How the Villanova Wildcats Can Win It All

Why Villanova’s improved three-point percentage in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament is a sign the Wildcats could win the National Championship.

Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins (2) shoots against the Seton Hall Pirates in the second half of the championship game of the Big East conference tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins shoots against the Seton Hall Pirates in the second half of the championship game of the Big East conference tournament.

If there was one fault with the Villanova Wildcats this year, it was their three-point shooting.

The Wildcats went 29-5 during the regular season and Big East tournament. They were 16-2 in conference, winning it for the third straight year. Yet ’Nova struggled on three-pointers. Going into the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats made 291 threes this season. But they took 847 — making just 34.4 percent of their shots from long distance.

This had been a problem during the season. The Wildcats got blown out by Oklahoma in December because they made just 4 of 32 three-point attempts. They were 9 of 31 (29 percent) in their first Big East loss to Providence in January. Even some of their wins had middling three-point totals: In a 77-57 victory over Penn, the Wildcats hit just 1 of 11 three-point attempts.

College basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy wrote about Villanova’s struggles from long distance in December, when the Wildcats had made just 28.4 percent of their threes. He argued Villanova was likely to improve from three-point range: Guys like Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Phil Booth had been better three-point shooters in the past, while the team’s freshmen would probably get a little better as they adjusted to the college game. Plus, the Wildcats shoot exceptionally well on two-pointers: Including their two NCAA tournament games, they’ve hit 56.9 of their twos this season. That’s third in the nation, and first among teams who qualified for the NCAA tournament.

Pomeroy argued early in the season that past two-point percentage (along with a few other stats) is also predictive of future three-point percentage, though not to the extent that past three-point percentage is. But since Nova was so good at twos (as well as FT percentage, 3-point rate and turnover rate) the team would probably get a little better during the season.

“In using these stats to predict future 3-point percentage this season, Villanova has the 36th-best projection going forward at 36.3%,” Pomeroy wrote. He was right: The Wildcats shot well enough to improve their three-point percentage to 34.4 percent.

But in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats were even better. They hit 13 of their 28 three-point attempts in the first around against UNC Asheville. In fact, they were up just two points in that game before hitting a flurry of threes to end the first half. In the second round against Iowa, the Wildcats hit 10 of their 19 three-point attempts. The game was over by halftime. Villanova’s three-point percentage is now up to 35.1.

Wildcats From Beyond the Arc

Threes MadeThrees AttemptedPercentage
Regular Season29184734.4
Round of 64132846.4
Round of 32101952.6

Villanova plays Miami tomorrow at 7:10 p.m. in the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes allow their opponents to shoot 33.6 percent from three-point range (114th). That bodes well for another solid three-point shooting night for the Wildcats. Obviously, two tournament games is a very small sample size. But the Wildcats’ first two opponents were exceptionally good at three-point defense (whatever that is worth). UNC Asheville’s opponents hit just 29.6 percent of their threes this year (4th nationally). Iowa’s opponents hit 31.3 percent (30th in the country). The Wildcats didn’t back down from these formidable defenses: They shot a lot of threes, and they hit a ton of them.

If the Wildcats continue to shoot like they did in the first two rounds, they will win tomorrow — and probably keep winning. If they keep shooting like this, they could be cutting down the nets in a few weeks.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.