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Pre-duel Pleasantries: Villanova

Just sitting around, ruminating on the biggest home game in program history.

That's Caleb on the left.
That's Caleb on the left.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Surprise! It's me, not Caleb, here to - wait, what do you mean you never really look at who writes the posts? Whatever. Anyway, we sat down via email with Chris Lane of VU Hoops to pick his brain about why the best team in the nation is the best team in the nation. Here's what he gave us in return.

In six games against Xavier in the Big East, Villanova is averaging almost 12 made threes a game and connecting at a 43.4% clip. Even in an otherwise down shooting year this season, Nova drilled 13-25 against Xavier in their previous meeting. What is it about X that bring out the best in Villanova? Is there any reason a Xavier fan should have hope that it's not going to be more of the same on Wednesday?

5 games is a very small sample size, but there is a growing trend that suggests that whatever scouting report Chris Mack has on Villanova needs to be burned and Jay Wright should ride his until results change.

It is kind of funny though - on paper Xavier has the type of roster that should give Villanova a lot of problems. They have great depth at all positions with experience and athleticism. This leads me to believe that the scheme is flawed. Villanova has struggled against a 2-3 zone at times this season, but they shredded X's 1-3-1 on NYE and have had similiar success against it with other teams in the past. Their ball movement is so good that it will expose an extended zone like that. Without knowing too much about Xavier in a man-to-man defense, it would probably behoove them to just play Villanova straight up.

Final thought - success breeds confidence, and this group of Wildcats has had a ton of it vs. Xavier. It might just be as simple as that.

Any read we were going to get on your defense evaporated when Sumner went down last game. What is it that Villanova does on that end that makes them so good? Is it a scheme or just high-level execution?

It's a bit of both. The defense is predicated on not being afraid to switch, communicate, and take calculated risks. Ball-screen teams are usually trying to create mismatches but since Villanova operates with a lot of flexibility and not a traditional lineup it's typically very hard to exploit. That's not to say that if you work hard enough you won't end up with James Farr on Jalen Brunson in the post, but the defensive rotation is so well-oiled that they're quick to close down those mismatches.

The execution is an under-appreciated aspect nationally. Been listening to a lot of podcasts lately about how underwhelming and unathletic Villanova is. Yet they have one of the best defenses in the country. Having a back-line anchor as good as Daniel Ochefu helps, but Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart and even Ryan Arcidiacono have been fantastic defensively this year. I would have only bet on Hart prior to the season.

The re-introduction of Sumner will pose a new threat. Myles Davis is solid but he doesn't possess the blow-by ability of Sumner. He has that ability and as Cat Barber, Isaiah Cousins and Kris Dunn have showed, 'Nova can have some trouble against uber-athletic guards. This is definitely a big matchup to watch on Wednesday night.

How is Ryan Arcidiacono still in college? Isn't he like 37?

How did Casual Hoya get a hold of your blog? We'll send help ASAP.

Oh, and we at Villanova are kings of the Scottie Reynolds Memorial Award for guys who have been playing for at least 10 seasons.

You have the reigning (co-)conference player of the year, the player who leads the conference in OReb% and DReb%, the player who leads the conference in ORtg... and Josh Hart. Which one of those guys is the conference player of the year this year, or is it someone else entirely?

Just a couple weeks ago I was firmly in the camp that Ben Bentil was the Big East Player of the Year, but Providence has been on such a nosedive and I do think that winning matters when you are talking about PotY races, and not just who is the best player or who had the best season. There's a reason why National PotY seems to be a race between Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine with Ben Simmons running a distant third.

For that reason, Josh Hart has my vote for Player of the Year. He's been so, so good and has turned Villanova from a team that had some wondering whether they would be in the conference title race in December to a team that is poised to make it three straight championships (and hasn't looked all that stressed doing so). He's been the catalyst and the most important player on the roster.

Congrats on the #1 ranking and a heck of a season so far; is this the year that former America East Coach of the Year Jay Wright gets back to the Final Four? What has been behind Nova's early exits the last couple of years?

Thank you! See, we can all be friends! We'll have an article covering exactly this topic out by the time everyone reads this at Banners, but the truth is I have no idea if Villanova finally gets back to the final weekend. If there's anything college basketball has taught me it's that single-elimination tournaments are weird. So much of it depends on matchups and who is playing well at that stage of the season.

I will say that I think this Villanova team is much more equipped to handle their business in March. So much has been (rightfully) made of their shooting struggles and their shooting volumes from outside the arc. Yet they're winning, and winning fairly easily. Doesn't that mean they're probably better off this year if they have an off-night offensively.

In 2009, the Final Four team never shot above 34% from the outside on their run to the Final Four, and they molly-whopped some pretty good teams in UCLA and Duke. They won by using their defense to make good teams look bad. That sounds a lot like this year's Villanova team.

The New Year's Eve game between these two teams illustrated how one play can change a whole game and that pre-game predictions are a fool's errand, but indulge me: what's the final score on Wednesday?

I think it's going to be a single-digit game either way, which will buck a trend in this series. Xavier is just too good to lay an egg, the Cintas Center will be #lit and I think Chris Mack will have a gameplan that doesn't involve leaving Villanova with wide open shots.

My gut tells me I might be in for a sad night's sleep after this one, but I'm rolling with my boys. 73-70 Wildcats.


Back at ya, looking forward to a great night of Big East hoops!