Villanova enters tonight’s big test against VCU having under-performed to start the season. The Wildcats are 3-0 on the season, but have struggled in both of their games against Patriot League opponents (Bucknell and Lehigh).
A look at Villanova’s points per possession to start the season would probably lead one to believe the offense has been the cause of struggles early on. However, Villanova has had some unfortunate luck shooting the ball to start the season. While relying on the three so much against inferior opponents might not be ideal, Villanova is going to shoot significantly better than 26% from deep the rest of the way.
So while a deeper look at the stats indicates the offense is probably fine, the same look with respect to defense raises an eyebrow. The Wildcats are currently fourth in the entire country at forcing turnovers. Generating steals has been effective in holding their first three opponents all to under one point per possession. Still, the Villanova defense was terrible defending inside the three-point arc against Bucknell and Lehigh. They are currently 267th in the nation in opponent 2P%, one of the more predictive defensive stats.
Villanova has been able to limit the number of shots their opponents take by forcing turnovers and rebounding. The question is: Will the Wildcats be able to continue this style of defense against stronger opponents? The team’s interior defense certainly needs to improve for tonight and for Big East play.
Early Struggles Defending Two-Pointers
Generally speaking, 2P% is going to be less susceptible to “luck” than 3P%. However, Villanova has had opponents (most notably Bucknell’s Chris Hass) hit some very difficult long two-pointers to start the season. There are still some definite problems with the defense worth noting.
Daniel Ochefu has developed into a very good rim protector. The 6’11″ junior moves well on rotations for a player of his size and has solid timing as a shot blocker. His ability to block shots was on display during the Bucknell game:
Ochefu is an extremely valuable guy to have roaming the paint to deter shots. I went back to the Bucknell and Lehigh games and charted every single paint attempt against Villanova with Ochefu on the floor in the halfcourt. Instead of charting the location of the shot (again, they are all somewhere in the paint), I charted the location of Daniel Ochefu. Take a look below:
Bucknell and Lehigh were unable to score with Ochefu patrolling under the basket. By drawing the big man from the basket even a little bit, the two Patriot League school’s shooting percentages increased dramatically.
Keeping Ochefu Near the Rim
I’ve already talked about Villanova’s success in generating steals, but this type of aggressive play is primarily responsible for drawing Ochefu away from the rim. Jay Wright uses a 1-2-2 press and switches screens frequently. Both of those tactics can create turnovers, but also can create mismatches like Ochefu defending a quick guard or Arcidiacono defending a big. So far the aggressive defense has paid off, but the results may not be as successful against teams more equipped to handle Villanova pressure.
Here’s an example of a Villanova defensive switch below:
The colored circles indicate which Bucknell player the three Villanova players end up guarding following the pick and roll. In most defensive systems, Hilliard’s job is to simply stunt the roll man by showing and then recovering back to his man. The stunt gives Ochefu time to contain the ball handler and also get back to his man. Instead, Hilliard just takes Ochefu’s man. A switch like this one could definitely lead to a turnover if the ball handler doesn’t read Hilliard correctly, but when no turnover occurs it simply leaves Ochefu guarding out on the perimeter. Here’s the switch in GIF form:
Bucknell did end up scoring in the paint on the play even with Ochefu completely leaving his assignment in an attempt to help protect the rim.
Despite early signs of slacking interior defense, the Wildcats do return most of their minutes from a solid defensive team a year ago. Villanova lost James Bell (probably their best perimeter defender), but Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart are both capable defenders stepping into Bell’s minutes.
Villanova’s ability to get stops is something to keep an eye on tonight against VCU and going forward. Bringing back experienced players alone surprisingly hasn’t led to defensive improvement in the past. The Big East is off to a strong start and Villanova will need to play much better to defend their title.