Villanova’s (Not So?) Balanced Offense

Posted by on February 18, 2015

Villanova is comfortably a top 10 team in the country for the second season in a row. The Wildcats are 53-7 since the start of last season despite their supposed lack of a superstar. Watch any game the team has played in this season and you are sure to hear the announcers raving about the team balance and unselfishness on offense.
While it’s true that Villanova’s free-flowing offense does promote ball movement and unselfishness, the team does appear to have a superstar emerging in Darrun Hilliard. The under-recruited senior was vocal about being snubbed for preseason Big East Player of the Year back in October. Hilliard then somewhat surprisingly began the season relatively slow, with Dylan Ennis and Daniel Ochefu looking much improved from the year before and playing bigger roles than expected.
However, Hilliard has been lights out in Big East play. The 6’6″ wing has shot 53% from two and 45% from three in conference play even with an increase in usage. On the whole season, Hilliard has shot the ball on 27.9% of possessions that he is in the game. Dylan Ennis is the only other player above 20% (21.0). Take a look at how Hilliard’s shot volume compares to recent Villanova go-to-guys:

Hilliard is actually taking a similar amount of shots as Maalik Wayns, who was often criticized for selfish play during a rough 2012 season. Hilliard has played an even more prominent role in Jay Wright’s offense of late. He followed up a career high 31 points and 13 three-point attempts at Butler with eight more three-point attempts in an 18 point effort against Seton Hall this week.
Hilliard has started to take higher degree of difficulty shots as the season has progressed. Take a look at three very tough three-point attempts below from Monday’s win versus Seton hall:

You can do a lot worse than a Darrun Hilliard semi-contested or slightly rushed three-point attempt. Not only has Hilliard been hitting his threes at a high rate, but he also forces defenses to stretch out by taking these types of shots. Still, I think the key going forward if Hilliard’s trigger-happy streak continues is making sure the shots are within the flow of the offense. Developing a tendency where the Wildcats either run their motion¬†or let Hilliard go to work is not ideal. For the most part, however, that really hasn’t been the case and is why Villanova ranks 9th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
In the video from above, Hilliard’s last two three-point attempts are actually very similar. He starts with the ball looking to penetrate. In both cases, Jayvaughn Pinkston’s man (not worried about JVP’s shoot ability) is able to help one pass away onto Hilliard. This leaves Pinkston wide open on the arc and the pass comes to him in both situations. However, Pinkston is unwilling to shoot and this triggers a dribble hand-off in Villanova’s motion offense which leads to the fairly difficult Hilliard three-point makes.
Having a guy like Hilliard to quickly make something happen when the basic motion is well defended can be invaluable. At this point, the perception that Villanova lacks a superstar probably has more to due with the strange development of Villanova players over the last several years. Pinkston, now a senior who looked to be developing into an offensive star, has actually turned into more of a role player on the offensive end this season. Ryan Arcidiacono is another well-known Wildcat (particularly for some clutch shots in the past) also operating as a very effective role player this season.
Despite the great ball movement and overall focus on team basketball this season for Villanova, Darrun Hilliard looks to be on his way to Big East Player of the Year after all.

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