Villanova Is Great Again; Is This the Year the Wildcats Deliver in March?
College basketball fans, especially casual fans, may consider the Villanova Wildcats a team of overrated chumps who fold whenever March comes around. After all, they were a No. 1 seed last year and No. 2 the year before — and went out in the Round of 32 each time. The Wildcats haven’t been to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2009, when Villanova won the East Region and advanced to the Final Four.
But losing in the tournament after one win doesn’t erase the quality work Villanova’s basketball teams have done over the past few seasons. Last season, the Wildcats stormed through the Big East, dropping just two games. They were in the top-25 nationally in both 2-point and 3-point shooting percentage. They rarely turned the ball over.
This season, they might be even better. Last night, the Wildcats beat Saint Joseph’s on Hawk Hill, 86-72. They only trailed once, 3-0. When St. Joe’s went on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to 5 with 12 minutes left, Ryan Arcidiacono nailed a three to quiet the crowd.
Yes, this was Villanova’s scare: The Wildcats were only up 5 in a game they previously led by 15. They won by 14 anyway. At the time of the close call, college basketball stats site Kenpom pegged Villanova’s win probability at just under 90 percent.
“All credit goes to Villanova. I hate, because everyone uses this, but they just had this culture about them,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said postgame, per City of Basketball Love. “A way of finding out where the hole was, where the weakness was and they exploited it.”
I guess you could call that “culture.” Or you might just say the Wildcats are pretty darn good. Kenpom now slots Villanova, who is 8th and 7th in media and coaches polls, as the No. 1 team in the country. The Pomeroy rankings are stat-based, and obviously that seems a little high: The Wildcats’ first road game was last night, and more than 200 teams have a tougher strength of schedule so far. But some of Villanova’s numbers are eye-popping.
Per Kenpom, the Wildcats are shooting 60.4 percent on two-pointers, 7th best in the country. And they almost never get blocked, so they’re getting good shots. The Wildcats are 7-0 (and haven’t really been tested) despite taking half their shots as 3s and only making 31 percent of them). Despite that, their effective field goal percentage — which weights threes an extra 50 percent — is 53.3, 75th best in the nation.
Combine that field goal percentage with a turnover rate of just 13.7 percent (11th-best nationally) and this is a team that can score. They have five players in the top-500 nationally in offensive rating (out of 2,229 eligible players). Arcidiacono, who hit the big three-pointer last night, is averaging 12.4 points and 4 assists a game. Josh Hart averages 15.4 points, Kris Jenkins 12.3 and Jalen Brunson 11.1. The Wildcats spread it around.
Villanova, so far, is one of the best defensive teams in the nation. Opponents make just 39.2 percent of their shots against them, second best in the country. Villanova doesn’t foul much. They force a bunch of turnovers. Their only defensive liability so far is giving up a bunch of offensive boards.
It’s early, and ’Nova doesn’t schedule as hard as, say, Temple does in the early season. But Jay Wright’s team is headed for another fantastic regular season. Fans just have to hope they can do this in March, too.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.