Following a 76-68 victory over Providence in the early matchup of Fridays Big East tournament semifinals, the Wildcats will advance to the finals to face Seton Hall. Here are three reasons why the Wildcats will take home the trophy for the second straight year.
1. Defense wins championships
That statement may be vastly overused to describe strong defensive performances, but it especially applies to these Villanova Wildcats. What they did in Friday's matchup, where they halted Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to a total of 12 points, is just a metaphor to their undeviating and authoritative basket-protecting mantra. From Josh Hart's stifling defense and energetic rebounding to Daniel Ochefu's tough physical interior presence, the Wildcats force offenses out of their normal comfort zone.
It is not solo impressive performances that define these Wildcats, it is total team defense. Since the beginning of conference play in early January, the Wildcats have allowed 70+ points just six times in 21 games (including Big East tournament and matchup against Temple). Their 63.4 points allowed per game is good enough for 16th in the nation. Now in the Big East tournament final, they will need their suffocating defense to shine bright once again. It must be more than just one single solid performance. All involved need to play to their potential, as they have done for the majority of the season, for the Wildcats on Saturday night.
2. Ball Movement is electric
Jay Wright's system, which emphasizes the use of at least two ball-handling guards in the starting lineup, emphasizes the use of ball rotation and making the extra pass to find the open jump shooter. With both Jalen Brunson, freshman, and Ryan Arcidiacono, senior, playing as unselfish facilitators to jump start the offense, the Wildcat offense has flourished in the previous two months.
While their early season jump shooting issues have consistently proved to be a small thorn in their 29-4 side, this is in no part due to the lack of fluctuation on the offense. Their 16.3 assists per game could possibly be raised if they could convert on more than 34.2% of their 3-point attempts. The Wildcats' ball movement has proved to be a key to success throughout this season and Wright's entire tenure at Villanova.
Overall, this process of cohesion and chemistry has set the Wildcats above the rest of the BIG EAST this season. While other teams have faced their fair share of struggles throughout conference season, Villanova has maintained a consistent and persistent offensive flow that has plagued opposing team's defenses. Now, with a BIG EAST title on the line, this should prove the difference maker between a heartbreaking loss and a repeat title.
3. The Dominant D.C. Duo may just be unstoppable
Do not misconstrue this statement, Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart, juniors and natives of the Washington D.C. area, are probably the BIG EAST's second best tandem, behind Dunn and Bentil of course. Other than being the Wildcats' leading scorers, these two have filled the void of Darrun Hilliard's departure, and created offense for a team that seemed to be finding a dearth of scorers beyond Daniel Ochefu at the beginning of the season. While Hart has provided a certain vivacity and penetrating skill, Jenkins' ability to consistently become the focal point of Jay Wright's offense over the course of the season (especially at the end) created more options for Ryan Arcidiacono at the top of the key, Brunson on the wings, and easy baskets for Ochefu and Reynolds under the basket.
While Jenkins may thrive on offense, Hart makes a name for himself perfecting the nuances of the game. His energy, motor, and relentlessly physical defense force any opposing offense to craft their game plan knowing that he may stagnate their leading scorer's attendance on the court. His 7.1 rebounds while standing a hair under 6'6 is far past impressive, it is near ridiculous. Even though there may never be a true statistic to measure his indefatigable personality, do not mistake the impact of the Sidwell Friends School graduate.
To this point of the BIG EAST season, their total presence on the floor has proven indomitable. For the Wildcats to win tonight, these two will need to perform as their usual and assertive selves.