Thursday, December 17, 2015
game preview: Villanova
Date/Time: Saturday, December 19; 12:00
Record against the Wildcats: 4-2
Last meeting: Nova 73, UVA 63; 3/20/04, Philadelphia
Last game: UVA 70, WVU 54 (12/8); Nova 76, La Salle 47 (12/13)
UVA: 63.5 (#348)
Nova: 67.4 (#299)
UVA: 115.9 (#7)
Nova: 113.2 (#17)
UVA: 90.4 (#5)
Nova: 90.0 (#4)
UVA: .9455 (#1)
Nova: .9333 (#4)
PG: London Perrantes (10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.1 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (16.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Darius Thompson (8.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.2 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.4 apg)
C: Jack Salt (3.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.0 apg)
PG: Ryan Arcidiacono (12.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.1 apg)
SG: Jalen Brunson (10.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.4 apg)
SF: Josh Hart (15.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Kris Jenkins (10.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 apg)
C: Daniel Ochefu (8.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.1 apg)
I've said this about a couple different schools, like Georgetown, but I don't know why UVA and Villanova don't play each other more. The last time was over ten years ago and it was the NIT committee who arranged the matchup. The time before that was also in the NIT. The last time these two schools played each other on purpose was 1989, which seems silly. They're a four-and-a-half hour bus ride apart and right next to each other alphabetically. There's plenty of tradition on both sides. It makes sense, dammit.
The Hoos jump straight from finals break to one of the most challenging games they'll have all year. Villanova went 33-3 last season, lost three of their top players, and apparently didn't miss a beat. Every single one of their games has been a blowout - although one of them wasn't exactly in their favor. The flip side of that is that they haven't been tested, save for a trip to Hawaii to play a neutral-site game against Oklahoma, which got them killed. They've played one road game - against St. Joseph's, which isn't so much a bus ride away as it is a carpool. Nevertheless, they haven't allowed themselves to fall victim to any tripwires, as they've played a few teams that are at least capable. They'll give UVA a handful in a game with an ACC-like feel to it.
-- UVA on offense
Villanova took Kris Jenkins out of the starting lineup after the Oklahoma disaster, and replaced him with the much smaller Phil Booth, but it's a good bet Jenkins will be back against UVA. Nova would be laughably undermanned against Anthony Gill otherwise. Jenkins is a little on the short side at 6'6", but he's beefy and against a lineup with Gill and a true center, he's Villanova's only hope.
Nova is, on the whole, an excellent defensive team. Even the OU loss was more on the offense than the defense. They stay in front of their man very well and have center Daniel Ochefu to wipe out a lot of mistakes. He's a terrific shot-blocker, and lanky Mikal Bridges, playing forward off the bench, creates a lot of havoc on the defensive end too. Villanova plays smart and fouls very little, and the result of all this is that teams typically have to shoot well from three to have a chance.
The hole, of course, is that they don't have much of a frontcourt outside of Ochefu. Jenkins, really, plays a small forward's game. Bridges and Darryl Reynolds play significant rotation minutes off the bench, but Reynolds leaves a hole on offense when he's in. Nova has good backcourt size, but that doesn't help in scrambles underneath the basket, and second-chance points will be a concern for them all year - especially going up against a good offensive rebounding team on Saturday. Ochefu does really excellent work on the boards, but he plays only half the time.
UVA probably won't get a lot of opportunities to drive at the rim, as the Wildcats do a good job at preventing it. But they should be able to pound the ball inside, substituting to try and force mismatches with Gill and Isaiah Wilkins. Mike Tobey probably won't light up the stat sheet, because Ochefu is a major handful - but simply by existing and occupying Ochefu, he'll force Nova to guard UVA's power forwards with someone who isn't well suited for it.
-- UVA on defense
This could be an exciting matchup for the pack-line. Nova is a perplexing team on offense. They finish really, really damn well at the rim. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart are both shooting 80% at the rim, and this is not on putbacks because this team, outside of Ochefu, simply doesn't do that. When they get offensive rebounds - which isn't often - they reset, rather than going back up. Not surprising for a team of mostly guards. I digress. This team does very well driving to the bucket.
Fortunately for their opponents - especially, say, an opponent whose defensive system is designed to slam the door on any attempts to drive the lane - Villanova is 1) in love with the three-ball and 2) not that good at it. The reason they lost so badly to Oklahoma is they shot more threes than twos and hit on four of them - out of 32.
They were much better at it last year, and shooters gotta keep shooting, so eventually they might snap out of it. Maybe on Saturday. But so far this year, only Ryan Arcidiacono has been a threat as a distance shooter. Jenkins, Bridges, and Jalen Brunson are all in the 20% range so far. They've rolled their opponents anyway because they're so damn good inside the arc (against Georgia Tech, for example, 19-of-24 for two) and other than Ochefu, mostly automatic free-throw shooters, but they settle for threes a heck of a lot. They could win a lot of games from the stripe, but they're near the bottom of D-I in free throw attempts. They have this very peculiar statistical arrangement:
- #4 in the country in 2pt %
- #277 in the country in 3pt %
- #254 in the country in percentage of points coming from two
- #36 in the country in percentage of points coming from three
That is the fingerprint of a team that shoots way too damn many threes. So pack-line 'em up. This Villanova team is designed to be stopped by it. When Nova throws it inside to Ochefu, they'll be dangerous, because dude's a hoss. When they get past the gate sentries, they'll be dangerous, because they finish so well. If they're content to settle for threes, and they have been all year, UVA will take it. I suppose Nova could be an unstoppable force if they ever actually start hitting those threes, and we can't have nice things so they'll probably choose Saturday to start. But UVA rebounds really well even against teams with actual power forwards, and it adds up to a very bad matchup for Nova's offense.
This game stands a good chance of being a rock fight. UVA's tempo is certainly up thanks to the shot clock - they're five possessions faster than they were last year and the highest they've been in the Tony Bennett era. But still they're one of the slowest teams in the country. Offensive average possession length is clearly faster. Defensive possession length - hardly any change at all. Villanova is not a run and gun team either; they're nearly as deliberate and force long possessions as well. Add in that both teams play excellent defense and one team is a nightmarish matchup for the other's offense, and this game will likely struggle to hit the 70s, if not the 60s.
I said the other day that it looks to me like UVA's chemistry experiment is finally producing a reaction. West Virginia was held to 54 points in 65 possessions, and just 18 in the second half. If I'm right, UVA, playing at home and against an opponent that likes to do things that play into the hands of the pack-line, should win this one. If I'm wrong, Villanova will find defensive breakdowns and derail the good vibes from the WVU win. I might as well stop writing if I'm to call myself wrong a day after writing it.
Final score: UVA 63, Nova 54