Scouting Villanova!! The Best Vanilla on the Market!!
Andy Mac Williams,
The Muskies will be considerable underdogs when they tip-off against Villanova Saturday at 2:30 (Fox National-19WXIX locally) in the Cintas Center. Las Vegas likes VU as does Ken Pomeroy. That's a rarity and a tribute to the sustained brilliance of the Villanova program under Head Coach Jay Wright who's in search of his 500th career victory in Cincy(combined record at Hofstra and Villanova). I'd suggest he wait until his Wildcats play DePaul in Chicago Monday evening. It's a bigger media market and there are more restaurant options for a celebration.
XU's seldom a "Dog" at home. They're 12-1 at Cintas this season(lone loss 81-76 to Creighton courtesy of brutal FT shooting) and win about 9 out of every 10 along aptly named Victory Parkway.
VU's resume is impressive-almost impeccable though. You may have heard!! The Wildcats from Philadelphia won the 2016 NCAA Championship taking out the North Carolina Tarheels 77-74 under a dome in Houston with Xavier nemesis Kris Jenkins canning that buzzer beater three pointer for a March Madness iconic moment. VU koed Kansas and Oklahoma with National Player of the Year Buddy Heild on the way to the Title.There were no bracket upsets or short cuts in their run.
Xavier did beat Villanova at Cintas last February 90-83 when they were rated #1. Negative nellies will note that Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis played key roles that day for the Muskies and Jenkins fouled out early courtesy of J.P. Macura's clever play.
It's a new season,but Nova is still loaded(23-2,10-2 in the Big East,4 straight wins,#2 in Both Top 25s,#2 in the RPI). Their resume' includes non-conference wins over Purdue(in West Lafayette),Notre Dame(37 points for Josh Hart) and a gritty National TV comeback "W" over Top 10 Virginia(ACC) just a couple week ago on a tip-in near the buzzer by emerging RS Frosh star Donte DiVincenzo(6-5 plays 1-2 or 3-knicknamed the Michael Jordan of Delaware).
Villanova won by 10 at Creighton when they had Mo Watson. They clobbered the Muskies 79-54 back on Jan 10th at the Pavilion(currently a 48 game win streak there). Their losses are at Butler 66-58 when the Bulldogs made all their FTs and held turnovers to low single digits and controlled tempo and coaxed VU to shoot a bunch of contested threes and at Marquette 74-72 when MU clawed back from a late 13 point hole-gambled using a 1-3-1 zone and again got Nova to jack up some poor long shots.
Certainly,Villanova is beatable-but they seldom cooperate and beat themselves with poor shot selection or turnovers or foul trouble. VU is deadly at the foul line also(80.2% #3 among 351 D-1 teams). Xavier's TEAM 95 has a tough assignment.
HOW IS VILLANOVA DIFFERENT??
Chris Mack described Jay Wright's team as "vanilla" the other day. It was a supreme compliment!! VU has a system and a process and they are sticking to it. They play their game and execute so well you can scout and game plan until the cows become steaks at the packing plant and they still crush you. Wright loves an 8 man rotation usually with one BIG and four versatile tweeners on the floor and 3 off the bench.
Nova shoots a lot of threes(44% of their shots-21st NCAA) but they rebound their long misses at a high rate and just recycle the shot clock. Junior guard Phil Booth who dropped 20 points on Carolina in the NCAA Title game has been out since November with a sore knee. Looks like he will red shirt. 6-10 Top 50 recruit Omari Spellman is sitting out due to an NCAA technicality. So Wright plays 7 guys. That's meant a bit more zone defense.a starting role for rangy 6-7 Junior Mikal Bridges who bottled up Buddy Heild in the Oklahoma NCAA Semi and extra minutes for Divencenzo and Fordham transfer Eric Paschall(6-7,250-energy guy).
The team core is three Seniors plus Soph PG Jalen Brunson. Josh Hart(19PPG-National Player of the Year Contender) Cris Jenkins(13PPG-3 point sniper-XU kryptonite) and 6-9 BIG Darryl Reynolds are 120-15 in their 4 VU seasons so far.
They've never lost consecutive games(That's not an issue Saturday because Nova won Tuesday against Georgetown). They've won 3 straight BE regular season titles with 16-2,16-2 and 16-2 records and they're 7-1 against Xavier(2-1 at Cintas-the Villanova victories here in 2014 and 2015 were close and competitive-XU led both years at the half-VU won both at Cintas in the final 4 minute wars with unreal play from graduated PG Ryan Archidacano. Daniel Ochefu(shot blocker-inside scorer) is gone also(NBA).Reynolds replaces him(not as dynamic but solid and knows his role).
Brunson is the man at PG(14PPG-4 assists). He is a bull. His match-up with XU Frosh PG Quentin Gooden should be fun and physical and crucial.
ViILLANOVA DOES IT WITH DEFENSE:
The Wildcats allow a stingy 63PPG. They change defenses constantly looking to confuse and speed you up. They trap on the wings and jump the guards with a diamond 1-2-1-1 press using Bridges at the top.
Nova turns loose ball turnovers into points at a scary rate thus their gaudy 59% shooting on two pointers(lay-ups and dunks). They rebound at plus 5/game without a gaggle of 7 footers. Their scoring margin is plus 14.5PPG. They have made more FTS than their opponents have attempted(Skip Prosser's ultimate winning stat).
HOW DOES XAVIER WIN THIS??
The Muskies don't have to be perfect but the closer the better. Low turnovers would help immensely(not 19 like the DePaul game).Making FTs is vital. Butler was 15-15 in their Hinkle win over Villanova-XU needs to be efficient from three point range.
In the loss at Nova Xavier missed 21 of their last 22 from outside the arc.They abounded the inside-out game plan and tried to shoot themselves back into the contention. Anything over 25 3 PT attempts is usually a bad number for the Muskies.
Xavier is using more zone recently because of the short bench weaving in the 1-3-1 and a new 2-3 look. Villanova has shredded any zone defense attempts the Muskies have tried in Philly. I'm hoping for better zone results at Cintas.
Kaiser Gates' rebounding along the baseline has made the zone more functional.Two trends need to continue for Xavier-Better second half defense. Points allowed over the four game winning streak are headed down(50-38-37-27) and assists are climbing(12-16-18-20). The Muskie BIGS have to keep prospering by committee.
The guards have to keep dumping it down and driving and dishing. Frosh starters Gooden and Jones have earned my trust. Both played well in that wild whirlwind caldron at UC. They've held up at Creighton with 18,000 hostiles against them. "Q" navigated against Billy Garrett. Tyrique overpowered Justin Patton.
Villanova's "team" defense is the best they've faced,but the Young Guns including Kaiser Gates should be up for the challenge. Remember that J.P. Macura got into almost instant foul trouble in Villanova game#1 after he'd scored a quick 5 points. He was excellent in the Xavier win over VU last season at Cintas. Keeping J.P. on the floor is a "must" especially now that he is the back-up PG.
I see a path to a Muskie win!! I always do!!!Most of the time I'm right!!!