Take Me Home, Country Roads
The first seven possessions went like clockwork, 13 points on 5-8 shooting with three made three point field goals as Villanova jumped out to a 13-5 lead on St. Louis. Then the Billinkens calmed down and began to work their offensive sets. The game tightened up as the Bills took a 12-10 run over the next six minutes to trim two points off of the Wildcats' lead. Then Mouphtao Yarou headed to the bench with his sesond foul of the half, and the wheels fell off of the wagon. Coach Rick Majerus' squad launched a 22-10 onslaught over the last 9:30 of the first period that wiped out Villanova's lead and sent Saint Louis into the lock room with a four point, 38-34 lead. And firm control on the game.
Watching Villanova's defense try to trap and press St. Louis reminded me of a badly played game of keep-away. By the mid point of the second half the relative youth (and indiscipline?) of the Wildcats showed with a series of flairing elbows and flagrant foul calls. Walking a fine line between tough, Big East defense and chippy basketball, the 'Cats found themselves under an unwelcomed refereeing microscope. The irony was that Villanova's offense was not terrible, as in lose-the-game terrible. With a 52.9% eFG% and turnover rate of 18.5%, how could Villanova be losing, and by double digits (the game was in the second half...) at that? The game reminded me of the West Virginia teams under John Beilein. Most of the time the Wildcats got much of what they wanted offensively, but would still lose to a Mountaineer team that understood what plays to run to exploit the Wildcats' help defense. As Blue and White defenders collapsed on the Billiken with the ball driving the lane (or at the elbow), the pass would go into the area just vacated by the "help" defender...to a Billiken flashing to the basket or set for a quick three. The Bills converted 14 of 27 three point attempts, far, far to high for any opponent to overcome. It was a game where high rebounding numbers and low turnover rates were marginalized by the extraordinary efficiency offered by the other team.
The bloggers over at VUHoops.com offered a brief recap with player grades while the Nova Blog posted a recap followed by a detailed player critique later. The University site posted their AP wire story. The official boxscore is also posted. The breakdown by halves
Half Time Adjustments
An anemic 6.7% offensive rebounding rate in the first half was "corrected" to 37.5% in the second half. Realistically that was probably the only way to boost an already good 56.3% eFG%. Ironically the rebounding improved -- but the conversion rate still dropped. A 52.9% eFG% coupled with a 1.13 PPWS should be good enough offensively to chalk up the win. The Billikens however, sliced up Villanova's defense to the tune of a 64.7% eFG% and 1.30 PPWS, numbers that should draw a comment from Ken Pomeroy and others who track those numbers. Villanova's "help defense" was it's own worst enemy in this game. And the frustration manifested by a number of second half chippy fouls (and Darrun Hilliard's quick exit after his fourth foul) suggests the players knew their best efforts were useless to shut down the offense they faced.
Notes & Observations
1. The assist rate drop from first to second half (75.0 to 30.8) is clear evidence that the offense went away from dribble drive to one-on-one breakdown as a response to being down double digits for much of the perod.
2. Maalik Wayns took a whopping 44% of the shots when he was in the game. Given he played 87.5% of the available minutes at one of the guard positions, his high shooting percentage was not a distortion of the minutes. His 49% possession rate, however, tends to reduce Villanova's offense to one dimension. Stop Wayns and the Wildcats stall.
3. James Bell emerged as a legitimate second option on offense. The sophomore wing took 26.5% of the shots when he was on the floor, with a comparable percentage of the possessions. Now one (or both?) of Mouphtaou Yarou or Dominic Cheek must establish themselves as legitimate second/third scoring options. For Yarou that means staying in the game (and game flow). For Cheek it means shooting/scoring more consistently.
4. The staff used a 10 man rotation again. Minute distribution ranged from five (Ty Johnson to 35 (Wayns) minutes, with eight drawing 10 or more minutes.
5. St. Louis was paced by sophomore guard Jordair Jett who came off of the bench to score 19 points on 7-8 (2-2, 5-6) shooting from the floor and 3-6 from the line. Kwamain Mitchell (32.1% Shot%), Cody Ellis (23.5% Shot%) and Rob Loe (43.6% Shot%) were, along with Jett, the offensive mainstays for St. Louis. Mitchell did not convert efficiently however, and Loe played only nine minutes (taking five field goal attempts in that time span).
Up Next... -- Santa Clara will face Villanova in the 3rd place game on Sunday.