The 2018 Final Four has been set. Fans are buzzing and pundits are predicting who will cut down the nets in San Antonio. Throughout this week, I am going to highlight each of the four remaining teams and break down their roster and their chances to win it all. Today, we will be focusing on the Eastern Regional champions: the Villanova Wildcats. Let’s do this!
When this team gets going offensively, watch out. Villanova can outscore any team in the nation on any night. Coach Jay Wright tends to send out six players for significant minutes on a game-by-game basis. Ranked No. 1 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency by KenPom, this Wildcat squad torches teams with their outside shooting.
The three ball has become the bread and butter for Wright’s team this season. Collectively, Villanova shoots 40 percent from 3-point range. The Wildcats also have six players who shoot over 38 percent from three.
The Wildcat offense is led by Wooden Award favorite Jalen Brunson. Brunson has averaged 17.5 points and four assists per game in the NCAA Tournament. What makes Brunson so dangerous is that he is the best post-up point guard in the nation. Brunson loves to back down his defender in the paint. This tends to draw the double-team, allowing Brunson to find an open teammate on the wing for an open 3-point shot. If he does not draw the double, Brunson has the quickness and strength to finish around the rim against his defender.
Brunson also has the ability to take over a game with his scoring. In Villanova’s 90-78 Sweet 16 win over West Virginia, Brunson poured in 27 points on 53.3 percent shooting. He is Wright’s ultimate weapon heading into the Final Four.
Mikal Bridges is most likely on a crash course to be selected in the NBA Draft as a lottery pick. Standing at 6-foot-6, Bridges tends to do most of his scoring on the perimeter. He shoots 51.2 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from three. Bridges has averaged 16 points per game in the NCAA Tournament. Bridges does a great job of finding space on the perimeter as the ball is worked inside. He is almost automatic when stepping into a kick-out three ball.
One of the key players on offense for Villanova in the tournament so far has been Omari Spellman. Only a freshman, Spellman has struggled to find his role on this team throughout the season. But Spellman has grown instrumentally during the Big East Conference Tournament, and that has shown in the big dance. Spellman’s versatility and skill allows him to work inside out.
Spellman has torched defense’s with his three ball and his offensive rebounding. His growth was on full display against West Virginia when he scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked three shots and recorded two steals.
Despite the all-around potency of this Villanova offense, it can be slowed down. In Villanova’s 71-59 Elite Eight victory over Texas Tech, the Wildcats only shot 33.3 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from three. A common trend in three of Villanova’s four losses this season is poor 3-point shooting. In Villanova’s losses to St. John’s, Providence and Creighton, the Wildcats averaged a mere 25 percent from behind the arc. The moral of the story is if you want to take down Villanova, you have to guard the 3-point line.
One of the biggest knocks on Villanova this season has been their defense. Throughout the season, the Wildcats tended to rely on their scoring to beat teams. However, Wright’s crew has taken their defense to the next level in the NCAA Tournament. That is bad news for the remaining three teams.
Villanova tends to start off their defense with a 1-2-2 press as the opponents bring the ball up the court. This culminates in a trap as soon as the opposing point guard brings the ball across half court. Wright tends to send Bridges over from the middle of the court to complete the trap due to his length and quickness. The way this trap differs from the likes of West Virginia is that it is not turnover or bust. Villanova quickly falls back into their man-to-man if they cannot force a turnover.
Villanova’s athleticism and versatility allows them to play a switching-based, man-to-man defense. They switch off their man on ball screens and apply high pressure on the perimeter. They also do a better job than most teams in the tournament at not fouling. This is mostly a testament to Jay Wright as Villanova is easily the most disciplined team playing in San Antonio this weekend.
One issue Villanova may face in the tournament is defending the paint against bigger opponents. This directly relates to their upcoming matchup with a healthy Udoka Azubuike and Kansas. Azubuike gave a big Duke lineup fits when he was on the floor in the Elite Eight. Spellman, who only stands at 6-foot-9, will draw the 7-foot, 280-pound center. This is certainly an area of concern for Wright and company.
Phil Booth: The junior guard simply has not been the same after returning from a fractured hand injury. Before his injury, Booth had a deadly outside shot and played a highly efficient offensive game. However, since breaking his hand, Booth has only hit double-digit scoring in four out of eleven games. Not only that, Booth has only shot 35.4 percent from the field since returning as well.
Booth has struggled shooting the ball in the NCAA Tournament, but Villanova’s depth and scoring prowess has allowed them to overcome Booth’s lack of offensive contribution. Booth has averaged only 6.3 points per game on 33.3 percent shooting in NCAA Tournament play. Back in 2016, Booth helped propel Villanova past UNC with a team high 20 points in the National Championship. If Booth rediscovers his shot in San Antonio, Villanova will be unbeatable.
The three ball: The way that you beat Villanova is lowering their efficiency from beyond the arc. Villanova, regardless of how effective it is, is going to shoot a lot of threes. It is simply how they play offense. This game plan is not without its flaws though. A talented perimeter defense can slow down Villanova by running them off the 3-point line or contesting their shot attempts.
Even though Texas Tech fell to Villanova in the Elite Eight, the Red Raiders provided the remaining three teams a blueprint on how to take down the Wildcats. The Wildcats only hit four threes the entire game out of 24 attemps. However, Villanova’s defense won them that game against a Texas Tech offense that could not get going. If another team remaining can keep Villanova in check from behind the arc, they have a great chance to knock off the Wildcats.
Quite frankly, Villanova should be the consensus favorite to cut down the nets in San Antonio. Their offense is nearly unstoppable once they get going, their defensive pressure has been cranked up a couple of notches, and their discipline is next to none. However, if a team can force the Wildcats to have an off night from three while capitalizing on the other end, Villanova will be in trouble.
Featured image by AP Photo/Charles Krupa.
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