Why Villanova’s Offense Is So Lethal

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 22nd, 2016

Let’s clear the air about something: Villanova is not a three-point reliant team in the traditional sense. A few rare instances aside, this is not a unit that will simply fire shots from the perimeter because three points is worth more than two. There is a logic behind its strategy, one that insists that Jay Wright‘s group is much more balanced than people think. The threes taken are seldom contested, a product of Villanova’s mechanical drive-and-dish offense that forces opponents to make a decision between preventing a layup or a three. And his personnel fits the system perfectly: Josh Hart is an incredibly effective finisher off the dribble; Daniel Ochefu is a deceivingly smart passer out of the low post; and Kris JenkinsRyan Arcidiacono and others are all strong shooters who force defenders to stay honest. There’s a reason Villanova is one of the most effective teams in the country at the rim (68.7%; 12th nationally) despite having only one player standing 6’8″ or taller. The four-out, one-in offense perfected by the NBA champion Golden State Warriors has allowed Villanova to become a lethal offensive group. Let’s take a look at how they run it.

First and foremost are a series of high-screens that puts pressure on opposing big men. Playing off the ball to defend the screener leaves the ball-handler with an open look, certain to be the wrong decision when defending a team full of shooters.

 

Hedging hard, however, forces a third defender to pick up the screener and leaves a different player open. Given how well Villanova spreads the floor, the decision by a defense to hedge is a gamble that the tertiary defender will be quick enough to recover to the perimeter.

 

Post play is also an important part of Villanova’s offense. For all of the talk about the guards, Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds convert field goals at rates in the 60 percent range, and both use a variety of post moves to score. This low-post effectiveness calls for another forced defensive decision: double-down on the post or sacrifice a high percentage shot.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 87, #7 Iowa 68

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villlanova's Offense Carved Up Iowa Today (USA Today Images)

Villlanova’s Offense Carved Up Iowa Today (USA Today Images)

  1. This isn’t the same Villanova team. The Wildcats look ready and determined to continue their NCAA Tournament run. Having now relieved the pressure of getting to the NCAA’s second weekend for the first time since 2009, Villanova removes that distraction and can focus completely on getting ready for Miami next week in Louisville. Jay Wright’s group has all the intangibles: chemistry, leadership and momentum. While its style of play is similar to last year’s group, this Villanova team is more talented and versatile. The three-point shot remains a key part of its attack, but added experience and an ability to get to the rim make this team better and more capable of advancing.
  2. Villanova doesn’t get enough credit for its defense. The Wildcats have ranked among the nation’s best defensive teams over the last four years but the story has repeatedly been about coming up short in the postseason. With that monkey now off their back, maybe they will have some attention paid to their consistently elite defense. It was on full display in the first half today as Iowa was completely shut off from the basket. The Hawkeyes shot just 40 percent from the floor overall and 7-of-18 (38.9 percent) from two-point range in a game that was decided by halftime. Villanova has shut down opponents all year (seventh in defensive efficiency) and that’s what will determine how far it advances.
  3. Shout out to Nicholas Baer. The Iowa walk-on had 15 points off the bench for Fran McCaffery’s team, the lone bright spot for the Hawkeyes on an otherwise rotten day. Baer saw 25 minutes of action, his second-highest total of the entire season. Even in a blowout loss, this had to be nice for Iowa fans. Baer is a skilled forward who will no doubt be offered a scholarship, and McCaffery has indicated as much already this season.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Villanova 86, #15 UNC Asheville 56

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Villanova Easily Handed Its Business Today (USA Today Images)

Villanova Easily Handed Its Business Today (USA Today Images)

  1. This was a complete and total rout. After a fairly slow start, Villanova broke this game open in the latter stages of the first half. After leading at the break by 14 points, the Wildcats kicked it into overdrive in using a 24-10 run spanning halftime to cement it away. Villanova looked in complete form on both ends of the floor as it shot 58 percent to UNC Asheville’s 37 percent. Five Wildcats scored in double figures and the 86 points represented one of Villanova’s most efficient offensive outings of the season.
  2. Daniel Ochefu looks healthy. After fighting his way through an ankle injury at last week’s Big East Tournament, Villanova’s senior center looked great today. Ochefu posted 17 points and 10 rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting, his eighth double-double of this season. If his team is to advance to the second weekend for the first time since 2009, Ochefu must play an important role. On a team that’s fairly undersized, he needs to be a force in the middle in order to protect the rim and open up the wings and driving lanes. When Ochefu is playing well and commanding a double team, Villanova’s offense is dynamic and difficult to defend.
  3. Villanova effectively tested two styles of play today. In the first half the Wildcats bombed away from three-point range and that allowed UNC Asheville to hang around. Villanova attempted 17 threes before the break but cut that down to only 11 attempts after halftime. In the second half there was more of an emphasis to get the ball inside either through Ochefu or dribble penetration. Villanova has long been criticized for the high volume of three-point shots it takes (24th nationally this year) but it is one of the best teams in two-point percentage as well. If the Wildcats can work the ball inside with Hart’s penetration and Ochefu’s skill set on the low block, they can advance deep in this NCAA Tournament.

Star of the Game: Daniel Ochefu, Villanova. Ochefu has struggled in fighting through an ankle injury since a great performance in a win over Marquette on February 27. He had totaled only 24 points over Villanova’s last five games before today’s 17-point effort, and the senior appeared to have gained back a lot of the mobility lost with the injury, although he still had a large ice pack taped to his ankle after the game. Villanova can’t win a national championship without a healthy Ochefu so his play today is a great sign.

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Big East’s Burning Questions: NCAA Tournament Edition

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 16th, 2016

With five NCAA Tournament teams seeded anywhere from #2 to a #9, the expectations for the Big East this season are all over the map. Let’s take a look at the single biggest question surrounding the postseason success of each program heading into the first weekend.

Is this the year Jay Wright and company finally make their long awaited run to the Final Four? (Getty)

Is this the year Jay Wright’s group finally makes another run? (Getty)

VillanovaCan the Wildcats finally break through to the Sweet Sixteen? This narrative has seemingly lasted forever. After a number of exits in the Second Round, many pundits are writing off Jay Wright‘s squad. The reasons are all over the place: a lack of true NBA-level talent; a lack of interior depth; limited athleticism; over-reliance on the three-pointer. But what the narrative fails to capture is that the team’s dynamic continues to evolve with each passing year — players gain experience, develop new skill sets and build cohesion. People desperately wanted to craft the three-point shooting storyline around this year’s team but it simply hasn’t held up. Yes, Villanova shoots threes, but they are rarely contested. They are simply a manifestation of an offense where the primary options are to use Josh Hart in the lane or Daniel Ochefu on the low block. Iowa isn’t the type of team to give Villanova problems, nor is an undersized and poor-shooting Temple team. Expect the narrative to finally unwind this March.

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Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 15th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) breaks down the South Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC South Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCsouthregion).

Region: South

Favorite: #1 Kansas (30-4, 15-3 Big 12). Who else? With perhaps his least talented squad in recent memory (from an NBA perspective), Bill Self led Kansas to yet another Big 12 regular season title – its 12th in a row – and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks enter the Dance on a 14-game winning streak and its 30 wins include victories over Kentucky, Oklahoma, West Virginia (twice), and Baylor (twice). One of only two teams with four losses, Kansas possesses such a complete resume, such a cohesive roster, and such strong advanced metrics that it’s hard not to consider the Jayhawks odds-on National Championship favorites, much less favorites in the South. Self’s group ranks #1 in KenPom – with offensive and defensive efficiency numbers near the top – and boasts one of the country’s best players in 6’8” forward Perry Ellis (16.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG). Scoring is seldom an issue with Ellis, Devonte’ Graham (44% 3FG) and Wayne Selden Jr. (13.3 PPG) in tow, and nearly every player on the roster plays consistently stingy, team-oriented man-to-man defense. Even if it faces a high-talent opponent like #4 seed California or an experienced, spread-you-out club like #2 seed Villanova, Kansas easily remains the best bet from the region to reach Houston.

Expect more smiles from Kansas in the coming weeks. (Nick Krug)

Expect more smiles from Kansas over the next few weeks. (Nick Krug)

Should They Falter: #2 Villanova (29-5, 16-2 Big East). If you’re down on the Wildcats, don’t be. Sure, they lost to Seton Hall in the Big East title game, and yes, their recent NCAA Tournament record isn’t great – Jay Wright’s team has not reached the second weekend since 2009 despite being a #2 seed or better three times. But if past performance is no sure indicator of future results, then there’s also no reason to think that Villanova – with one of college basketball’s most balanced rosters – cannot make a very deep run. The Big East regular season champions rank among the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, with five players averaging more than 9.7 PPG and a true rim protector in 6’11’ senior Daniel Ochefu (7.8% block rate). The bottom half of the South is not swelling with raw talent, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect the Wildcats and their spread attack to push deep into March.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Temple (21-11, 14-4 American Athletic). Temple’s inclusion as a #10 seed seems to be proof that the committee simply didn’t give a darn about advanced metrics – nor quality non-conference wins, for that matter. The Owls enter the NCAA Tournament as the lowest-ranked at-large selection in KenPom (#86 overall) by a staggering 26 spots, with perhaps their best non-conference victory being a five-point neutral court win over 8-23 Minnesota. If its KenPom number holds, Temple will finish the season as the lowest-ranked at-large unit since Colorado State in 2012 (95th). Yuck.

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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 Josh Hart Is Becoming An All-American Candidate

Posted by Chris Stone on January 18th, 2016

With 17 seconds remaining in Villanova’s 55-50 victory over Georgetown on Saturday, the Wildcats’ Josh Hart delivered the proverbial dagger. In basketball parlance, daggers are typically big shots that put games out of reach, but on Saturday, Hart’s dagger came in the form of a timeout. Sprawled on the floor as Villanova held a a 51-46 lead, Hart signaled to the baseline official for the timeout as Hoyas began to pile on top of him. Moments earlier, the Villanova swingman had skied high for a rebound, his 12th of the game, off a Reggie Cameron missed three-pointer that would have closed the deficit to two. “You can’t teach the guts to just lay your body out and go get the ball like that,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright told the media after the win. “You see that and you just say, ‘Thank God he’s on our team.'”

Josh Hart is becoming more than Villanova's sixth man. (Associated Press)

Josh Hart is becoming more than just Villanova’s sixth man. (Associated Press)

Hart, a 6’5″ junior, is the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on KenPom’s #1 ranked team, but you won’t find his name on many mid-season All-American lists. The omission is a bit perplexing given that Hart wasn’t exactly an unknown heading into the year. He was the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year a season ago, a year in which he also became the first non-starter to win the Big East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. Now, Hart is averaging 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the surging Wildcats. His 15-point, 12-rebound performance against Georgetown is just the latest in a long line of impressive outings this season.

The transition from sixth man to starter hasn’t necessarily been a smooth one, however. “It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster,” Hart said of the switch. According to him, the biggest adjustment has been making sure that he starts the game well. “Last year, I could watch everything going on and then get into it. Now, I have to jump start the team,” he said after Saturday’s victory. While Hart finished with 12 rebounds against Georgetown, just one of those came in the first half. Luckily for the Wildcats, slow starts don’t seem to bother Hart. At halftime, he said he told himself that “If I’m not going to score, I’m going to rebound, I’m going to help this team.”

That team-first mentality is also a reflection of Hart’s evolution as a leader. The upperclassman has a healthy respect for the Wildcats who have come before him. “I’m a junior now. Now, I don’t have the James Bells, the Darrun Hilliards, the [JayVaughn Pinkstons], the Tony Chennaults,” Hart said in reference to seniors who have graduated during his tenure. “I don’t have those guys to kind of lean on, now I’m going into that leadership role.”

As Hart becomes more comfortable with his role as a starter and leader, he’s also been working hard to improve himself as an individual player. He works with associate head coach Baker Dunleavy “every day” on various aspects of his game. There has been obvious growth in a number of areas of Hart’s skill set since he arrived at Villanova from Sidwell Friends School three years ago, but the talent that he’s improved most is his jump shot. “I think everyone saw my shot freshman year. It was probably one of the ugliest things—had a crazy hitch. It was just atrocious,” he said after Saturday’s win as teammate Ryan Arcidiacono flashed a big smile. Since shooting 31.3 percent from three-point range his freshman season, Hart is an impressive 79-for-190 from deep (41.6%).

Hart opened Saturday's contest with a steal and a dunk. (USA Today Sports)

Hart opened Saturday’s contest with a steal and dunk. (USA Today Sports)

This rollercoaster ride isn’t an accident. Villanova has created an environment for Hart to grow from role player to sixth man to star. He frequently credits his coaches and his teammates with helping him grow the confidence necessary for the improvement. According to Hart, the next step in his personal development is to improve his decision-making when he gets into the lane. “You just have to get the work in,” he said.

While timeouts are rarely remembered as game-changing, Hart’s rebound and call for time against Georgetown was the critical moment of the Wildcat win. It also provided a solid reflection of the ethos of both team and star — Hart and the group he leads have proven quite committed to doing everything possible to help the Wildcats win. Those type of players typically find their way onto “glue guy” lists, but Josh Hart is much more than that. Don’t be surprised if the name of Villanova’s newest leader shows up on All-American lists at the end of the season.

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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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Risen From the Dead: The Big East is Back!

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 30th, 2015

As we sit on the precipice of celebrating the New Year, two conferences have landed four teams in the top 16 of the AP Poll. One is, of course, the ACC, monstrous in both size and basketball dominance. A league that stretches from Miami to South Bend to Boston, with a whopping 15 members located in that absurd triangle. The other is the Big East. Yes, that Big East. The star of ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary “Requiem for the Big East”. The conference with a Wikipedia page declaring that it ended three years ago. The same Big East who inspired headlines like “The Big East is dead (or at least dying). Long live the Big East” and “How the Big East died and was dead all along.” A Google search of “Big East is dead” fetches over 68 million results. SIXTY-EIGHT MILLION!

Jay Wright's crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

Jay Wright’s crew leads an incredibly deep Big East conference this season. (Getty)

And yet, the current iteration would certainly beg to differ. After the “Catholic Seven” refused to let their conference go by the wayside, they’ve done more than exist or tread water. Last season, six Big East clubs reached the Big Dance. That’s more than football powers like the SEC and the Pac-12 and just as many as the giant ACC. Having a swath of teams reach the tournament says one thing about a conference. Having four teams reach the turn of the calendar highly ranked with non-delusional plans of reaching the Final Four says something more. Whether through a stroke of luck or genius, the Big East schedule opens Thursday with two nationally televised games pitting these four teams against one another. #16 Villanova hosts #6 Xavier at noon, followed by #10 Providence traveling to play at #9 Butler. Butler then turns right around and heads to Xavier on Saturday.

Consider this long holiday weekend the first foray into what is sure to be a season long battle for the conference crown between four teams all capable of deep runs in March.

Villanova

Villanova, the most familiar with tournament success among the group of four, came into the season with heavy expectations. Ryan Arcidiancono returned for his senior season, along with experienced talent in Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, and Phil Booth. Big name freshman recruit Jaylen Brunson joined the fold, expected to make all of his now teammates lives much easier. Thus far they’ve nearly lived up to the hype, save for losses to two highly ranked foes, Oklahoma (on a neutral court) and Virginia (on the road). The Cats’ biggest issue has been a frigid start from long range, shooting merely 31 percent on the year. The cold start has been led by Booth (49% last year) shooting 27 percent and Kris Jenkins (37% in the two prior years) firing an ugly 29 percent on nearly seven attempts per game. In Jay Wright’s dribble-drive offense, led by playmaking by Arcidiacono and Brunson, shooting on the perimeter will not only increase scoring, but will open space for slashers or Ochefu operating on the post. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2015

One season removed from sending six of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has again started the season with a bang. To date, the conference has amassed an 18-13 record against teams currently ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, with only Creighton, DePaul and St. John’s not yet in the win column. Against Power Five conference opponents, the league as a whole sports a 16-12 record. With a strong start under its belt, the question will inevitably turn to how many teams the Big East can place in the NCAA Tournament this year? It is probably safe to say that a minimum of four will go with a good chance for a fifth given the way Providence has been playing. However, it is still early and a lot of things can happen between now and March. As far as a sixth team, the odds are not as great but there is something of a chance. Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton could very well fight for the sixth and final Big East NCAA berth when all is said and done in this league.

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

Jay Wright and Villanova, who sit at the top of the Big East standings at 7-0, is leading what is a tremendous conference pack so far this season. (Getty)

Right now, the edge would have to go to the Golden Eagles and Pirates. While Marquette’s (5-2) weak non-conference schedule will be an anchor, the Golden Eagles are a team that should get better as the season moves along and could win 10 games in the league. Its two wins before Thanksgiving at the Barclays Center against LSU and Arizona State were critical after starting the season with two early losses. As for Seton Hall (5-2), it has quietly picked up top-100 victories over Georgia and Mississippi and has another chance to grab a quality win at home against a banged-up Wichita State team that should get back to playing good hoops once Fred VanVleet returns. If Kevin Willard’s squad can finish the non-conference slate at 10-2 and get to 9-9 in conference, it will be right on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Creighton is in a tough position because of a non-conference schedule that provides limited opportunities for quality wins. It has already lost at Indiana, and while a game at Oklahoma later this month is certainly a top-notch opponent, it is unrealistic to think the Bluejays can win that one. After blowing a great chance for a top-100 win this week at home against Arizona State, Greg McDermott’s team will have a lot of work to do in conference play. Ultimately, five NCAA teams seems like the proper over/under for the Big East this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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