Are Villanova’s Smallest Lineups Its Most Effective?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 11th, 2017

Much has already been written about Omari Spellman’s ineligibility ruling at the beginning of the season, leaving Villanova light in the frontcourt with 6’9″ center Darryl Reynolds acting as the lone interior player. The prevailing concern at the time was that Jay Wright‘s team would struggle to both defend in the post and get abused on the glass, but that line of thinking has proven incorrect. Instead, Villanova’s offense has flourished, and the key to unlocking its full potential might just be re-calibrating the lineup to completely embrace small-ball. For all the discussion over the Wildcats’ elite offense last season, it’s hard to believe that this year’s team is almost two points per 100 possessions better. If Villanova finishes the season at this level of offensive efficiency, its 1.232 points per possession would rank as the fourth-highest of any college basketball team in the last five years. More remarkably, though, is what happens Wright removes Reynolds from the lineup. Take a close look a the table below.

The table shows a Wildcats’ lineup that includes Jalen BrunsonJosh HartKris Jenkins, Eric Paschall and either of Donte DiVicenzo or Mikal Bridges — in other words, a lineup that features no player taller than the 6’7″ Paschall, who was a wing at Fordham and has deftly assumed the role of an undersized center at Villanova. In this even smaller-ball lineup, offensive efficiency spikes further (1.28 PPP) and, given that all five players are comfortable handling the ball, turnovers correspondingly drop (-4.3%). Paschall is a better passer and more viable scoring threat than Reynolds (averaging 15.9 PPG at Fordham) with a demonstrated ability to hit perimeter shots. Moreover, he is dangerous in pick-and-roll situations and Wright can also choose to park him on the three-point line if he wants to open up the lane.

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Offensive Basketball: The Key to the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on March 24th, 2016

This year’s Sweet Sixteen is an odd group. The NCAA Tournament seems to have proven especially hard to predict this year, with lower seeded teams completely outplaying higher seeds, blowouts in games that should have been close, and all kinds of crazy endings. As we embark into the second weekend, what is left to hold on to as data analysts? How about offense? More than ever, the fickle filters of the Tournament have eliminated all but the very best offensive teams.

Iowa State's Offense, Led by Georges Niang, Ran into the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Iowa State’s Offense, Led by Georges Niang, Ran into the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Look at KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings and you’ll notice that just about every elite offensive team is still around. Kentucky (third in offensive efficiency) lost to Indiana (eighth), leaving top-ranked Michigan State as the only elite offensive team to get prematurely eliminated — we’ve since come to accept that loss for what it was and stopped trying to rationalize it. Even Syracuse, languishing behind the pack with the 52nd-best offense, has been playing extremely well on that end of the floor, rising 23 spots in the offensive rankings in just two games. This leaves buzzer-beating Wisconsin as the only other true outlier among the remaining teams, ranking 88th in offensive efficiency. What this tells us is that you need a great offense to survive the opening weekend, but is that anything new? Let’s look at the last five years to find out.

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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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Villanova Assistant Coach Doug Martin Forced to Resign — Why Was He Hired in the First Place?

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 13th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn .

Early last week Villanova announced the hiring of assistant coach Doug Martin, who formerly served similar positions at a private Catholic high school in Virginia as well as the Team Takeover AAU program, a traditional grassroots powerhouse based out of the fertile Washington DC-area recruiting grounds. The hire was questionable on several fronts, and it brought into clearer focus Villanova’s pursuit of Josh Hart, a member of Team Takeover and a prime target on the prospect market who currently holds offers from Memphis, Cincinnati, Arizona, Rutgers and the Wildcats, among others. Yet it wasn’t Martin’s ties to AAU basketball – and his potential role as a recruiting pipeline for Villanova – that cast legitimate doubts over his hiring. It was his resumé, which according to the school’s website said Martin “played collegiate basketball at UW-Green Bay for coach Dick Bennett from 1991-1995.” ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil unearthed the specifics of Martin’s factual inaccuracies shortly after the Wildcats released word of their newest employee. UWGB has no recollection of him playing there, nor is there any record of Martin on year-by-year statistics or available media guides from the 1990-91 through 1994-95 seasons, Martin’s indicated time frame of participation. His LinkedIn profile claims bachelor degrees from both UWGB and Viterbo University, an NAIA school in Wisconsin. But according to the Viterbo website, Martin played four seasons there rather than at UWGB. Villanova confirmed the inaccuracies over the weekend, and on Saturday announced Martin’s resignation.

The hiring of Martin raises the question of whether AAU-affiliated coaches will have greater access to assistant coaching positions at power-conference schools (Photo credit: H. Rumph Jr/AP Photo).

In today’s social media-crazed world, where any conceivable tidbit of important information is available at the push of a button, lying about your playing history while landing a job as an assistant at a power conference program is simply astonishing. Gone are the days when factual documentation was accepted with little in the way of thorough web-based analysis or speedy, credible cross-checking services. At first glance, Martin’s error doesn’t seem all that egregious. He never played at Wisconsin-Green Bay – as both his high school and Villanova biographical profile suggests – but rather at a different small-sized Wisconsin school. The two schools fall under different sublets of athletic classification (NCAA Division I and NAIA, respectively), which, by all accounts, is no minor error. Yet Martin’s playing past probably holds little, if any bearing on his ability to coach at one of the nation’s top-tier Division I programs some 20 years later. Don’t get me wrong, defrauding the hiring process, particularly at a time when it’s practically impossible to get away with such bait-and-switch maneuvering, is asinine. And Martin’s forced resignation was indeed the best and only way to handle the situation.

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