It is no secret that Villanova is the number one ranked team in the country and rightfully so. The Wildcats are 14-0 overall and 2-0 in Big East play. They have a full head of steam heading into conference play. Who will be the one to beat them?
What makes Villanova Tick
They have confidence, plain and simple. We are talking about the reigning national champions. They haven’t lost a game since March 12, 2016 when they lost to Seton Hall by two points in the conference tournament. Winning has become the name of the game for Villanova. Jalen Brunson is coming off the best game of his career. He had 27 points against Creighton on Saturday while playing in front of the third-largest crowd the CenturyLink Center has ever seen.
Villanova has the three things that any team needs to succeed. They have experience, leadership, and the ability to finish. As mentioned in my past article, A Blue Christmas, the Wildcats are led by two seniors that know what it takes to finish a game.
Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart have consistently contributed good numbers, especially this weekend against Creighton when they got themselves out of a 10-point deficit. Jenkins scored 21 points and Hart added 18 points against the Bluejays.
In addition, Darryl Reynolds was a solid player last season and he continues to be a strong senior presence. Together, these seniors provide the leadership that this teams needs.
Let us not forget about head coach Jay Wright, who simply said “bang” when Jenkins hit the game-winning shot to win the national title last year. Calm, cool, and collected define Wright’s coaching style. He has 30 years of experience in college basketball. Kentucky offered him a job in 2009, which he turned down. Needless to say, he knows what he is doing and the players respond to him.
The Wildcats run a four-out one-in offense that utilizes all of their offensive weapons to the best of their ability. Coach Wright stresses team basketball. The Wildcats use a lot of high ball screens from Reynolds and sophomore Eric Paschall so Hart and Jenkins can create off the separation from their defenders. This has given a lot of teams trouble and allowed for a lot of open jumpers for the Wildcats.
Sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges cannot be neglected either. Brunson had a big game on Saturday as previously mentioned which has been a trend this season. He is shooting 43.8 percent from behind the arc. He also has the ability to put it on the hardwood and get to the rack. Bridges is shooting 59.1 percent from the field and pulling down about 5.1 rebounds per game.
Does Butler have what it takes?
Butler has a decent shot. The Bulldogs have a few things working in their favor. They have the home court advantage, which is often overlooked. Hinkle Fieldhouse is a smaller arena that supports 9,100 fans that are nothing other than loud to say the least. Butler is also relatively even in all of the statistical categories. Villanova averages 79.9 points per game, 14.4 assists per game, and shoots 50.4 percent from the field. Butler is averaging 78 points per game, 14.7 assists per game, and shoots 49.2 percent from the field. However, statistical data only goes so far.
The Bulldogs are going to have to pull out all the stops. Junior Kelan Martin will need to put up at least his average of 18.1 points per game. The following highest scorers are Andrew Chrabascz with 11.9, Tyler Wideman with 9.1, and Avery Woodson with 8.4.
All of these players will need to step up because the focus will be on stopping Martin from adding big numbers. Senior Tyler Lewis will be a large factor, based on his sheer ability to create for his teammates. Lewis is averaging 4.8 assists per game and has the senior experience with big time games like this one.
If the Bulldogs cannot get the job done, who is next in line? The fact is, the Big East Conference will not give the Wildcats any breaks. Villanova will take on Marquette on Saturday at home. The Golden Eagles are coming off a loss to Seton Hall by a margin of three points. They will be hungry for a win.
The Wildcats passed the test of winning at Creighton, but now they look ahead to Butler. The Bulldogs have been known for their upsets (recall Indiana in the 2012 Crossroads Classic). If the Wildcats can come out on top of the week at 16-0, it is no doubt that they are made for March. I know it is only January, but bring on the madness!
“From Our Haus to Yours”