The No. 7 Villanova Wildcats (19-2, 6-2) survived an early push by the DePaul Blue Demons (11-12, 5-5) at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL to secure the 68-55 win on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats held on to first place in the Big East Conference and the Blue Demons dropped to a tie for No. 5. (They’re up to exclusive No. 5 after beating Seton Hall Tuesday night). Here is a breakdown of what went right, what went wrong, and what to take away from it.
This Wildcat team is calm and patient. They never looked particularly stressed out during the game. Jay Wright’s veteran squad shows the poise and confidence in themselves and their game plan and does not waiver from it. This could come back to bite them as slow starts have the potential to kill this team. (See Negatives.) The positive here is the trust they have. The 'Cats trust themselves, their coaches and their teammates. This is the program mentality that Jay Wright has sought to foster since the Wildcats' disastrous 2011-12 season.
Villanova won the battle of the boards, despite being noticeably smaller than their opponents. Maybe "won" isn’t enough to get the point across. The Villanova Wildcats nearly doubled up DePaul on the boards, winning 35-18. That’s impressive. Daniel Ochefu led the way with 12 rebounds and JayVaughn Pinkston pulled in four offensive boards. JVP was able to convert those boards to free throw attempts, where he went a perfect 10 for 10.
Daniel Ochefu quietly had a great game. He only shot 3-6 from the field and 1/4 from the line, but his impact was much greater than his total points. First ,and most obviously, he had 12 rebounds, two of which were on the offensive glass. He was bigger and stronger than Stanley Robinson who is more of an inside-out four as opposed to a true center despite his 6’10 frame. As for Tommy Hamilton, IV, Ochefu is just farther along. Hamilton has great size, but not much finesse. Another year of development could have 'Chef pushing for All-American status. MANCRUSH ALERT: I honestly think he will be unchallenged as the best returning big man in the Big East next year.
JayVaughn Pinkston continues to struggle to score against taller lineups. Pinkston only had 4 points from the field on 2-5 shooting. Fortunately, he was able to draw a number of fouls and to get 10 free throws. He was fortunately able to make all 10 of his free throw attempts. This allowed him to overcome his inability to score amongst the trees. The funny part is, he's been excellent at defending against bigger teams this year. He deserves his starting spot and is a leader of this team, but Villanova needs to find a way to open up his offense when matched against lineups that can throw out 3 guys 6'8 or taller.
Slow starts have killed this team (See Georgetown) and Jay Wright needs to start giving his half-time pep talk before the game. Villanova starts slow in 85% of their games. That’s ok when you’re playing a team like DePaul, but if the ‘Cats start slow against the Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday, they’re in for another rough ride.
Villanova gave up more turnovers than they forced. For the third time this year, the 'Cats lost the turnover battle, this time by a slim 10-8 margain. Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono led the way with 3 uncharacteristic turnovers each. For both Arch and Hilliard it was the most turnovers they had all year. (Maybe that should be a positive.) This was clearly due to Arch trying to do more on the offensive end for the Wildcats. By being more of a creator than a distributor, he has to take a few more risks with the ball.
Dylan Ennis has disappeared offensively. He has 11 points over his last three games on 9 field goal attempts. That’s good for about 22% from the field. He’s 2-6 from the line in those three games, good for 33% from the line. Why is he still starting? A couple of reasons. He’s our best on-ball defender. If you get a chance to replay the game, keep an eye on him locking down Billy Garrett, Jr., with around 4:30 left in the 1st half. He picks him up at the far free throw line and stays in front of Garret (DePaul’s best player and ball handler) and challenges him to make a move. Garret attempts to make his move into the paint as he drives right at Ennis. Ennis stays in front, gets his hands up and just two-hand rips the ball out of a rising Garret’s grip. It was beautiful. The second reason is that Villanova’s 6th starter, Josh Hart is a little bigger and therefore has more versatility to come in and add height to the lineup if ‘Chef or Pinkston needs to be the first out. Ennis could be the first off the bench next year though, when Jalen Brunson looks to fill a backcourt spot as a freshman.
Musings and Observations
This was my first trip to Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL. A few thoughts:
- How is that place not referred to as the White Castle? Seriously, have you seen this arena? I kept looking for tiny burgers, but to no avail.
- The cavernous arena could be extremely loud if DePaul ever filled it up, with the small crowd they had, it still got loud at moments, especially in the first half when DePaul was winning. The DePaul student section was pretty small, if they filled in, that place would be rocking.
- I can understand why this arena was not filled up, it is a good 25-30 minutes from DePaul’s campus in the loop in Chicago. The $25.00 Uber ride wasn’t bad for me, but for a college student, a $50.00 transit surcharge to get to the game is a bit steep. Maybe this would work for a large alternate venue to play a few games at while playing the majority of games on campus. A loud, packed on campus venue (like the Pavilion) would surely create a more intimidating atmosphere.
- The NOVA NATION fans can travel. I was far from alone in supporting the Wildcats. Even Jay Wright went out of his way to thank the ‘Nation for their support on a road trip of around 750 miles. Even with an impending blizzard (19" of snow in Chicago Saturday Night to Monday Morning) the Nova Nation had to comprise about 35-40% of the crowd. This shows you the sound reasoning behind Seton Hall’s decision not to open up their upper level when the ‘Cats came to town, Villanova has a huge fanbase in North Jersey/NYC.
- This DePaul Blue Demons team is going to be a threat to make the tournament next year and they could be a top four Big East team the year after. Billy Garrett, Jr. is one of the best guards in the Big East right now.
- Phil Booth looked strong in 15 minutes. While he went 0-3 from deep to kill all of his shooting statistics, he possessed the ball well and played solid on-ball defense. Those are two areas that he's needed to improve and Saturday's effort was reassuring that he is developing as planned. A little more maturation from him along with some added athleticism and he will be a top guard in the Big East in years to come.