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Why Villanova is Unlikely to Repeat as National Champions


There’s no doubting that Villanova is one of the best teams in the country. They are No. 2 on KenPom, No. 2 in the polls and considered all but a lock for a No. 1 seed – likely in the East where they’ll get to play at Madison Square Garden. They have an All-American in Josh Hart, a couple NBA picks in Hart and Mikal Bridges and one of the more unique lineups in the country. They’ve been considered a top-5 team all season and they’ve had the best title defense we’ve seen since Florida was able to repeat. A lot of people will pick them to win the title again when the brackets come out in a week and a half. Now here’s the thing. I’m extremely hesitant on automatically placing them to repeat or even in the Final Four this year and that’s not to take away anything from this team has done. So the question is why the hesitation on a team that I just spent 150 words praising?

This chart right here:

Nova Shooting Trend

That’s incredibly alarming to see if you’re a Villanova fan or someone who has money on the Wildcats to win the national title again. So the million dollar question, which this blog will address at length, is why is the shooting tending down at an alarming rate?

1) Fatigue due to minutes played

It starts right here with something so basic. Villanova simply isn’t a deep team this year and is getting depleted by injuries and suspensions. We all know the Omari Spellman situation from before the season started, that immediately put Villanova a man down in the rotation. Then Phil Booth reinjured his surgically repaired left knee and has been listed as ‘day-to-day’ after the third game of the season. Hint: he’s not coming to play this year. There goes your sixth man from the title team last year and a guy who played an extremely vital role in the championship game win over Carolina. Recently it was Darryl Reynolds going down with a rib injury/bruised sternum. Now, granted he’s expected to come back for the Big East Tournament, he’s still missed the last five games leaving Villanova essentially with a six-man rotation.

That’s where you look and see the percentage of minutes played and get scared of fatigue. That plays a huge role in shooting. We see it every year with specific teams. Take a look at the top six in the rotation for Villanova with the percentage of minutes they’ve played this season:

Josh Hart- 83.4%

Kris Jenkins – 78.7%

Jalen Brunson – 78.5%

Mikal Bridges – 76.8%

Donte DiVincenzo – 61.9%

Eric Paschall – 53.1%

That’s incredibly alarming for a team that plays using drive and kicks and spreading you out with the 3-point shot. That’s especially true when you take out Reynolds and go with this small ball lineup with Paschall at the five and put him in the corner offensively to shoot threes. When you watch Villanova play you see fatigue – especially in Josh Hart. Again, that’s not a knock on him or his game, it’s just what happens when you’re defending a title and playing 83% of minutes through 30 games. His ability to drive and draw attention in the lane and kick to the open shooters is part of what makes him so good, as does his ability to rise and shoot. With heavy legs, he’s losing the strength when he pulls up to shoot, leaving a lot of his shots short. But, it brings me to my next point.

2) Reliance on spot up shooting and pick-and-pop in the offense

Just for the hell of it, I ran a scouting report for Villanova vs Louisville (the current No. 1 and 2 seeds in the East per Bracketology). Take a look at Nova’s offensive sets splits (they are in the blue):

Nova sets

They want to beat you in the spot up shooting game. They run it an absurd 28% of the time – granted they have been good at it this season ranking 37th in the country at 1.07 ppp, that original chart of the shooting trends is worrisome. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart – two of the better spot up shooters on the team – have struggled mightily this past month. They also happen to run this set the most with Jenkins at 23.43% of the time and Hart at 21.45% of the time – meaning nearly half of the spot up shots are coming from two guys currently struggling. Watching this play against Creighton over the weekend, you can see a little bit of this. The offense uses a ball screen and Jenkins relocating to pop for a three. But, the shot is short. There’s not great explosion in his legs when he shoots at this attempt either.

3) The importance of the 3-pointer

I’ve been on this kick for a while now when it comes to looking at 3PA/FGA on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Villanova needs to shoot the ball well to be successful the way they play right now. They are 25th in the country with 43.9% of 3PA/FGA. They don’t get to the foul line a lot, getting there just 34% of the time on field goal attempts (213th in the country). When looking at offensive rebounding percentage (something I like to look at hand-in-hand with 3PA/FGA) it’s middle of the road for Nova. They rank 150th getting offensive rebounds 30% of chances. Defensively? They aren’t much better. They give up 40.8% of 3PA/FGA while giving up offensive rebounds on 27.5% of the time. As the legs get more tired, the defense tends to get a little lazier, meaning these numbers could jump during NCAA Tournament play.

Take a look at their tempo and efficiency here:

Nova Tempo

They play a pretty slow place, which is normal for them, but they are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, averaging 1.051 points per possession. A lot of that is because they are getting 3 points down the trip instead of two. That number will decline if they don’t shoot the ball better the next couple of weeks, meaning that tempo could come back and bite them in the ass. If you’re not extremely efficient while playing 70-75 possessions a game, you need to improve your room for error. That means moving the possessions per game up towards 80-85, something that’s easier to do when you’re playing more than six guys.

The fact is last year they had the perfect storm. Ochefu was banged up in the Big East Tournament but came back healthy for the NCAA Tournament. Their offense was trending the right way and guys like Jenkins and Hart were already rising during this time of the year. This year? It’s opposite. They are limping into the Big East Tournament with injuries – though you still have to be amazed that they went undefeated in nonconference play and won the Big East – and an offense that’s starting to become full of questions. Last year they shot 58.3% from the floor and 51.9% from three during the six NCAA Tournament games to win the title. Those are pretty ridiculous numbers.

Again, this Villanova team is really good. They are one of the nine best teams in the country, but when you’re talking regular season vs NCAA Tournament it’s a little different. I absolutely love watching them play and think this is a Sweet 16/Elite Eight caliber team, I’m just hesitant on filling out the bracket with Villanova as national champs again. One thing to watch is the improvement of Jalen Brunson though. He’s sneakily becoming the most consistent player for them in the Big East, because Hart is just gassed and drawing all of the attention, which is leaving the lane open for Brunson to attack the rim where he’s so good. He’s going to be the key for them going forward and if he can continue to play at this high quality against NCAA Tournament teams.