a concern in a static offense when a large number of shots seem out of rhythm (see: Furman). But with ball movement, penetration and patience, the Wildcats’ offense fundamentally changes along with its shot quality. In a sum of the parts system, this is exactly the kind of team that only gets better with time.

Justin Kundrat (156 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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