Each week in this space, KUSports.com online editor Jesse Newell will take a statistical look at one of the 10 teams that has the best chance of taking this year’s NCAA title.
AP/Coaches Ranking: 3rd/3rd
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 14th
With Villanova, it’s all about the offense. The Wildcats are third nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, and when you add that to the fact that they play the 12th-fastest tempo in the nation, you have a team that can put up points with the best of them. Coming into the week, Villanova had scored 84.9 points per game, which was tied for third nationally with Kansas.
Statistically, the Wildcats are successful offensively in nearly every facet, but Villanova is especially deadly at the free-throw line. The Wildcats not only average a whopping 27.6 free throws per game, but they also have hit 75.4 percent of their free-throws this year (10th nationally). In all, 24.5 percent of Villanova’s offense comes from the charity stripe, which is the 33rd-highest split in the country. Even if you don’t foul the Wildcats, they can hurt you from deep (38.4 percent from three, 40th nationally) or inside (51.1 percent from two, 68th nationally).
Rarely is a highly-ranked team as flawed as this year’s Villanova team. The Wildcats can’t play defense — at least not at an elite level.
’Nova ranks 68th in adjusted defensive efficiency. I know I bring this statistic up nearly every week, but that’s because it’s important: In the last six years, no Final Four team has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Last year, Villanova’s Final Four team was 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency. This year, the Wildcats need to improve significantly to even sniff the top 50 in the statistic.
So where is Villanova struggling most defensively? Two places: the three-point line and the free-throw line.
The Wildcats are only average at guarding the three (Villanova’s 33.3 percent three-point defense is 142nd nationally), and the opposition is taking advantage. Opponents have put up 22.7 three-pointers per game against the Wildcats, making an average of 7.6 treys per game. Add it all up, and opponents are getting 32.3 percent of their points against ’Nova from the three-point line — a percentage that is the 34th-highest in the country.
Villanova also hasn’t been able to guard without fouling this season. The Wildcats average 21.5 fouls per game, while opponents average 26.2 free throws per game. Opposing teams get 26 percent of their points from the free-throw line against the Wildcats (18th-highest total nationally), which is too high of a number for a premier squad.
Players to watch
A quick look at the numbers shows that most of Villanova’s offensive production comes from its talented backcourt. In fact, 23.2 percent of its scoring comes from the point-guard position, and 27 percent comes from the shooting-guard position, meaning those two spots account for more than half of the Wildcats’ points.
It all starts with 6-foot-2 senior guard Scottie Reynolds. The preseason first team All-Big East selection has an impressive shooting percentage (49.8 percent) when you consider that almost a third of his shots are three-point attempts. He fires shots up on 26 percent of his team’s possessions when he’s in, but he’s backed that number up with production, making 55.8 percent of his twos and 42.4 percent of his threes. He’s also a threat to get to the free-throw line, as he draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes — the 99th-best mark in the country.
Though VU coach Jay Wright has some other big names on his roster (Corey Fisher and Dominic Cheek are two of them), he might be best served to give additional minutes (and freedom) to 6-foot-6 sophomore Taylor King. Though the Duke transfer only averages 21.6 minutes per game and has just three starts, his statistics show he’s ready for a bigger role. His offensive rating (a statistic that measures an individual’s efficiency) is 23rd nationally, while he also has a minuscule 15 turnovers in 411 minutes (that’s only one turnover per every 27.4 minutes). King also has made 29 of his 68 threes this year (42.6 percent) and is second on the team in rebounds (6.3 per game) despite being sixth in minutes.
Villanova’s 18-1 record is a mirage. If recent history is any indicator, Villanova has no chance of winning the NCAA championship — and very little chance of making a Final Four — with its current shortcomings on defense. Without significant improvement in that area, Villanova’s ceiling this year is extremely low. If Wright can just get his team to play defense without fouling, though, a quick turnaround might still be possible.