We talk with Chris Lane of VU Hoops in advance of the St. John’s/ Villanova contest tomorrow, because we want to know how on earth Butler beat the Wildcats, what the team looks like with a number of new players, why the Wildcats can’t rock a more distinctive color and just how afraid Villanova should be of the St. John’s Red Storm.
RITG: It's our first time seeing Villanova against St. John's. Now that it's Josh Hart's team, what is different about Villanova's approach to the game?
CL: Avid readers of VU Hoops will argue that this has been Josh Hart's team since last year. Arch [Ryan Arcidiacono] got the pub and The Chef [Daniel Ochefu] was definitely the glue of the defense, but Hart was the best player on the team.
The biggest difference you'll see with Hart this year is that he's actually running sets for himself, whether it is ball-screen action or a post-up on replace action. Jay has realized that he has a bona fide start that he can go to in crunch time and as we've seen so far, Hart is completely up to the challenge.
Otherwise, same old ball-movement offense, lots of good shooters, and a defense that likes to cause TOs and run. The defense is a little concerning right now, but they've picked it up since Big East play began.
RITG: Who are the newcomers this season and how have they helped - especially in the absence of Omari Spellman?
CL: With Phil Booth still nursing a knee issue, Donte DiVincenzo has really grabbed the available PT by the horns and run with it. He was a liability on defense early in the season (just way too aggressive), but he's starting to realize the athletic gifts he has and he completely shut Ed Sumner down on Tuesday night.
Offensively he's still a work in progress and can force things at times, but he's on the upswing right now. His outside shot isn't consistent yet, but he's a terror on the break and is developing the confidence to finish above the rim.
The other newbie is former A-10 Rookie of the Year Eric Paschall. Think poor man's Draymond Green. He's a a big wing, but because of the aforementioned Spellman BS he's defending a lot in the post (and also as part of Jay's 5-out offense which is all sorts of fun). He's the best athlete on the team IMO, and is being hampered a bit by his defensive responsibilities but he's a star in the making (he averaged over 15 ppg his freshman year at Fordham, so he's capable).
RITG: What's the secret sauce to holding the Wildcats under 1 point per possession - which has happened only once, against Butler, this season?
CL: Honestly? Hope they have an off night shooting the ball (as they did at Butler). This team isn't last-year-NCAA good on offense yet, but they are still getting so many good looks and obviously with the talent they have they are converting at a high clip.
Butler also uglied the game up a bit and played at a slower pace, which certainly helped their cause. It hasn't been an issue yet, but depth is also a concern with Booth out. Villanova is really playing just 7 players in their rotation.
RITG: Have you seen St. John's this season? What about the Red Storm would worry you in a road game at Madison Square Garden?
CL: I have! I watched them dismantle Syracuse and get dismantled by Georgetown so I've seen the best of both worlds.
Athletic guards have given 'Nova trouble in the past (though Mikal Bridges has become a neutralizer), so have both Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds is the area I'm looking at. If they can get into the paint and either finish or find shooters, we could be in for a game.
I would also cite the general length of the Johnnies on the interior given 'Nova's lack of raw size, but we've already seen them handle Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and come out alive.
RITG: When will Villanova whip out a powder-blue uniform to differentiate their color scheme from most of the rest of the league?
CL: Mannnnnnnn that's a mixed reaction on VU Hoops. I personally love the 1985 throwbacks they've been rocking since last season - like legit they should wear them every game - but there have been calls for the baby blues since it is in the Villanova colorway.
I would need to see a mockup, because that could easily look like Carolina if you overdo. But I'm a big UniWatch fan so I'm open to some new concepts.
Also, if they can go ahead and burn the grey uniforms they inexplicably wear once or twice a season, that'd be great too.
RITG: As you get older, how has your appreciation for college basketball changed? (Deliberately vague, take that any way you want to.)
CL: I'm still a little kid when it comes to the irrational reactions/excitement that come with watching. They used to be just for the teams I cared about, but now I can sit down and turn on any channel and get into a game as my basketball knowledge/understanding has increased over time.
I think generally speaking, offensive/defensive concepts are what I've gotten into the last few years and it makes watching random games more enjoyable. Advanced stats are fun too, but mostly as a look back to me for a game/stretch of games to see if those back up what I'm seeing.
And lastly, the concept of paying players stipends or actual money is starting to grow on me. It wasn't until the last couple of years that I really jumped on board with that. I was always the 'they're getting a free education guy!' (which I still value) but the stipends has been a huge success.
I'm a big soccer head, so that model has always interested me as a replacement for unpaid college athletes - as much as it would suck to lose the NCAA (ha!), I feel that's the direction we're heading.