Rushed Reactions: #1 Villanova 76, #16 Mount St. Mary’s 56

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Despite being outplayed by Mount St. Mary’s for the majority of the first half, Villanova turned on the jets over the final 20 minutes and advanced to the Round of 32 for the 10th time under head coach Jay Wright.

Josh Hart and the Wildcats will continue their quest for a repeat National Title. (CSN Philly)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Mount St. Mary’s was not afraid. Despite taking on the #1 overall seed, Mount St. Mary’s — 25-point underdogs in Las Vegas — largely controlled the first half, carving up Villanova’s interior defense and preventing it from scoring in transition on the other end. Freshman guard Miles Wilson (22 points) played as if the reigning National Champion was just another NEC opponent, attacking the teeth of the Wildcats’ defense with confidence. Were it not for a Jalen Brunson layup just before the buzzer, the Mount would’ve been the first #16 seed to lead at halftime since 2004. Jamion Christian‘s undersized group already had an NCAA Tournament victory under its belt, and their composure shined through tonight. Nerves were not an issue.
  2. Josh Hart needs to remain on the floor. After picking up his second foul around the 12-minute mark, National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart took a seat for the better portion of the first half — and it showed. The Wildcats looked completely out of sorts, settling for mediocre perimeter jumpers (1-of-9 3FG) and playing with a lethargy uncharacteristic of Wright’s club. When Hart returned in the second half, the ball-movement picked up, the paced improve and Villanova quickly started dominating. If the Big East champs are going to cut down the nets once again, their best player — perhaps the sport’s best player — must remain on the floor.
  3. Donte DiVincenzo again shows flashes of brilliance. One week after scoring 25 points against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals, DiVincenzo was far and away Villanova’s best player again on Thursday night. Not only did the redshirt freshman score 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-for-4 3FG), he secured a career-high 13 rebounds along the way. The loss of Ryan Arcidiacono (12.5 PPG) was among the largest voids Wright needed to fill entering this season, but DiVincenzo has helped fill that void and his continued success could prove central to the Wildcats’ repeat title hopes.

Star of the Game. Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova (21 points, 13 rebounds). Despite missing a pair of dunks in hilariously bad fashion, DiVincenzo was outstanding on Thursday night, playing with an energy and purpose that many of his teammates lacked for roughly 20 minutes. His eye-popping rebounding total was likely an aberration — Mount St. Mary’s is, after all, the sixth-shortest team in America — but the freshman’s outstanding shooting numbers are nothing to dismiss. This guy will be a factor moving forward.

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Rushed Reactions: Villanova 74, Creighton 60

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 11th, 2017

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

Villanova Just Keeps Winning (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. It’s going to take a confluence of factors for Villanova to lose. As Butler proved this season, Villanova is beatable only under a perfect set of circumstances. Namely, an off shooting night from the Wildcats and opposing personnel that are capable of slowing the game to a crawl and turning it into a rock fight. Villanova struggles with defensive-minded teams that successfully clog the paint and force them to settle for jump shots. Across its three losses this season, Villanova attempted a significantly higher than average number of three-pointers. But few teams have the personnel to warp the driving lanes of Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, a critical source of scoring and ball movement.
  2. Josh Hart has cemented his place as National Player of the Year. With the ever-improving play of Brunson and the emergence of Donte DiVincenzo as a lights-out shooter, Hart’s NPOY campaign took a back seat for a while. But he always seems to show up at the right times, whether by forcing his way into the lane to generate offense or coming up with a loose ball on the defensive end. Given Villanova’s strong play lately and Hart’s “do-it-all” role, it’s difficult to argue against him winning the award. And if there was a good guy of the year award, Hart would probably win that too.
  3. For better or worse, Creighton remains highly match-up dependent. On one end, the Bluejays’ spread offense is well-equipped to deal with a variety of opposing defenses (although its effectiveness lately has been tied to streaky shooting). However, the team has struggled on the defensive end, particularly against perimeter-oriented teams that rely heavily on ball movement to exploit out of position defenders. Xavier, Marquette and Villanova all fit this mold, and perhaps unsurprisingly, all have posted highly efficient games in their battles with Creighton.

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Previewing the 2017 Big East Tournament

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 8th, 2017

Here we are again: four straight days of Big East basketball in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The conference is likely to follow up last season’s five-bid NCAA Tournament mark with seven teams this year, all of which will be vying for better seeding this week in New York. The other three teams are looking at a frenzied series of as many as four straight games, their only avenue to the Dance in what would be a surprising run to the Big East Championship.

Here’s a printable version of the bracket: 2017 Big East Tournament Bracket

And the Winner is: Villanova

The obvious but boring pick. Even amid a slew of injuries and an undersized but shockingly effective lineup, the Wildcats have again found their way to the top of the Big East totem pole. Few teams have been able to slow down an offense churning out 1.23 points per possession — as a matter of fact, games at Butler (0.99) and at St. John’s (0.99) were Villanova’s only two instances under 1.0 PPP. Sophomore star Jalen Brunson is arguably the most underrated point guard in the country, embracing an old-school style of play that lulls defenders to sleep before blowing by them. Every rotation player with the exception of one is a capable three-point shooter, and the incessant ball screen switching on the defensive end has remained effective because entry passes are such a persistent headache. There are some chinks in the armor, however, as Butler has demonstrated. Crowding the paint on drives and staying down on ball fakes can slow the offense, occasionally causing this team to lose its mojo.

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Villanova’s Offense Already Looks Fantastic… Again

Posted by Michael Austin on November 15th, 2016

En route to the National Championship last season, Villanova went 13-0 in games in which the Wildcats shot fewer than 20 three-point field goal attempts. In fact, in four of the five times Villanova lost a game last season, they shot more than 25 three-pointers (going 13-4 in those games).  Yes, an undersized team playing a 4-Out Offense with a huge focus on guard play actually played its best ball when it limited its overall number of long-range shots.

Villanova Scores on Shots of the Non-Three Point Variety? Who Knew? (USA Today Images)

Villanova Scores on Shots of the Non-Three Point Variety? Who Knew? (USA Today Images)

A deeper dive into Villanova’s three-point offense last season reveals that Jay Wright’s squad underwent a dramatic shift in philosophy when Big East play began — a shift that continued all the way through six games of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats won 14 of their first 15 conference games by shooting no more than 25 three-pointers only twice during that run (31 in a loss at Providence and 29 in a win against Creighton). At some point, it seemed to click that simply firing three-pointers isn’t the formula for success; rather, creating more-efficient, high-percentage, uncontested perimeter shots is where Wright wanted his team. The Wildcats finished the season eighth in the nation in effective field goal percentage (eFG%) at a very healthy 56.1 percent. This focus on good shot-taking (and making) translated into a championship run. Look at Villanova’s total number of three-point attempts in its six NCAA Tournament victories: 28 (vs. UNC-Asheville), 10 (Iowa), 15 (Miami), 18 (Kansas), 18 (Oklahoma) and 14 (North Carolina), for an average of 17.2 attempts per game.

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The Best of the Big East: Creighton, Xavier, Villanova

Posted by Eugene Rapay on November 11th, 2016

The Big East microsite will be rolling out previews on all 10 teams this week, sorted into three tiers. Today we review the projected top tier of teams — Creighton, Xavier and Villanova. RTC’s bottom and middle tier previews were published earlier this week.

#3: Creighton

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Maurice Watson Jr leads a Creighton team poised to make some noise. (AP)

Since joining the Big East, Creighton has mainly been on the outside looking in. Yes, the Bluejays’ first year in the league was great with NPOY Doug McDermott leading the way, but Creighton has yet to be the same since he departed Omaha. That’s bound to change soon as the Bluejays are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They’ll do so behind the play of point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. Not only is Watson a very good scorer, averaging a team-high 14.4 points per game last season, but he’s also a tremendous distributor. His 6.5 assists per game led the Big East and represented the 12th-highest assist rate (38.8%) in college basketball. Teammates flourish off of Watson’s setups.

Unlike those McDermott teams, last year’s Creighton squad excelled at scoring inside. The Bluejays sported the 14th best two-point shooting percentage (54.5%) in America, but fell around the middle of the pack in shooting from three-point range (35.5%). Creighton hopes to improve on its perimeter shooting weakness with the eligibility of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and freshman Davion Mintz. Foster in particular hopes to replicate the success he had during an all-Big 12 freshman year when he made nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. Aside from the issue with perimeter shooting, the Bluejays also need to replace highly efficient center Geoffrey Groselle, a big man who averaged 11.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season while shooting at a 70 percent clip. Creighton recruited a four-star forward in Justin Patton, who is likely to be tested early as Toby Hegner nurses an injury that will sideline him for the beginning of the season. Can head coach Greg McDermott make the new pieces jibe?

#2: Xavier

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The Cats In the Back: Villanova’s Increased Depth Fuels Their Success

Posted by Shane McNichol on February 11th, 2016

Villanova is #1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history. At no point in the successful tenure of Jay Wright or even back to the Rollie Massimino era have the Wildcats reached this kind of regular season heights. But Nova Nation shouldn’t be celebrating just yet. Since its magical run to the national championship in 1985, Villanova has spent time among the top 10 of the AP Poll in nine different seasons but only advanced as far as the Elite Eight twice in that span. In this year of nationwide parity, every fan base worries that it will be their team that will be an early upset victim in March, but that’s a feeling already well-engrained among Villanova faithful.

Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)

Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)

Even as the Wildcats have steadily climbed the rankings this season, fans had reasons to be wary. This is, after all, a team with an eight-man rotation that prominently features two freshmen and a sophomore. It is also a team that scores more than a third of its points from beyond the three-point arc, but ranks among the 100 worst three-point shooting teams in the country by percentage (32.9%). Cold shooting nights – the fear of any jump-shooting squad — have proven to be Villanova’s kryptonite, as it has shot a paltry 22-of-80 (27.5%) from long range in their three losses this season. When the cornerstone of its frontcourt, Daniel Ochefu, missed several games with a concussion, it seemed like Jay Wright’s team might have yet another issue to contend with.

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Villanova’s Success Predicated on Slowing Down Its Offense

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 5th, 2016

To a casual fan, Villanova’s woes appear painfully obvious: The Wildcats are shooting — and missing — too many threes. But approach the issue at the next level and shooting isn’t the problem as much as the quick tempo it produces. Jay Wright’s most successful teams have thrived by forcing turnovers and attacking with a well-balanced offense. In recent years, however, its healthy ratio between points in the paint and from three has faltered, with the Wildcats becoming increasingly dependent on perimeter shooting. The numbers show that Villanova has shot over 40 percent of its field goal attempts from long range over the last three seasons and that share has gotten frighteningly close to half of all of its shots (48.3%) this year. As a result, the team’s overall accuracy (32%) has experienced a sharp dip (from 39 percent a year ago to 32 percent this season). We should expect Villanova’s outside shooting to revert to the mean somewhat, but all signs so far suggest that this year’s squad performs best in a low-possession game in which its offense finds greater balance beyond such voluminous use of the three-point shot.

Jay Wright Has His Team Dancing Once Again, But For How Long? (H. Rumph Jr./AP)

In somewhat of a surprise, Jay Wright’s crew has been more efficient when they have limited their possessions per game. (H. Rumph Jr./AP)

On one hand, Villanova currently leads the country in two-point shooting percentage at 63.1 percent. This is largely a testament to the skill sets of its personnel: Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart are excellent at getting to the rim; Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins are strong mid-range shooters. Despite the team’s relative struggles from beyond the arc this season, opponents still have to respect its shooting pedigree and volume, which opens their driving lanes. As a result, Villanova has proven capable of getting into the lane and scoring. Still, the Wildcats haven’t taken enough of those high-percentage shots, instead often passing it back out to the perimeter in search of an extra point. Despite Villanova’s exceptional 72.1 percent shooting at the rim (ninth nationally), these looks represent fewer than a third (32.4%) of the team’s total shot attempts (273rd in the nation). This aversion to attacking the rim is also revealed by the team’s free throw rate, in which Villanova ranks 314th this season after finishing among the top 100 in each of the last seven years. Needless to say, this squad’s large number of three-point attempts is hurting its offensive efficiency in a number of ways, some more notable than others. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 12.04.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 4th, 2015

morning5

  1. Jim Boeheim finally heard from the NCAA in his appeal of his nine-game suspension that was supposed to coincide with the start of NCAA play. Unfortunately for Boeheim, it was not the ruling he wanted as the NCAA decided to start the suspension immediately with the Syracuse‘s next game, which is against Georgetown on Saturday. Boeheim will still miss the same number of games, but will only miss three ACC games. Boeheim is also not allowed to have any contact with his players during that time. Many pundits have chimed in claiming that it is unfair of the NCAA to wait so long to make a decision that begins so quickly. We can agree with that to a degree, but as usual we tend to side with Luke Winn on his thoughts about Boeheim and the reaction to the NCAA’s decision.
  2. BYU freshman Nick Emery has been suspended for one game for punching Utah’s Brandon Taylor late in their game on Wednesday. For his part, Emery apologized to Taylor and basically everybody else in attendance. The one-game suspension is an automatic suspension by the NCAA and the West Coast Conference issued a statement calling it “unacceptable”. Interestingly, BYU has not issued a comment on the matter and Emery will not face any additional punishment from the school (apparently, punching your opponent isn’t a violation of the Honor Code).
  3. Stephen Curry may be putting together one of the greatest offensive seasons we have ever seen in the NBA and he is the most famous person ever to go to Davidson (ok, he’s probably the only reason most of the country has even heard of Davidson), but that doesn’t mean the school is going to break its rules for him. To be honest, we weren’t even aware that Davidson had not retired Curry’s jersey yet (they probably could have done it after he led them to the Elite 8 his sophomore year and before he returned for his junior year), but the school has a policy that it only retires the jerseys of players who have graduated (Curry says he will eventually go back and get it). While we applaud Davidson for sticking by this (something other more prominent programs in the state did away with years ago), we have to wonder how long they will wait if Curry doesn’t go back and get his degree.
  4. For a program that has been so successful over the past few years Villanova tends to fly under the radar. This year is no different as despite their high rankings in the polls we don’t see them on TV that much as the featured game of the night. So there is a chance you might not have seen (or possibly even heard) of Jalen Brunson yet despite the fact that he was one of the top recruits in the class of 2015. Lee Jenkins has an excellent piece about Brunson and how his father’s career and the struggles he had helped shape Jalen into the player he is today. It’s well worth your time even if you don’t see Brunson play much during the regular season because you could be seeing a lot of him in March.
  5. We usually don’t touch on media matters here in the Morning Five outside of TV contracts and things like that, but we thought Ed Sherman’s article on the changing landscape of media access to be fairly interesting. The concept/complaint is not particularly new and it is part of the reason that you won’t find as many in-depth pieces as you used to see (also a reflection of the desire of the public to read short pieces instead of more intricate stories). Sherman focuses on college football, but we are sure the issues are the same in college basketball. One of the things that Sherman doesn’t talk about, but is worth mentioning is that many schools are trying to brand themselves as media entities and control the message and the way their student-athletes and program is presented to the public.
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Which Villanova — Elite Defensive Juggernaut or Solid Top 10 Team?

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vbtnblog) on November 30th, 2015

Rankings come in two varieties, those based on statistical metrics (e.g., the RPI, KenPom, Sagarin and Massey ratings systems) and those based on individual votes (e.g., the RTC, AP and USA Today/Coaches polls). Changes in specific rankings tend to follow certain patterns — the “numbers” rankings do not tend to change all that much with a single win or loss; the human polls tend to change weekly as a reflection of the voters’ reactions to the latest batch of wins and losses. This season’s plethora of upsets has already introduced an element of chaos to the rankings and each type of system has responded in ways that break with their historic patterns for dealing with upsets and overlooked teams.

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

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

The metrics-based systems have shuffled their top 10 to 25 teams radically, while the polling systems have resisted a common tendency to drop teams that lose below those that remain undefeated. Villanova’s treatment by each system can be viewed as this season’s Exhibit A. Both systems were consistent in the preseason on where Jay Wright’s Wildcats belonged. KenPom (which ranked his team around #11) as well as the AP and the USA Today/Coaches polls (#11 and #9, respectively) agreed that Villanova was very good but not among the elite handful of teams that the Selection Committee rewarded with top-two seeds during the last two NCAA Tournaments. Through the first two weeks of the season, however, the two ratings systems have diverged greatly on this squad. As of today, the trio of KenPom (#2), Sagarin (#1) and Massey (#4) all agree that Villanova is the working equivalent of a #1 seed, but the humans voting in the polls largely remain skeptical. The AP has moved Villanova up only three spots from preseason #11 to #8, while the USA Today/Coaches have kept the Wildcats in limbo at #9. Only RTC, which moved Villanova up five spots to #5 in its latest poll, seems to feel a promotion has been earned. Read the rest of this entry »

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 12th, 2015

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our the RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

first_team_2015_16

  • Kris Dunn, Providence (UNANIMOUS) – Dunn enters his junior season after a finally healthy campaign where he averaged 15.6 points and 7.5 assists per game in leading Providence to its second straight NCAA Tournament. While his numbers show he is a triple-double threat every night, he needs to be watched in order to understand just how good he is. He ranked first in the country last season with a 50.0 percent assist rate; he was named co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year; and he recorded a steal once every 20 defensive possessions for the Friars. The quintessential floor leader does it all for his team and he does it at an awe-inspiring level. Factoid: The television show “Friends” may have aired its last episode in 2004, but that has not stopped Dunn from apparently becoming an avid fan of the series. Could we see the likes of Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer show up at Dunkin’ Donuts Center to root Dunn’s team on before season’s end?
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland – Maryland was quite successful in its inaugural Big Ten season as the team advanced to its first NCAA Tournament since 2010. Those Terrapins were unquestionably led by senior guard Dez Wells, but now that he has graduated, Trimble will take over as the team’s heart and soul. The sophomore guard turned in a highly impressive freshman season where he averaged 16.2 points per game and shot a respectable 41.2 percent from behind the three-point line. Expectations are high this season in College Park, and Trimble will be a big reason why if Maryland ultimately meets its goals. Factoid: Trimble spent a portion of last summer playing for Team USA at the Pan American Games. At 20 years old, he was the youngest player selected to the squad by Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma – The reigning Big 12 Player of the Year returns to Norman for his senior season. After terrorizing conference foes throughout both his sophomore (16.5 PPG) and junior (17.4 PPG) years, Hield will look to take his game to an even higher level during his final collegiate go-around. When he bypassed the NBA Draft last spring, the junior guard noted, “I just can’t wait to see what Coach Kruger has in mind for next year. I know we’re going to be a really good team.” It’s difficult to argue with Hield’s assertion there. Factoid: Hield, a native of the Bahamas, says that his self-proclaimed “Bahamian Swagger” is something he developed while growing up on the island chain with his single mother and six brothers and sisters.
  • Ben Simmons, LSU (UNANIMOUS) – The 2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year arrives in Baton Rouge accompanied by a great deal of hype. When looking at the freshman’s prep statistics, it’s easy to understand why expectations surrounding him are so high. In 29 regular season games as a senior, he averaged 28.0 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 70.7 percent from the field and collecting 24 double-doubles. Factoid: Former LSU great Shaquille O’Neal called Simmons “the best player in the world” when he introduced the prep star to his many Instagram followers last November.
  • Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga – Wiltjer returns to the fold at Gonzaga after a junior season where he averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American. At 6’10”, Wiltjer’s long-range shooting makes him a nightmarish match-up for Zags’ opponents — he shot a sizzling 54 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from behind the three-point line a season ago. Factoid: When Wiltjer arrived in Spokane following his transfer from Kentucky, Wildcats head coach John Calipari called Gonzaga coach Mark Few and told him how good of a post scorer Wiltjer can be, even though he never really had a chance to show that part of his game in Lexington.

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