In a year defined by wild upsets and stunning inconsistencies from blue blood programs, No. 1 Villanova has provided college basketball fans a refreshing breath of consistency and reliability. They sit in first place in the Big East with a 6-1 record and a 19-1 overall record, with their lone loss coming at the hands of Butler on the road.
Villanova has flashed dominance in a team-oriented offense predicated on ball movement and offensive rebounding while hounding opponents with a pressure heavy defense. Villanova has swept away any concerns coming into the season about depth and lack of star power with the departures of former Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins.
Villanova will be put to the test in the final weeks of the season as junior guard and team captain Phil Booth broke his right hand against Providence and will be sidelined indefinitely. The magnitude of this loss cannot be overstated.
Booth, a starter for Wright’s squad, averaged a career high of 28.2 minutes per game and 11.6 points per game while shooting at 49 percent. Booth’s true value to this Villanova team goes beyond the statistics and the box scores though. A member of the 2016 National Championship team, he has grown into a vocal leader both in the locker room and on the court. Booth’s hounding on-ball defense and sharp three point shooting, averaging 43 percent on the season, will be sorely missed.
Coming into the season, the main knock on the current No. 1 team was their lack of depth. Wright has been conscious of this weakness by relying primarily on an eight man rotation with only six players averaging over twenty minutes per game. Opposing teams have been unable to exploit this flaw as Villanova, even though Wright prefers to implement an aggressive full court press thorughout the game.
Villanova’s players have been able to play through foul trouble due to their discipline on both sides of the court and sound decision making. However, Wright is now faced with a new challenge: overcoming a significant injury to a starting player on a team short bench and championship aspirations.
Wright’s concern will not lie with his starting line-up. Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo was arguably the nation’s most skilled and reliable sixth man and will seamlessly transition to a starting role.
Junior guard, Jalen Brunson, will look to elevate his game to another level after the loss of Booth. Already in the conversation for the Wooden Award, Brunson will now face even more pressure to lead this Wildcat squad. Regardless of how talented Booth is, Brunson is the heart and soul of this team. Brunson is the engine of the offense, averaging 18.8 points per game shooting 56.2 percent while dishing out 5.2 assists per game. His toughness and efficient style of play personifies Villanova and this team will go as far as he can carry them.
The key member of the starting five that will need to raise his grade of play is junior forward Eric Paschall. Paschall’s intensity and production has skyrocketed as of late as shown by his performance in Villanova’s 89-69 victory over Providence. Paschall went 6-9 from the field pouring in 17 points while accumulating five assists, four steals and three blocks.
Paschall is the jack-of-all trades player that Wright values so much. His selfless playing style and willingness to accept any role offers Wright the opportunity to instill numerous different game plans. If Villanova hopes to continue its consistency, Paschall needs to maintain his production on both ends of the court.
Villanova’s bench is where Wright’s worries will come into play. In order to maximize bench production, Wright must strategically utilize freshman froward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and freshman guard Collin Gillespie.
Wright ought to slowly integrate Gillespie into the rotation rather than throwing him in and asking him to run the offense. Wright faced a similar situation with DiVincenzo last season and the increased playing time paid off dividends as DiVincenzo developed into a consistent dual threat for Wright.
Unfortunately for Wright, Villanova is entering the second half of conference play and he does not have much time. Gillespie is going to have to grow and learn from his mistakes quickly if Villanova hopes to adapt to the loss of Booth.
Another aspect of Villanova’s game that Wright should focus on improving is fouling. At the moment, the Wildcats rank 34th in the nation in personal fouling, averaging 15.9 per game. While this mark is a testament to Villanova’s discipline as a team, Wright needs to understand the risk of continuing to play his trademarked pressure defense. Teams are going to focus on attempting to force the Wildcats to fall into foul trouble early, ensuring that Wright has to rely on his bench early and often.
All in all, No. 1 Villanova has the tools to overcome Booth’s broken right hand. However, to maintain its championship aspirations, Wright will have to adjust his play style slightly in some games and go into his bench more than often than usual. His starters will need to push themselves and discover the balance of aggression and security on defense. With this in mind, expect Villanova to continue to outwork their opponents and capture a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament come March.
Featured image by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports
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