Game 19: St. John's vs Villanova - ...By The Numbers Preview

I asked three Villanova bloggers questions about their team. Before I post my pregame, three separate posts, one for each blogger, with their answers to the following in full:

1- Villanova's 16-1, with an elite offense and a high ranking... are they really the #4 team in the country? Is this level of play sustainable? Can they be better?

2- When Villanova loses again, what's going to be their downfall? What are the Wildcats' weaknesses?

3- Defensively, who is the best Wildcat player? Who are the weak links?

Second is Villanova By The Numbers with three answers. Thanks for the response - check out my responses to his questions on his site. And make sure to check out his live blog from Madison Square Garden for Rush the Court during the game tomorrow starting at 12 eastern. Read the responses below.

1- Villanova's 16-1, with an elite offense and a high ranking...are they really the #4 team in the country? Is this level of play sustainable? Can they be better?

When I look just at Villanova, the answer is a resounding no -- the flaws are obvious -- no way the Wildcats can be the #4 in the country. Then I look at the competition, and I find myself thinking...maybe they are. They are certainly a Top 7-8 team right now. Every BCS conference is volatile right now, far more so than the past 3-5 seasons. The Wildcats run through the NCAA last season suggested a number of brand name programs (Duke, UCLA) were struggling to maintain their standing. Coach Calhoun is taking another medical leave, even as the Huskies continue to look for their rhythm, Georgetown is very inconsistent, losing to Villanova last weekend, but going into Fitzgerald Fieldhouse and beating Pitt. Louisville drops a road game to Seton Hall. The A10 may get more bids than the PAC-10 this season (if things don't turn around in the next month). The landscape in Division 1 is changing, and relative to the competition, Villanova is in pretty good shape.

I absolutely believe they can sustain this level of play, even improve over the course of the season. Though the 'Cats lost a tremendous presence on the boards, some consistent scoring from the low post and senior/upper classmen leadership, they returned a solid nucleus of players, and two seniors who have a wealth of experience in high pressure situations. Those two, Reggie Redding and Scottie Reynolds have provided some consistency this season. Reynolds has had the best start of his college career, quite unexpected. Reggie Redding suspended for the fall semester, is back now and even starting. I expect him to round into playing shape in the next 3-4 games, and begin to hit (or pass on) some of the shots he has missed. The freshmen are still learning, and are getting playing time as Coach Wright has used at least 10 in his rotation since the Fordham game in December (eight consecutive games so far). The staff has failed to use at least 9 men in only six of the 18 games played so far. Everyone is getting time and experience, but no one is logging a consistent 35+ minutes. I believe that should translate into better stamina when the team will need it.

2- When Villanova loses again, what's going to be their downfall? What are the Wildcats' weaknesses?

Most likely their 3s will not drop, their guards will not be able to drive the lane, even as they are outrebounded and their front court fouls out. That will happen when they run into a big but mobile team with front court players who are experienced enough to stand their ground (ie resist the temptation to leave their feet when the shooter begins his jumper). Or they could tank in their very next game. Because...who knows? This is an unpredictable season, and on any given night a bad team can look and play very well, even as a good team can look and play badly. Ask Marquette.

As I indicated earlier, Villanova graduated 53.3% of their rebounding. Not only does that suggest they have to replace those rebounders, but as the numbers are showing, those replacements are relatively inexperienced, and consequently are relatively foul prone. Right now Pomeroy ranks the Wildcats #310 in defensive free throw rate (FTA/FGA = 46.9%). That means that for nearly every two FGAs their opponents take, the 'Cats will foul and put the opponent on the line. At the end of last season that number was below 40%, still high, but only a bit below the D1 average. The difference translates into 4 more FTAs per game per opponent. And in a season where the Wildcats have won four of their games by five points or less, it is easy to see where their record could easily have another 2-4 losses. To this point in the season the Wildcats have completed their series with Marquette, DePaul and Rutgers -- tougher, closer games are coming.

3- Defensively, who is the best Wildcat player? Who are the weak links?

Expect to see Reggie Redding on D.J. Kennedy. Redding typically drew the toughest assignments last season, and that most likely won't change for Saturday since Reggie is within an inch and 10 pounds of Kennedy. A surprise this season is the development of Corey Stokes. While his shot has not come around (maybe that changed with his performance against Rutgers), Stokes has drawn a lot of minutes, due I suspect, to his improved defense.

The Wildcats have three players who can man the low post, but only Antonio Pena's experience extends farther back than November of this season. Maurice Sutton brings a lot of energy, but at 215 pounds he is too easily moved around. At 6-10 and 250 pounds Mouphtaou Yarou has the right dimensions, but as a freshman who was sidelined for nearly six weeks at the beginning of the season, he tends to bite on fakes and is subject to brain freezes when put on a (relatively) skilled offensive counterpart. Long term he will be very good, but right now he is on the up slope of the learning curve. Pena is a serviceable big. In the preseason I wrote that he was most crucial to Villanova's success this season. He does not have to be "breakout good", serviceable is good enough. For Antonio, a helping of confidence would go a long way. Defensive rebounding has been inconsistent, but generally good. They tend to struggle against teams with good offensive rebounders.

Transplanted New Yorker and now Midwesterner Peter a/k/a Pico writes for Johnny Jungle , doing the Calm Before the Storm posts and also for the Church of Bracketology. Pico is also on Twitter, @ECoastBias.

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