Villanova Tournament Primer


Looking at the East Region, which teams are a threat to ‘Nova?… Alabama, West Virginia, & idk, maybe Purdue.

I’ll be honest, I truly think ‘Nova drew the easiest region of the four 1-seeds. Not only is Purdue the weakest 2-seed, but Texas Tech is the weakest 3-seed. As the two potential Elite Eight matchups I don’t see any possible scenario where ‘Nova isn’t a huge favorite… But I know what you’re thinking: why look ahead to the Elite Eight when they’ll find a way to break our hearts in the Round of 32 anyway?

And you’re right.

9 Alabama — 19-15 (8-10) 9th in SEC

Prior to the bracket being released I planned on mentioning the second round game as a trap regardless of matchup. Then when I saw Alabama was slotted at the 9-spot I doubled down on that concern.

‘Bama is led by former McDonald’s All-American and future top-10 pick Colin Sexton. This dude can flat our score the rock and is the type of player that can carry a team to a win on any given day. Brunson may be the reigning National Player of the Year but he won’t be the most talented player on the court if these teams matchup, Sexton will be. He averages 19 on 44% shooting and assists on over a quarter of his teammates field goals.

‘Nova is no stranger to a second round upset – St. Mary’s in 2010, UConn in 2014, NC State in 2015, and Wisconsin in 2017. If an early round upset is in store for Villanova again you can bet it’s at the hands of Sexton and ‘Bama.

5 West Virginia — 24-10 (11-7) 3rd in Big 12

If it seems like West Virginia is a 4 or 5 seed every season that’s because they are. They were a 5 in 2015, 4 in 2017, and here they are again as a 5-seed. In each of the previous instances they were viewed as a serious threat in the Sweet 16 to the respective 1-seed, and this season I don’t look at it any different.

“Press Virginia”  is still alive and well in Morgantown as Bob Huggins has his team creating chaos as usual. They’re second in the country in turnover margin and force a whopping 16.5 per game. This is their identity on defense, and it’s the blueprint to beat anybody.

‘Nova should be well practiced in beating full and 3/4 court zone pressure, as they employ a 1-2-2 press themselves. They’re more than capable of handling this zone and creating easy buckets out of it but it’s easier said than done — if their press was something that could be easily prepared for they wouldn’t use it.

Offensively, West Virginia is similar to ‘Bama in the sense that they’re led by a single offensive juggernaut in Jevon Carter. Carter is an experienced senior who’s no stranger to carrying his team in the tournament; just last season he scored 24 in a second round win over Norte Dame and 21 of his teams’ 58 points in their three-point loss to Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

West Virginia has a real ability to turn you over — even a team as polished as ‘Nova isn’t impervious to that. If WVU can find a way to go on a couple big runs then Javon Carter is capable of finishing off an upset.

2 Purdue — 28-6 (15-3) 3rd in Big Ten

If Jay Wright can manage to avoid those letdowns then another test could be second-seeded Purdue – if for no other reason than they’re the 2-seed.

There was a chance that Duke or UNC wound up on the 2-line here, and those teams would have presented ‘Nova with concerns regarding size and athleticism but that’s not an issue with Purdue, who lacks the blue-chip recruits of a blue blood.

They’re offense mainly runs through all-Big Ten guard, Carson Edwards, and dynamic big man, Isaac Haas. Beyond those two, however, they don’t bring much to the table. They only have two additional players averaging at least five shots and ten points per game, and they tend to rely on isolation rather than creating for each other. All of which spells doom against a team like ‘Nova. And while they’re defense is above average (28th in the country) it isn’t enough to slow the #1 offense in the slightest.

They really don’t carry the typical threat of a 2-seed. When the bracket was released in 2016, seeing Kansas in our region felt like a death sentence. Juxtapose that with now and Purdue seems like a gift from the basketball gods.

Listing them here as a “threat” is a mere formality with them being the second highest seed in the region. In truth, it’s a real testament to how easy ‘Nova’s path to the Final Four might be.

The clear advantage this team has over past ‘Nova teams?… Superstars (plural).

Is ‘Nova still the same offensive juggernaut of season’s past? Absolutely. They share the ball, spread the floor, and shoot threes just like teams of the past.

The quiet difference that this team boasts is two bona-fide superstars. While the nuts and bolts of what make their offense so team-oriented are still there, having the presumed National Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson, and projected NBA Lottery pick, Mikael Bridges, has allowed them to post the most explosive offense in school history.

Brunson is a bruising guard whose size and craftiness allow him to seemingly get in the lane at will. Pair that with a feathery shooting touch and incredibly high IQ and it’s no wonder why he’s the best Villanova point guard since Scottie Reynolds.

At the same time Bridges is projected to enter the NBA Draft early where he will likely become the first Villanova player to be taken in the lottery since Randy Foye (2007). He bucks the profile of a typical Villanova player; for as long as I’ve watched this team they’ve used three and four guard lineups – lacking the long athletic forward. But Bridges is a matchup nightmare who can drop 30 on any given night while locking down the opponents’ top scorer. Not too bad for a guy who’s “second fiddle” to the National Player of the Year, Brunson.

‘Nova rarely has one “superstar” at the level of these players, let alone two. In the past, when the teams selfless offense has stalled the absence of a superstar became glaring. That hasn’t been a problem for this year’s unit – who, even when out of rhythm offensively, are capable of burning you because of the presence of these two elite players.

The one concern this team has that past ‘Nova teams haven’t?… Defense.

Villanova ranks 22nd in the nation in defensive efficiency. For perspective, each of the past four seasons they’ve ranked 12th or higher. While 22 isn’t bad by any stretch of the measure, it’s a concern relative to their typical play.

On more than one occasion ‘Nova has seen Big East opponents go blow for blow with them offensively for large stretches of the game. In the past, when ‘Nova takes care of business offensively the game is typically in hand because of their borderline impregnable defense; this season, they’ve allowed lesser opponents to hang around in games that should otherwise be over.

That won’t fly in the tournament. Their offense may be scoring at a historic pace but they can’t be relied on to win six straight shootouts against what figure to be quality opponents.

The good news is they showed glimpses of that elite defense in the Big East Tourney. For long stretches on Saturday Providence seemed without an answer for the Villanova defense.

With the ability to switch all five positions it’s hard to get good looks against ‘Nova. On top of that, the hard-nosed, big-bodied players that Jay Wright recruits are usually tough individual defenders, making mismatches near impossible to find. I have to figure that part of the teams step back in defense has more to do with complacency than anything else. They seemed to take things up a notch this past weekend and if that’s the case then this concern is overblown. But if this past weekend is just wishful thinking and they don’t step up from 22nd in the country then their defense – or lack thereof – will be the reason they disappoint us once again.

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