How do you beat Villanova? That question has dogged Xavier since they joined the Big East. The times that X has actually managed to knock off Villanova are memorable for their paucity. Some of the times Xavier has lost are equally memorable and much easier to suss from the memory.
Villanova has lost a mildly shocking four times this season. That’s in large part down to the fact that Jay Wright will schedule anyone, anywhere in order to make his team better, and partly down to the fact that they have had their problems at times. With four losses to examine it would seem like there should be a way to find out what is required to take down the Wildcats. Examining each of the four games shows that’s not quite the case.
UCLA 86-77 Villanova
Nova’s attempts to go to UCLA and party were somewhat less successful than those of RL Grime’s protagonist. Villanova fell behind, went on a scorching 16-2 in just four minutes, led by ten in the second half, blew that lead, went to overtime, took a quick lead there, and then lost. It was a manic game.
What doomed the Cats in this one was their defense. UCLA poured it on late and ended up scoring 1.18 points per possession. A lot of that came from a very strong offensive rebounding performance in which the Bruins grabbed 37% of their misses. UCLA shot decently enough for those extra possessions to matter, Nova’s offense staggered late, and the Wildcats lost.
Purdue 80-74 Villanova
This was the worst defensive game that Nova has played all year. In this game Villanova’s offense was more than up to the task and the Wildcats led by 11 with nine minute to play before collapsing late for the second loss in a row. It wasn’t the pace that got to tired Nova legs, because there were only 60 possessions to be had.
What broke Nova’s resistance was a 37 point barrage from Purdue in the final ten minutes. (Purdue is quite good, for those of you just tuning in to college ball.) Once again Nova got hammered on the offensive glass and this time the Boilermakers shot the ball exceedingly well. Purdue was 43.5% from deep, nearly 60% inside the arc. Bury that many shots and you will beat Nova.
Baylor 57-36 Villanova
Another way to beat Nova is to just not ever let them score. Baylor didn’t shoot the ball well, didn’t follow the previous pattern of crushing the offensive glass, and didn’t even score a point per possession. They won by 21.
The Bears did it by playing absolutely stifling defense. In this game Nova was an appalling 6-27 inside the arc and an only marginally less appalling 6-27 outside the arc. That’s not a typo, the Wildcats shot the same awful thing from two and three. They also turned the ball over on 21% of their possessions. If you think Xavier can do that on defense, I posit that you haven’t watched a game recently.
Creighton 79-59 Villanova
That brings us to Nova’s most recent loss, a hammering by the Bluejays nearly a month ago. Creighton returned to the one thread that runs through these losses and grabbed 40% of their misses. If there is one thing that ties Nova’s losses together it’s a failure to rebound.
Excluding the Baylor travesty, this is Villanova’s worst shooting night. They were 4-23 behind the arc and a pretty poor 42.5% inside it. Creighton shot incredibly well inside and overcame a turnover rate of 21% to win the game.
So what does it take?
To beat Villanova Xavier will have to offensive rebound. Baylor had the worst OReb rate of any of the teams that beat Nova with a 30% mark. Both DePaul and Tennessee have topped that number but failed to win, so just getting on the glass isn’t a panacea.
UCLA took the tack of trying to increase the pace a bit and played the most possessions (aided by overtime) of any team that has beaten Nova. Tennessee and Seton Hall have both forced a faster pace and lost, as have a host of buy game opponents. Speeding the Cats up only helps if they don’t eviscerate you while you do it.
That brings us to shooting. Baylor and Creighton dominated Villanova’s shooters and won games easily. You might think that not letting Nova get rolling from deep is the key to winning, but the Wildcats shot 38% and 45% from deep in losses to Purdue and UCLA. Just shutting off the interior isn’t a guarantee either, because Villanova shot 44% and 39% against Syracuse and Tennessee from inside the arc and still won both games.
There is no one way to guarantee a win against Villanova. That’s what has made the Wildcats one of the best teams in the nation for so long. Xavier has their work cut out for them come Wednesday night.