Villanova's Surprise Start

Villanova's Surprise Start: How the Wildcats are 9-0

12/11/13 in NCAABB   |   EdIsaacson   |   15 respect

Dec 7, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Villanova Wildcats forward JayVaughn Pinkston (22) celebrates after being folded on a made basket during the second half at Hagan Arena.Villanova Wildcats defeated Saint Joseph's Hawks 98-68.  Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY SportsThere have been many surprises early on this college basketball season, but very few would outrank Villanova being undefeated through nine games, including winning the Battle of Atlantis with wins over Kansas and Iowa. While a few players have shined early on, it’s been a team effort buying into Jay Wright’s philosophy which has the Wildcats at #10 in the latest AP Poll.

Here is a look at how the Wildcats have won early on this season, and the challenges they will face as the year continues.
  1. The defense has been tremendous, especially on the perimeter. The Wildcats have been allowing teams to shoot less than 40% (37.8) from the floor and 33% from three-point range. There is only one rotation player, Daniel Ochefu, over 6’8, so Jay Wright does a masterful job having his team alternate from pressuring the perimeter to falling back and packing in around the lane preventing penetration, leading to turnovers on almost a quarter of opposing team’s possessions.
  2. The offensive load is balanced like last year, but the emergence of James Bell and the continued development of JayVaughn Pinkston has Villanova scoring over 80 points per game and over 1.1 points per possession. The team is working to find good shots and four players are averaging between 2.6 and 3.3 assists per game. Sophomore transfer Dylan Ennis has been spectacular as a playmaker and even Ryan Arcidiacono is making better decisions this season. Tony Chennault and Darrun Hilliard have also done a good job moving and protecting the ball.
  3. Freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins have become strong role players immediately. Hart has had a bigger offensive role to this point, but the further development of the wide-bodied Jenkins will be important as noted more below.
  4. The battle at the free throw line has been major in Villanova’s early success. While they can certainly do better than the 71% they are shooting from there, it is the frequency which has been a boost. The Wildcats are getting to the line once for every two field attempts they take – a total of 272 attempts through 9 games.  Pinkston alone has been to the line 75 times already this season.
There will be some challenges going forward, no matter how good a start it has been.  The Wildcats are only shooting 30% from the three-point line early on, yet three-point field goal attempts are one-third of their total scoring.  Also, while they have dominated the boards early on with almost 40 per game (55.6% rebound percentage), it will be tough for them to keep those numbers up with their lack of size. As noted above, Ochefu is the only rotation player over 6’8, so players like Pinkston and the freshman Jenkins will need to contribute even more than they are now. Even James Bell is grabbing over 7 boards a game so far.

Villanova will face a couple of more major tests before Big East season starts next month, including a game at Syracuse at the end of the month. Still, an 11-1 or 10-2 record heading into 2014 would put the team a good deal along their road to an NCAA bid. 
Notify me by email about comments that follow mine. Preview