Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 65, #1 Villanova 62

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2017

In this NCAA Tournament’s first major upset, #1 overall seed Villanova fell to #8 Wisconsin in a tough, back-and-forth game decided in the closing seconds.

Greg Gard’s veteran group is back in the Sweet Sixteen. (M.P. King, State Journal)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Wisconsin showed serious grit. In control for the opening 20 minutes, Wisconsin surrendered its narrow lead midway through the second half before falling behind 57-50 with 5:31 remaining. Its defense, which had been so excellent for most of the game (“They’re good defensively… we’re trying to figure it out,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said at halftime), let off the pedal to some extent. Meanwhile, two of the Badgers’ best players — Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ — were saddled with foul trouble. Things began to look dire. So how did Greg Gard’s group respond? By preventing the reigning National Champion from making a single field goal from there on out. It was a tough, gritty performance by Wisconsin — perhaps one you’d expect from a team led by tested seniors.
  2. Remember Nigel Hayes? He’s still really good. Once considered a National Player of the Year candidate, Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes took a back seat this season to frontcourt mate Ethan Happ, who earned Second Team All-America honors. But Happ, along with point guard Bronson Koenig, were both forced to sit the bench for far longer than expected on Saturday. The sophomore picked up his third foul early in the second half; Koenig picked us his fourth with 13:40 remaining. That’s when Hayes stepped up. The 6’8″ senior scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, including the game-winning bucket with 14 seconds left. He also grabbed five offensive rebounds and was extremely active on defense. In a game that lacked much rhythm, Hayes provided a confidence and consistency that carried the Badgers to the Sweet Sixteen.
  3. Villanova never hit its stride this Tournament. The reigning National Champion was dominant for much of the regular season, slicing and dicing opponents with its tremendous ball movement and lockdown capabilities on the defensive end. But that team, the dominant one, never made it to Buffalo. After a lethargic effort against #16 Mount St. Mary’s on Thursday, Villanova put forth another sluggish, uneven effort on Saturday. This time, however — against a more evenly-matched opponent — the Wildcats weren’t able to skate by on talent alone. Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart played well (19 points), but it wasn’t enough against a tough, defensive-minded team like Wisconsin.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Rushed Reactions: Villanova 55, Seton Hall 53

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2017

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

Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado Expressed His Agony After the Buzzer (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Villanova’s defensive versatility once again saved the day. Even though the team’s 1-2-2 full court press hasn’t been as effective as last season, Wright still successfully employed it interchangeably with a 2-3 zone and its patented switching man-to-man tonight. Throwing out different looks not only forces opponents to re-adjust their offensive sets, but it also takes valuable time off the shot clock. Despite a lack of height and Eric Paschall’s lingering foul trouble, the Wildcats’ defense challenged Seton Hall’s paint-dominant and relentless style of play, holding the Pirates to just 0.90 points per possession and ultimately curtailing Angel Delgado‘s 13-game double-double streak.
  2. Seton Hall’s half-court offense has come a long way since November. Much has been said about the post-Isaiah Whitehead adjustment period, but over the last few weeks this team looks radically different in its half-court execution. Even though forward Desi Rodriguez is still struggling with his outside shot, his dribble-drive threat remains the team’s most reliable source of scoring opportunities. Being able to attack the rim with his 215-pound frame also provides the benefit of room and rebounding chances for Delgado, the nation’s leading rebounder. Seton Hall’s lack of a true passing point guard is unquestionably overcome by its penchant for attacking the rim in one-on-one situations.
  3.  At the end of the day, playmaking abilities won out. At the risk of sounding too cliché, this could not have proven truer on Friday night. In a game between two down-tempo, physical teams, the total score barely eclipsed the century mark. The 59-possession affair put a premium on making the most of limited opportunities in the closing minutes; supported by both Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, Villanova simply had the better playmakers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Kris Jenkins Remains Vital to Villanova’s Repeat Hopes

Posted by Eugene Rapay on March 2nd, 2017

Last season, Villanova‘s Kris Jenkins nailed the shot of a lifetime — a dream state buzzer-beater that lifted the Wildcats to their second National Championship. If Jay Wright‘s club hopes to enjoy another deep run in the NCAA Tournament this March and April, he will need his clutch forward to become a more reliable and efficient scoring threat. During last year’s title run, Jenkins peaked at just the right time. A pedestrian 10.4 PPG scoring average on 38.7 percent shooting (30.1% 3FG) in non-conference play ceded to 15.2 PPG on an improved 48.7 percent shooting (42.6% 3FG) clip over the last 27 games of the season. Jenkins was held to fewer than 10 points in six of last year’s first 13 games, but he hit for double-figures in 24 of the remaining bunch. His stark improvement was predicated on picking his spots and working off of leading scorer Josh Hart. Although Villanova’s offense works best when spreading the floor and moving the ball around to get multiple players involved, it certainly helped the team by having two reliable go-to scoring options.

Boom. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Jenkins this season has shown flashes of last year’s versatile and effective wing, but there have also been instances where has has not been as much of a factor. His scoring and shooting percentages (13.2 PPG, 39.5 FG%) have fallen, and even though his three-point shooting percentage is slightly higher (38.9%), he hasn’t shown the same consistency from beyond the arc. As a matter of fact, the senior is currently logging the lowest offensive efficiency rating (114.7) of his four-year career, suffering through several cold shooting spells. A particularly tough shooting slump began on January 24 against Marquette, the start of a five-game dry spell that included four single-figure performances and 21.2 percent shooting from long range. Just when it seemed that he may have shaken off the slump in an excellent 22-point game against Seton Hall, he relapsed in recent contests against Butler and Creighton, shooting 30.4 percent from the floor and making just 2-of-12 three-pointers.

This inconsistency represents a different storyline from a player who was so instrumental to Villanova’s postseason success a year ago. As Wright manages a narrow seven-man rotation beset by various injuries, he needs to be able to rely on Jenkins as a consistent second scoring option behind Hart. The decorated senior has certainly demonstrated that he is capable of fulfilling that role, but he’s running out of time to locate his comfort level with the ball in his hands. With the end of the regular season staring the defending champions in the face this weekend, the Wildcats are hoping that he finds his stroke just as the stakes increase.

Share this story

Marquette’s Offense Drives the Golden Eagles Into March

Posted by Mike Knapp on February 25th, 2017

Marquette has had an up-and-down season to this point. The Golden Eagles are 17-10 (8-7 Big East) with a resume that includes nice wins over Villanova and Creighton as well as head-scratching losses to St. John’s and Georgetown. Their most glaring flaws are on the defensive end of the floor (where they rank 138th nationally, per KenPom), but their inconsistency can also be attributed to a lack of an offensive go-to option. Marquette’s top players — who, it should be noted, are clearly buying into the team concept — cannot individually match the output provided by First Team All-Big East contenders such as Josh Hart (Villanova), Marcus Foster (Creighton) or even Trevon Bluiett (Xavier). What head coach Steve Wojciechowski lacks in star power, however, he has in depth, which makes the Golden Eagles a dangerous squad to face in March.

Marquette is Going to Create Some Problems in March (USA Today Images)

Marquette currently has six players averaging between 10.1 and 12.5 points per game, five of whom stand between 5’10” and 6’6” and are virtually interchangeable in the Golden Eagles’ up-tempo, three-point happy offense. That offense is the team’s driver, ranking first nationally in three-point shooting at 41.9 percent and among the top quarter of the sport in adjusted tempo. Four of Wojchiechowski’s rotation players – Katin Reinhardt, Andrew Rowsey, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser – are shooting at least 38 percent from beyond the arc, making an average of two or more per contest. The Golden Eagles’ pronounced ability to spread the floor with multiple shooters makes them nearly impossible to guard in the half-court, but what really rounds out the Marquette offense is its anchor in the post. Senior big man Luke Fischer leads the team in player efficiency, rebounding and blocked shots, and his offensive game is as diverse as it is proficient. The 6’11” center can play with his back to the basket, possessing great touch around the rim, but he is also capable of acting as the roll man off screens. He may not be the most athletic big man in the Big East, but he makes up for it with his meticulous shot selection and skill set – Fischer currently ranks 21st nationally in effective field goal percentage.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

How Tournament-Proof Are the Nation’s Top Five Offenses?

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 18th, 2017

This year multiple coaches across the country have conceded publicly that a team’s offense is the biggest factor in its ability to maintain a defense. “Defense wins championships” may still be a treasured maxim, but the truth is that offense is the fuel in college basketball. The question then becomes one of how vulnerable the best offenses in college basketball are to a one-game slump? Since only a single bad night is all it takes to be sent home from the NCAA Tournament, it’s worth investigating the nation’s top five offenses to set some criteria for evaluating the rest of the field. Per KenPom, here are the top five offenses nationally based on adjusted offensive efficiency, along with their corresponding adjusted tempo.

Team Adj. ORtg Adj. Tempo
1. UCLA 124.5 14.1 (6)
2. Oklahoma State 123.9 16.5 (91)
3. North Carolina 122.2 15 (16)
4. Gonzaga 122.2 15.7 (33)
5. Villanova 121.7 18.8 (314)


As the tempo column shows, teams can play at both warp speed (UCLA, North Carolina, Gonzaga) or at a relative crawl (Villanova) and still be extremely effective. That said, to the extent that the game slows somewhat in the NCAA Tournament, it is reasonable to suggest that some of these teams may face more trouble than others. 
The Bruins, Tar Heels and Bulldogs all use a healthy dose of tempo when they play. This is not to say that any of those three teams cannot also win a low-possession game, but their opponents would certainly be better-suited to impose a slowdown game on them to the extent possible. Villanova has already proven its favored pace can win championships. The next question then becomes which of the faster teams are most poised to handle a grind-it-out half-court game?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 10th, 2016

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

1stteam

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story