The departure of one player has completely revamped the way Jay Wright’s Wildcats function on the basketball court. With Scottie Reynolds in 2010, ‘Nova could best be described as "we’re going to run and gun and then run and gun some more and if you’re going to run and gun with us, we’re just going to foul you."
Fortunately for the ‘Cats they run and gunned better than almost anybody with incredible efficiency in transition because of stellar guard play led by Reynolds.
The problem with Reynolds was he didn’t defend much at all. He was frequently losing his man in half-court sets and he didn’t defend on the ball very well.
The result: ‘Nova ranked 12th in offensive efficiency and 62nd in defensive efficiency. The significance of those numbers made it clear, Villanova wasn’t going to the Final Four:
"Teams ranked outside of the top 25 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings have never made the Final Four in the eight years Pomeroy has provided statistics."
Looking at this year, Villanova is clearly a Final Four contender if you’re looking at just statistics. The ‘Cats rank in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency which is a stark contrast from last year.
But if you’ve seen enough of Jay Wright’s squad, it’s obvious this team backs up those stats because this team can win games on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, much like Syracuse could do last year and has done throughout this season.
Against Maryland, Villanova Pittsburgh’d Maryland in the second half, going on a 19-0 run after the Terps had been thumping the ‘Cats on both ends of the floor. They slowed down Jordan Williams who was in full Marshawn Lynch BEAST Mode for most of the game, and ‘Nova made penetration for the Maryland guards difficult.
Although Williams tore Villanova to pieces on the interior, the Wildcats should be better prepared to guard the Orange on the inside. Last year, Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku combined for 36 points. With only Jackson to worry about and two capable defenders in the post, points in the paint will be hard to come by.
Antonio Pena has always done a decent job in the paint defending for Jay Wright, but it’s Mouphtaou Yarou who has improved vastly from last year. To understand Yarou’s struggles, picture Fab Melo this year who is lost on nearly every defensive possession. Yarou wasn’t nearly as bad, but he provided more than enough "scream at the TV in frustration" moments. To say the least, Yarou was incompetent, but not incompetent enough that Wright couldn’t play him. This year, it is much different. Yarou has played significant minutes and turned into an outstanding rebounder, solid shot blocker, and has decreased his tendency to foul.
So what does this all mean for Saturday:
- It’s going to be a more defensive game than last year. It would be surprising to see the winner of this game reach the 80s because both teams play as much if not more defense than last year and both teams have played at a slower tempo this season. A game in the 60s wouldn’t be shocking.
- With Corey Stokes being the best (and really the only perimeter threat for ‘Nova), there’s going to be a focus to run him through the zone and get him looks. Don’t be surprised if he jacks up over a dozen three balls.
- ‘Nova could look to run lots of high screens (like Pitt did in the second half to get Gilbert Brown several easy 10 footers in the lane) because Villanova continues to be devastating off the bounce and instead of getting 10 footers, they’ll be getting layups (especially if Fab or Baye Moussa Keita is in the game).
- Kemba Walker needed 18 shots and 12 free throws to get his 24 points against Villanova. The ‘Cats will make it difficult for Scoop Jardine to get his points (though is there ever an easy basketball for Scoop?).
- The key to victory for the Orange will be Kris Joseph and James Southerland getting open looks and easy baskets in the paint. ‘Nova doesn’t have quick, athletic wings to guard them as tightly as their guards can check SU’s backcourt.