I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was full of holiday cheer and Easter Bunnies...okay maybe the wrong holidays or whatever. Either way, the Roundtable is back in business after some hectic things have happened. This week another writer will be joining us (fun, fun, fun) and we will be breaking down Villanova like never before.
What's your impressions on Jay Wright's super small-ball formation that he used in the Bahamas? Since Daniel Ochefu has been playing poorly, should they rely more heavily on this set?
Lane: To be fair to Ochefu, he's been very good on the offensive glass, and on defense in general. He's an accident waiting to happen right now on offense though, and I think that's more the reason Jay went small as Villanova was down big to Iowa. They can't abandon him now though. His confidence is shot and he needs to get it back before conference play. He'll come true this year. As for small-ball's success, the team rebounded surprisingly well, but the thing that stood out was the intensity of all five guys on the floor, no matter the combination. That grit is what made the difference as Wright was able to sub frequently with no fear of a letdown in energy.
Verlin: I think against teams that don't have a true dominant inside man, that lineup is going to work; and more and more teams are going without a true post player at center. JayVaughn Pinkston and James Bell (and Kris Jenkins) have shown the ability to guard athletic forwards that might have an inch or two against them, and the Wildcats do have the ability to put Ochefu in the game against bigger teams. But I don't think they should abandon Ochefu in the starting lineup, either; eventually it's going to start to click for him, and too much time on the bench won't help things along either.
Ewart: Going small works if the match-up allows for it. Some schools will have bigs that a guard or small forward can't really handle on the defensive end or will be better prepared to match-up against that line-up. I still expect to see plenty of Daniel Ochefu the rest of the season, but when the team is playing better with the big man planted on the bench, I won't be surprised to see this look again.
Most likely you won't see much of the look that had JayVaughn and Ochefu on the bench, however. I think that was just a product of JVP being worn down from battling with much-bigger centers on back-to-back-to-back nights.
Tynes: I'm sure most of us know that I'm pretty high on Ochefu. That being said, depending on the matchup, I'd like to see his minutes decrease until he gets it together offensively. Ochefu should still start games, but depending on his performance half way through the game or depending on if speed can beat size against a certain squad, then in a different half he should come off the bench.
But he won't find his offensive arsenal on the bench. He needs more experience playing a bigger load of minutes than his freshman season. The Wildcats will most likely need his defense for most of this season.
Angelina: One thing that has left Wright scratching his head is when you refer to his team as "small", or his lineups as "small". He points out, correctly so, that their guards are bigger than most guards in the NCAA or amongst the teams they play. He also reiterates that they have a 6"11" big man in Ochefu, so I really don't think he's looking to move on or do anything differently, he is sticking to what he has. He also likes the physicality that Ochefu brings to the court, something that was on display early in the Kansas game.
Having said that, Wright also shows he rides the hot players. There was no bigger example of that than letting Hart and Jenkins kind of take over the Iowa game at different periods while JayVaughn Pinkston sat on the bench.
It is the first week of December, so I doubt there is much reason to completely scrap the plan and rotation you had in mind going into the season. So at this point, it is probably best to continue using the regular rotations and sets until something drastic calls for change.
After three games with Dylan Ennis, in your opinion, how much does he help or hurt the Villanova rotation?
Lane: He's a huge asset for two reasons - three-point shooting and defense. Villanova has some streaky shooters and Ennis looks like he can be the guy that can be relied upon night-in and night-out. His defensive intensity was great against Kansas as he really hassled KU's backcourt and exposed them a bit. Wright is clearly working him in slowly after the injury, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him getting 25+ minutes soon.
Verlin: Well, he sure as heck doesn't hurt the rotation. There was a lot of hype around what Ennis could bring to the team this year, and though it took four games for his debut there is certainly no doubt that he played his part in helping Villanova capture the Battle 4 Atlantis title. He averaged 12.0 ppg, shooting 8-of-12 on 3-pointers and turning it over just three times in over 60 minutes of play. He makes an already athletic and versatile team even more so, and he's clearly a much more dynamic player than what Tony Chennault has brought to the table thus far.
Ewart: How about the Canadian Kid?! Having another guard available is huge for the Villanova rotation. Wright wants to play a very uptempo game -- grind away on defense and then run whenever possible on offense, so having guard depth is going to be necessary. The fact that he has been so productive only helps the situation, as Wright gains more and more confidence in him.
Tynes: The "other" Ennis. One of the "other" Canadian kids. After transferring from Rice and spending a few games on the bench with an injury, Ennis proved in three games in the Bahamas that he belongs on the squad and honestly that he should be the first guy off the bench. With Wright playing uptempo at all times and constantly using a three-fourth court press, it's better for his rotation that he has another guard in a guard heavy lineup. Plus, his three-point shooting and perimeter defense improve some of the more shaky areas of Villanova's game. It wouldn't surprise me if Ennis even starts a few games this season.
Angelina: He helps them tremendously, simply because he is a very good player. He can shoot from anywhere and has shown that he can grab you a few rebounds despite his small size. I think he pushes everyone to play well and can add instant offense. He helps the rotation tremendously, as we saw in long weekends with back-to-back-to-back games, Villanova stayed fresh more than most teams would, especially in an overtime of a third straight game. He lets everything to fall into place in that sense, as no one is overworked, and on top of that he's a very good player. He's an asset for the Wildcats.
According to ESPN Villanova is top-10 in the NCAA in rebounding (43.6 rpg) using a small lineup. In your opinion, how are they one of the best rebounding teams in the country without using two players taller than 6-9?
Lane: They're well-coached, for starters. They always look to box-out on defense and all five players are hitting the glass, instead of relying on one guy to clean up while the rest of the team breaks down court. On the offensive end, they are just relentless. Part of it is good fortune too as some balls have bounced the right way, but their never-say-die attitude from the Bahamas was exemplified well in their offensive rebounding.
Verlin: I know this is a cheap way out but I don't think having the most rebounds per game makes a team one of the best rebounding teams in the country. According to KenPom, the Wildcats are the 43rd-best offensive rebounding team and 75th-best defensive rebounding team in terms of percentage of rebounds collected, which has them as one of 35 teams who were in the top 100 in both categories (as of all games played through Nov. 31). That being said, they're clearly a good rebounding team, and I think the key is having guards like James Bell (6.3 rpg), Darrun Hilliard (5.3 rpg) and Josh Hart (5.1 rpg) who all crash the boards; Pinkston (4.7 rpg) is actually fifth on the team in rebounding.
Ewart: It is a team effort. Villanova has had some great rebounding teams and some really small teams during the Jay Wright era. It really isn't much of a surprise to me. When everyone works to get well-positioned and fights for a rebound, you're going to see a lot of production on the glass. Everyone boxes out and works hard to grab a miss.
Tynes: Positioning and boxing out go a long way when it comes to rebounding for 40 minutes in a collegiate game. All five players on the floor, no matter the set that's in, attack the glass before running in transition. That and three players (Hilliard, Bell and Hart) all average more than five rebounds per game. Lastly, it's the hustle plays that have not only extended plays and kept the Wildcats in games but have also given them more opportunities everywhere on the floor. It's their hustle that makes them one of the better rebounding teams in the country and the same qualities that will turn them into a tournament team. The ‘Cats don't quit.
Angelina: Again, I think their tremendous size in the backcourt helps there. It helps having 6'6'' guards like Hilliard and Bell coral those balls before they get batted back outside, or they can easily grab one over a 6'0'' guard. I think the extra rebounds those guys are getting-a combined 14.3 per game from your top three guards, is what is boosting their total so much. Look at the Kansas game, where ‘Nova dominated the boards. Villanova had six guards gather 29 rebounds, while Kansas had seven guards pick up only 20 rebounds. Ochefu is going to have balls fall to him first just being so tall, and Pinkston is a force inside, so put it all together and they actually play pretty big. It's about how you play, not how you stand and Villanova is playing like an overall big team.
Going forward, who'll be the most important player off the bench going forward? Jenkins, Hart or Ennis and why?
Lane: Great question, and it's a complete toss-up right now since all three played great over the weekend. I think Jenkins' development is going to be key because he can provide an interior presence. If Ochefu continues to struggle, Jenkins will see more PT to spell Pinkston down low - just as he did in overtime of the Iowa win.
Verlin: Dylan Ennis. He would start for a large percentage of Division I teams, and Villanova has him coming off the bench. Jenkins and Hart are both freshman, while they've both been more than serviceable to this point--especially Hart (8.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg), Ennis is in his third year of college already and has a much higher understanding and feel for the game at this point. His return gives Jay Wright his deepest backcourt since Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Mike Nardi were together back in 2005-06.
Ewart: I'll argue for Jenkins. He's probably going to have to be the guy who spells JVP in a lot of games, especially if Pinkston is shifting over to the 5. The 'Cats may not have a lot of height, but Jenkins is a strong body who can do a lot of the same things as JVP, while bringing a nice-looking outside shot.
Tynes: If Ochefu continues to struggle, then Jenkins (6-6, 255lbs) will be key because he'll be the only player that can give Pinkston and Ochefu a break in games. If the Wildcats continue to struggle finding shots from the perimeter or keep giving up too many points from deep, then Ennis because he fills both roles and has the most experience of the three. But for me, I'll take Hart. The one thing you can replicate in a basketball game is a consistent, high-energy player, and that's Hart in a nutshell. He's a versatile player that can be a service from the point to the off-forward spot and can hit it from the perimeter and slash to the basket. Wright has been advocating for him since after the Lafayette game.
Angelina: I actually think the most important guy on the bench is Josh Hart. Part of this is because Wright wants him to be-Wright can't say enough great things about him and he has kind of been like a vice for the head coach. One moment that really stood out to me in how highly they think of the freshman came in the Delaware game. About two minutes into the game they were playing sloppy ball and needed to take control of things before they got out of hand. Who did Wright turn to just minutes into the game? Hart.
He has shown flashes of being able to do everything. Darrun Hilliard may be their most polished, complete "do everything" guy, but Hart may pass him before the year is out.
Ryan Arcidiacono even said he had the best game of anyone on the team Saturday, starter or bench player. He can do so many things while on the court, like set up shots for guys like Arcidiacono, that he is such a key player already, only seven games into a career.
Is it safe to say Villanova is the best team in the Big East after Creighton dropped a decision?
Lane: It's completely safe. Villanova could drop a game or two before they head to Syracuse in late December, but the way they're playing and how deep they are, it's hard to see them slipping up unless they fall in love with the 3-ball on a bad shooting night (which honestly, could happen). Creighton is very good, but back-to-back losses to San Diego St. and George Washington have me scratching my head and wondering if the step up in opponent talent is going to be a bigger problem for them than most thought.
Verlin: For now, yes. They're the only undefeated team in the conference--and wins over No. 6 Kansas and then No. 23 Iowa on consecutive nights defeat any argument that the Wildcats haven't played anybody of note. Their worst performance of the season came on opening night against Lafayette--and that was a 16-point win.
Ewart: It's never safe to say anything before April. Everyone in the Big East has their flaws this season and chances are that Villanova won't make it through the regular season without picking up a loss. Creighton has disappointed a bit, but Villanova lost to Columbia last season, so a couple of early results won't decide the Big East title.
Right now, however, the 'Cats have had the best results of this group and certainly look the strongest early-on. If they can keep up their frenetic pace, then they have to be the favorites going forward.
Tynes: I haven't been sold on Creighton all season, so I'll say the Wildcats are safe for the time being. After the Blue Jays after they nearly lost to Saint Joseph's early in the season. After two losses to George Washington and San Diego State, I wouldn't bet that Creighton is even the second best team in the Big East right now. Again that's right now. It could be a completely different story when the lights come on at Madison Square Garden in March.
Angelina: You can say that Villanova is the best team in the Big East right now. But I don't know how safe it is to make a statement like that the first week of December. I thought they were better than Creighton going into the season because I don't like the style the Blue Jays used to build their team-reminds me too much of Adam Morrison's Bull Dogs about a decade ago, those "let's let so and so get his 35 and then score enough elsewhere" teams rarely work. I think that's why you saw them lose to two overall teams, GW and SDSU. But I'm still interested in seeing Villanova against some of the meat of their Big East schedule (St. John's, Marquette, Georgetown) to make that declaration.