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Villanova’s offense needs more balance to be an elite team

Dec 28, 2013, 5:15 PM EDT

Villanova Wildcats head coach Wright yells at officials during NCAA men's basketball tournament against North Carolina Tar Heels in Kansas City Reuters

In the game’s opening nine minutes against Syracuse, Villanova looked like one of the nation’s elite teams as they jumped out to a 25-7 lead in the Carrier Dome and silenced the crowd early.

The Wildcats started 5-for-7 from behind the three-point line as they moved the ball quickly around the perimeter and found open players for jumpers.

Villanova was aggressive and assertive on both ends.

But reality quickly set in for the Wildcats as the Orange made adjustments in their zone. A mediocre-shooting Villanova team — they’re shooting 32 percent from the three-point line on the season; and they shoot a lot of threes — missed their next six three-pointers and began rushing shots and Syracuse’s zone took over as the Orange went on a 71-37 run to close out the game for the 78-62 victory.

Things began to unravel for Villanova when the perimeter shots stopped falling.

Spacing became an issue for the Wildcats towards the middle of the first half as they attempted to throw the ball around the perimeter and Villanova settled for jumper-after-jumper. It almost seemed like for minutes at a time, Villanova wouldn’t work the ball inside their own three-point line during their offensive possessions.

Look at this photo of Villanova’s floor spacing captured by CBT’s own Rob Dauster:

That kind of floor spacing might work in an intermediate men’s league — or if Steph Curry is your floor spacer — but with the kind of length, lateral quickness and athleticism that Syracuse brings with their zone, Villanova needed to do a better job of being patient and working the ball in the high post to find better looks.

If Villanova is going to beat long and athletic teams, their offensive attack has to be more patient and seek out better shots.

Working the ball into the high post would be a big step in that equation. James Bell played well offensively for Villanova — going for 25 points before fouling out — but Nova’s other guards did a poor job of working the ball inside, or even pass faking to move the Syracuse zone from side-to-side to create driving or passing lanes. The Wildcat starters around Bell on offense — Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston, Daniel Ochefu — combined for only four field goals as they seemed to feel the affects of Syracuse’s zone as their halfcourt offense crawled to a halt.

Villanova ended up shooting 10-for-31 from the three-point line for the game against Syracuse — which, at 32 percent, matches their season average

Villanova is going to shoot a lot of three-pointers —  at 45 percent of their attempts coming from there this season that should be a continuing trend — but they have to make sure they’re smart about it.

The Wildcats shot their season average from three-point range and lost by 16 to a superior team, but there is plenty of time to refine their approach before facing another opponent like Syracuse. Thankfully, there aren’t a lot of teams like Syracuse for Villanova to face, but can they strike more balance in their offensive approach? It might be the only way the Wildcats reach their full potential.

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