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.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 13th, 2016

In terms of the bubble, there was little surprise about the five Big East teams that were going to make the Big Dance. Rather, the biggest outstanding question was how their draws would play out. For a number of the middle-seeded teams, first weekend matchups mean nearly everything for postseason success. Below is a review of how the selection process concluded for each Big East team and what they should expect for the first few rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova, #2 seed, South Region. A surprising and frustrating choice for many Villanova fans. Few expected to receive a #1 seed after losing to Seton Hall last night, but many expected the opportunity to play in the Philadelphia regional rather than being shipped to the South region. Nevertheless, Villanova’s opening pod is a favorable one. The Wildcats handily beat Temple on its own floor a few weeks ago and Iowa has struggled mightily over its last 10 games. The Hawkeyes should beat the Owls, but their guard play is weak and the team has no dominant interior presence. A matchup against Villanova would be a battle of wings against a team that isn’t particularly strong at defending the paint. On paper, Villanova should handle it well.

Villanova's Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Villanova’s Big East Title Game Loss May Have Cost Them A #1 Seed (USA Today Sports)

Xavier, #2 seed, East Region. Xavier should be happy with this placement. Weber State won lot of games but succeeded only once over a team in KenPom‘s top 150. Looking forward, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin are the Musketeers’ possible second round opponents — both are big, physical teams that play a slower-paced game. Neither is particularly adept at forcing turnovers, a point of weakness for the Musketeers, but Wisconsin is probably the more dangerous team. Given the Badgers’ impressive recent stretch (winners of 10 of its last 13 games) and ability to control tempo, Xavier will need to bring its best game. It says here, however, that Wisconsin will struggle to shoot well enough to challenge Chris Mack’s team.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: Scouting Big East Tournament Teams

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 9th, 2016

With the NCAA Tournament only one week away, let’s take a look at the five Big East teams likely to earn a bid from a scouting perspective. Matchups play a major part in whether a strong team makes an early exit or an average team makes a deep March run. This is magnified more than ever in the pressure cooker that is the NCAA Tournament as teams encounter opponents and styles of play they are largely unfamiliar with. Conversely, some of these teams may flourish once they’re free of the grinder that is the regular season in the Big East.

Villanova

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East again this season. (USA Today Sports)

Josh Hart and Villanova were the class of the Big East once again this season. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Why the Wildcats can go deep: Jay Wright’s team is incredibly balanced and cohesive on both sides of the ball. An elite defensive squad, Villanova leads the Big East in allowing only 63.3 PPG. That alone will keep this group in games against any team in the nation. They are known for their defense, but the Wildcats don’t seem to get enough credit nationally for their offensive prowess. They feature an experienced floor general in Ryan Arcidiacono, a versatile wing in Josh Hart and a savvy big man in the middle in Daniel Ochefu. Another thing Villanova does incredibly well that should come in handy in the NCAA Tournament is free throw shooting. It leads the nation with a 77.9 percent mark from the charity stripe. Mounting a comeback against the Wildcats in the final minute is often a futile endeavor.

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Big East Bubble Watch: Volume IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 4th, 2016

With the Big East Tournament just around the corner, things are looking pretty good. Every conference bubble team that needed to win did so, giving us a much higher degree of certainty that the conference will earn five NCAA Tournament bids this season. Part of the reason for that is welcome to lock territory, Seton Hall. The Pirates picked up a signature win at home on Sunday against Xavier and would finish the regular season with a worst-case RPI of #44 should the Pirates lose this weekend at DePaul. At a macro level, the conference appears primed for postseason success: two highly-seeded teams and two or three mid-seeded teams makes for a good combination of quality and quantity in representation. Now it comes down to a final regular season game and the conference tournament to determine seeding for those five teams. Here’s the latest installment of the Big East Bubble Watch. RPI and SOS figures are from RPIForecast.com.

Locks

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

  • Villanova: 26-4 (15-2); RPI: 2; SOS: 12
  • Xavier: 25-4 (13-4); RPI: 7; SOS: 30
  • Seton Hall: 21-8 (11-6); RPI: 33; SOS: 52

Analysis: Once again, no justification is needed for Villanova and Xavier here, as both are reasonable contenders for the #1 seed line. Xavier dropped a road game at Seton Hall that may have diminished the Musketeers’ chances for a top seed, but the corresponding effect is that it moved the Pirates into the lock category. For a team that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason, Seton Hall and its wiser, calmer sophomore leader Isaiah Whitehead have come a long way. The Pirates have one remaining game at DePaul, but even a loss there would not push their RPI nearly low enough (#44) to fall out of consideration. While possibly out of reach, the goal is to push for a #6 seed, thereby avoiding the potential pitfall of facing a #1 or #2 seed in the Second Round. Time to celebrate, Seton Hall fans, it appears that your 10-year NCAA Tournament drought is finally over. Read the rest of this entry »

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Xavier’s Weakness Becomes Apparent

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 1st, 2016

Media pundits are always quick to jump on bandwagons and it happened again on Wednesday night. The chatter around Xavier’s perceived ceiling has been around all season, but it picked up considerably following the team’s win over #1 Villanova. Those claiming Xavier has Final Four potential aren’t wrong by any means; Chris Mack’s team is deep, athletic and extremely tough on the boards — a combination that usually makes for a tough out. Moreover, a 7-2 record against the RPI top 50 has erased any doubts about its ability to compete against Tournament-level teams. Below the surface, however, lurk some unpleasant memories, remnants of what are unquestionably ugly losses. A 31-point blowout at Villanova, a pair of brutally inefficient losses to Georgetown and Creighton, and most recently, a clunker at Seton Hall. The losses themselves aren’t the least bit concerning — Xavier’s four total losses is the second fewest of any team in the country — it’s the way they’ve lost.

Chris Mack is Safe For Now But Shouldn't 'Get too Comfortable (Getty)

Chris Mack and Xavier are legit contenders, but do have some things to work out. (Getty)

The Musketeers have a number of options — Trevon Bluiett, Myles Davis and JP Macura prime among them — when it comes to perimeter scoring, but these players aren’t relied upon for lights-out shooting as much as they are pure spacing. With a lightning-quick point guard in Edmond Sumner, Xavier can usually penetrate to get high quality looks around the rim because teams are forced to respect the array of shooters around Sumner. It doesn’t necessarily matter who is making shots, so long as they connect on a high enough percentage to keep defenses honest. The Xavier wings are also adept at making entry passes to the low post, a place where the Musketeers are converting at a high rate, as the presence of numerous shooters and slashers helps stop opponents from doubling on the interior. Xavier post options Jalen Reynolds and James Farr also both rank in the top 100 in offensive rebounding, helping the X-men corral 35.7 percent of its missed shots. Partially as a result of the attack of the offensive glass, Xavier attempts 40.3 percent of its shots at the rim and gets to the free throw line at an exceedingly high rate (29th nationally). Read the rest of this entry »

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You’re Not Mistaken: Conference Races Are Tighter This Season

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on February 19th, 2016

We are quickly approaching March and that means the regular season is almost over. Usually by this point in the season there are a few teams running away with the crowns in the power conferences, but it hasn’t quite gone that way this year. Analysts have described the level of parity this year in college basketball as unprecedented, but we decided to look into it ourselves. Exactly how close are the conference races this season as opposed to in previous years? Here’s a look at the last six years of the power conference races three weeks from the end of the regular season.

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A quick glance at each league reveals that the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and especially the SEC are having some of the most contested conference races in recent memory. Interestingly, for every conference other than the Big East, the current first place team (e.g., Kansas at 10-3 in the Big 12) has as many or more losses than any first place team the past five years has had on this date. That also means that second and third place teams across the board have a better chance of winning their leagues than they usually would.

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Marquette Slowly Rebuilding But Hope is on the Horizon

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Under former coaches Tom Crean and Buzz Williams, Marquette made the NCAA Tournament in eight straight seasons from 2006-13. Despite all of that success, a tumultuous period in program history began just one season removed from a 2013 trip to the Elite Eight. It begin with a sour relationship between Williams and former athletic director Larry Williams (no relation). The latter Williams resigned in December 2013 amid a cloud of uncertainty. The former Williams, for his part, surprisingly left the program for Virginia Tech at the end of the 2013-14 season. In retrospect, the decision was calculated. Williams decided that Marquette, a school with no football program and mired in the thick of a shaky Big East realignment, was not well-poised for future success. The Golden Eagles’ 17-15 record that season certainly wasn’t reassuring.

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

Steve Wojciechowski, the associate head coach at Duke at the time, saw Marquette differently than Williams. He saw a school where, similar to his alma mater in Durham, the men’s basketball program is an integral part of the university. He also recognized that the program has a proud and passionate fan base that will not accept mediocrity. In his first season, Marquette finished 13-19 and once again missed the NCAA Tournament, but a top-10 recruiting class that included highly-touted freshman Henry Ellenson brought a rejuvenated sense of hope. Those expectations were tempered very quickly at the start of the season. In the span of a single November week, the Golden Eagles lost their home opener to Belmont, needed overtime to get past IUPUI, and was walloped by Iowa. They bounced back with neutral court victories over LSU and Arizona State in Brooklyn en route to a 10-2 record that also included a surprising victory over Wisconsin in Madison. The beginning of Big East play, however, brought forth some new adversity. After a disappointing home loss by 20 points to Seton Hall, Marquette hit 0-2 in league play after an 80-70 loss to Georgetown on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.18.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 18th, 2015

While every season is definitely long and winding, Georgetown’s loss to Monmouth should be concerning for both the Hoyas and Big East fans. The primary reason is not that Monmouth is a bad team — rather, the Hawks have a quality squad this season — it is that the Hoyas were run off their home floor in a game that should have been a close, competitive loss or a win. This loss is the latest in a recent history full of uninspiring Georgetown losses under John Thompson III and the second of this season alone. When you look at the Hoyas’ overall KenPom profile, a few things stand out. First, this team is not defending at a high level. While Georgetown’s field goal percentage defense of 37.7 percent is very good, that statistic only shows so much.

John Thompson III's team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

John Thompson III’s team was the latest to fall victim to upstart Monmouth. (Washington Post)

When you dig a little deeper, you find a team fouling at a high rate and failing to close out possessions on the boards effectively. A team that struggles to rebound and puts opponents on the foul line too often allows for plenty of extra points, which is the main reason why Georgetown ranks 87th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. When compared with their Big East companions, that rate puts the Hoyas ahead of only Butler, Creighton and hapless DePaul. Already with four losses on its resume, Georgetown has some work to do in league play in order to safely make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Lackluster performances like those against Monmouth and Radford need to become a thing of the past, and Georgetown will have to become a more efficient squad in order to earn that invitation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Propelled by Fresh Faces, the Chris Mullin Era Has Arrived at St. John’s

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 15th, 2015

Few expected a winning season for a St. John’s team that experienced a complete roster upheaval. Not only was fifth-year head coach Steve Lavin shown the door, but all six players on a team that only played a six-man rotation to begin with departed the program. There was no apparent end in sight for the dark and gloomy forecasts that riddled the program. It went on for so long that fans, coaches and players alike were not wondering when, but if, St. John’s would ever return to its status as “New York’s team.” Alas, the arrival of Chris Mullin provided a struggling program with a flicker of hope. And that hope may be arriving sooner than expected. It started as an uphill battle for a program that hasn’t sniffed a continued degree of success since Mullin himself played in the 80’s. So after St. John’s suffered a blowout loss to Vanderbilt, struggled to hold off Division II Chaminade, and then lost by 16 at Fordham, few expressed much surprise. After all, this was a team full of misfits. Some were only at the university for a one-year stay as graduate students whereas others had been recruited to play for Lavin and were now forced to adapt to new leadership.

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin's leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Slowly but surely, it seems the Red Storm are taking well to Chris Mullin’s leadership. (Tania Savayan/The Journal News)

Considering the limited degree of time and resources, Mullin’s roster construction in a matter of months has been a truly admirable effort. He took a completely unfamiliar group of players, put them on the floor together, and let the chemistry work itself out. “We’re young, we’re inexperienced, we’re all new guys, speaking a different language, but when you play together and you play well, it’s a positive reinforcement.” Mullin’s two graduate transfers Durand Johnson (Pitt) and Ron Mvouika (Missouri State) have stepped in as immediate contributors and provided invaluable leadership to the host of newcomers. Meanwhile, sparingly used returnees Christian Jones and Amar Alibegovic have worked to fill in the gaps while the freshmen, his freshmen, develop. Read the rest of this entry »

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What Makes Kris Dunn Unique Isn’t His Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 4th, 2015

Providence’s Kris Dunn is a special kind of player. How many times have we heard that this season? His ascent to stardom came at an almost unprecedented rate, going from “good player who plays a supporting role to LaDontae Henton” to Big East Player of the Year in just one season. In the ensuing offseason, Dunn found himself in discussions as not just the best player in the conference, but the best player in the entire country. He’s seen his draft stock rise from completely off the board (DraftExpress on 12/3/2014) to surefire lottery pick in just 12 months’ time.

Dunn's Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

Dunn’s Rise Has Been Meteoric (USA TODAY Sports)

But while much of the national media spotlight has been focused on Dunn’s flashy passing and bevy of offensive moves, his instinct on the defensive end of the floor hasn’t received proper attention. What many of those fail to realize about the junior All-American is that much of his playmaking ability is driven by the havoc he creates on defense.

Without much interior size, Providence fares poorly in defensive field goal percentages across the board. The Friars are allowing opponents to shoot 35 percent from three (222nd nationally), 51 percent from two (220th), and allowing offensive rebounds on 29 percent of opponents’ possessions (134th). Combining that with an average shooting offense might lead you to believe that this is a team struggling to stay afloat. Instead, Providence currently sits at 7-1 with significant wins over Evansville and Arizona along with a tightly contested loss to Michigan State. How is this possible, you ask? The answer is through an unusually prescient defense led by the prolific play of its superstar, Dunn.

As a team, Providence forces a turnover on nearly 24 percent of opponents’ possessions, ranking 26th nationally in this category. This turnover-hungry defense kickstarts an offense that converts on shot attempts in transition at a 54 percent clip (compared with 48 percent in non-transition settings). It also helps to explain why teams have only been scoring 68 points per game (seven fewer than the national average) in spite of the Friars’ poor field goal defense. Spearheading this defense is Dunn, who ranks second nationally in steal percentage at 6.5 percent. How does he do it? Let’s examine what makes Dunn such a great defender and how that propels the Friars’ offense.

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