Sunday at high noon, the Villanova Wildcats and St. John's Red Storm face off and... well, given the talent of the 6th ranked Wildcats and the Johnnies, coming off their 11th straight loss, this looks like a possible behind-the-woodshed beating.
But they don't play the games on paper, do they? (Or in the KenPom database, where 'Nova is ranked #4 and St. John's is #253.)
We took a few minutes to talk with Chris of VU Hoops about the Wildcats, what chance St. John's has, why they are a little less imposing in the paint than some other Big East squads, and all of the team mottos the Wildcats have (maybe we should make some fancy t-shirts too, whattaya think?)...
We also answered their questions about St. John's here, so give it a read!
Rumble: Tell us about how Villanova looks to score on offense - and how it seems that the Wildcats are taking even MORE threes than last year?
Chris, VU Hoops: The 'more threes' narrative hasn't really held true as we've moved in to conference play, to be honest. They've dialed that back and are really looking to attack the interior, whether that's through Daniel Ochefu or off ball movement to get the defense off balance, which opens up driving lanes. Now, it's Villanova and they're going to take an open 3 if they have a good look. But that's been the biggest change - they're actually taking open shots (for the most part) as opposed to bad looks. Some games, like Providence, they just aren't falling.
Lots of teams have been going zone to try and bait 'Nova in to launching threes - Providence did it to perfection - but Villanova has shown that they can eviscerate a zone when they've got their heads screwed on right (see: Xavier game).
Rumble: What's Daniel Ochefu's role right now, and why is he not seeing more playing time?
Chris, VU Hoops: When Villanova is at their best, they are running the offense through Ochefu. He's had some illness and injury issues this year, but when he's healthy and he's playing with a great level of confidence there aren't a lot of guys in the conference that can handle him. I'd expect to see that version of him on Sunday, where he's dominant on the glass, in the post offensively, and passing the ball in Villanova's offense. When he's on, Villanova is very hard to beat.
As for his PT, your guess is as good as mine. I want to say Jay Wright is protecting him a bit since it's a big drop to Darryl Reynolds, but I don't know. It was especially harsh for our blog to watch Ben Bentil go 45 minutes and dominate when Ochefu seems to struggle to play 30 minutes a game.
Rumble: How is the Villanova Hoops: Next Generation coming along - speaking of the newcomers Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo?
Chris, VU Hoops: The man-crush VU Hoops has on Mikal Bridges is at borderline inappropriate levels. He's absolutely fantastic and frankly should be playing more. Jay has a tendency to protect the younger guys, but he's been excellent and provides a different dynamic on both ends of the floor that no other player on the roster can replicate. You'll likely see him in the 1-2-2 press this weekend and have bad dreams later that night.
To be fair to him, we probably overhyped Jalen Brunson coming in. Don't get me wrong, he's smart and clearly not fazed by the moment, but there's been a bigger learning curve on defense and some game speed things with him that we didn't expect. He's been much better lately though, and I think he may be over the proverbial freshman wall. He's not the one-and-done guy either, which means we get him for a few more years.
Donte DiVincenzo fractured his foot several weeks ago, and is just getting back to practice. He should be dressing soon, but not quite ready yet. Tim Delaney is out for the year after double-hip surgery. He won't be on a court until June, so he's redshirting.
Rumble: Tell us about the Villanova defense. Specifically - looking at KenPom, it seems like the Wildcats remain in control and don't let opponents get looks early in the shot clock. How does that happen? What looks does Villanova use to stymie opponents?
Chris, VU Hoops: The 1-2-2 press and the shortened shot clock have been a big deal. Even when not generating turnovers, Villanova is forcing teams to use 6-8 seconds just to get in to their offense. That results in a lot of hurried shots. They've been a lot further along defensively (and behind offensively) which is a surprise to everyone.
Ochefu is the biggest piece though. There aren't many better rim protectors in the country, which allows the guards to take risks and jump passing lanes and trap the sidelines. It's paid off.
Rumble: The Wildcats are relatively short, it seems, in the post for the Big East. By the numbers, it looks like that hasn't been a problem in terms of rebounding or defense in league play - is it something that's worrisome for the Wildcats? (Note - a yes/ no question is terrible and invites a short answer, but I believe in Chris to expound on the idea.)
Chris, VU Hoops: For years, Villanova has had this issue. They employ a team-rebounding strategy though. It hampers their ability to get out and run a bit, which sucks, but guys like Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins have really stepped up and made it so that Villanova isn't getting killed on the glass like they were earlier this year. Daniel Ochefu remains a hoss on the boards too, which helps.
It is definitely a concern as we get further in the year, because fatigue sets in, but we've been impressed with Villanova's ability to win games while not owning the rebounding margin.
Rumble: Any fears about playing St. John's? How can this game go horribly wrong and end in a loss for Jay Wright's squad? (Which is to say, give us some glints of hope.)
Chris, VU Hoops: I mean, there's always the worry of just not showing up - or in Villanova's case pulling what they did against Oklahoma and going YOLO from 3. But Villanova has had an entire week off and has a bad taste in their mouth after losing a winnable game to lose their historic winning streak. They'll be focused and in a bad mood on Sunday.
I'm intrigued by St. John's just because new coach/new system/new players. There's not the usual familiarity, which could present some challenges early. But ultimately, I think Villanova has way too much depth, talent and experience to be concerned from the fan's perspective. Sorry!
Rumble: What's your favorite Villanova motto? Which one is going to be most effective come NCAA Tournament time? Or does the team need a new motto? Also, who designs VU Hoops's sexy t-shirts?
Chris, VU Hoops: One of our readers, youngBUCK, came up with the Main Line Mayhem motto which we loved, so we can't take credit for that. But MikeJ. just designed the 0-52 shirt, from what I can tell and generally takes the lead on managing that aspect of the site.
Unlike some, I do enjoy the Shoot 'Em Up, Sleep In The Streets motto because for better or worse is what Villanova Basketball is right now. When they're on, they are unbeatable (Xavier) and when they're not, it can get ugly fast (Oklahoma). Balance is the key to them, and when they're attacking both inside and out they have Final Four potential.