Defending national champion Villanova is on a two-game skid after suffering its second loss of the season at home to Furman on Nov. 17. In the previous five seasons, the Wildcats hadn’t lost their second game until Dec. 19, Jan. 19, Jan. 20, Jan. 24 and most recently, Feb. 7, as they consistently took an undefeated or near-perfect record into conference play.
But life without Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo has proven to be a more difficult transition than potentially expected due to three-point shooting woes, too many turnovers and all-too-frequent defensive lapses. Plus, Villanova’s top-10 freshman class has provided little in terms of production.
Here’s a closer look at what has plagued Villanova in its two losses.
Defensive awareness and rotations
Villanova had the most efficient offense in the country last season and the second-most efficient since the 2001-02 season, according to kenpom.com. But the Wildcats’ defense was also excellent, and they have been consistently strong on that end of the floor for some time, ranking 11th, 12th, 5th, 12th and 12th in the last five seasons.
The team’s core last season was made up of three redshirt juniors, a true junior, a redshirt sophomore and a one-and-done freshman. They were players who had spent three or fours years in Villanova’s system and many of them redshirted. While two starters returned from last season, fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, the rest of the team’s rotation is comprised of players who are in their first or second season at Villanova.
Villanova’s youth and new lineup combinations showed through defensive lapses against Michigan.
Below, Michigan center Jon Teske receives an entry pass from teammate Jordan Poole after a screen and roll. The other four Michigan players are standing outside the three-point line and Villanova’s Phil Booth (5) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (21) are both shading towards Teske.
Teske takes two dribbles towards the lane, causing Booth and Cosby-Roundtree to collapse, opening a clear lane to the rim for Charles Matthews, whose defender (Cosby-Roundtree) has his back completely turned to him.
Villanova’s Eric Paschall (4) is slow to recognize how wide open Matthews is under the rim and Teske is able to offer a quick dump-off pass to Matthews for the dunk.
On Michigan’s next possession, point guard Zavier Simpson swings the ball from the right wing to the left wing to Poole, who throws it to Matthews in the left corner. Cosby-Roundtree and Booth both close out on Poole, forcing Paschall to leave his man, Teske, in order to try to contest Matthews’ shot.
With the ball in the air, Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels leaves his man, Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis, in the right corner to box out Teske underneath the basket.
Cosby-Roundtree is still trying to find the unguarded Michigan player as he runs from Poole to Matthews to Teske on the play, ultimately leaving Teske double-covered and Brazdeikis wide open on the weak side.
The ball bounces once off the rim, then off the glass, setting up Brazdeikis for a huge two-handed slam on the rebound as Villanova failed to get a body on him when Matthews took the three.
Later in the first half, Zavier Simpson blows past Villanova’s Joe Cremo (24) off the dribble. Paschall (4) and freshman Saddiq Bey (15) stay with their men, leaving Phil Booth (standing in the paint) as the last line of defense.
Booth only half commits to sliding over in the lane, where he could have cut off Simpson and potentially taken a charge, but he only puts his hands up, plants his left foot and instead retreats to cover Charles Matthews (1) in the corner.
Simpson finishes with an uncontested layup.
Simpson shot 68.9 percent at the rim last season, while Matthews shot 31.8 percent from three.
On this possession, Michigan cluttered the top of the key with the ball in the hands of Jordan Poole (2). Zavier Simpson looped around Poole’s defender, Villanova’s Jahvon Quinerly, to the left wing, while Isaiah Livers ran a slip screen that confused Quinerly.
There wasn’t a clear understanding or communication among the three Villanova defenders, so Saddiq Bey, who started the possession guarding Livers, slid up to defend Poole, while Eric Paschall and Quinerly both followed Simpson.
That left Livers wide open in the lane with a path to the basket.
Poole found Livers with an entry pass and Villanova’s Joe Cremo (left block) was able to slide over in time to contest Livers’ shot but doing so left Charles Matthews (1) untouched as he went in for the rebound.
Matthews finished the possession with an emphatic put-back dunk.
On Michigan’s next trip down the floor, Cremo over-helped to cut off a dribble drive from Simpson, leaving his man, Isaiah Livers, wide open at the top of the key. Simpson found Livers and as the shot went up, Phil Booth raised his arms as if to say, “Who’s guarding him?” and he immediately looked at Cremo after the shot went in, looking for answers.
While Michigan had a great shooting night inside the arc, making more than 60 percent of its twos, the Wolverines were only 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) from three and 12-of-19 at the free throw line (63.2 percent).
This wasn’t a case where Michigan caught fire from outside and made 15 three-pointers. Instead, the Wolverines used ball movement and player movement to consistently expose Villanova’s lack of defensive awareness, understanding of rotations and communication.
“We’ve got too many pieces,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told reporters after the game, “we’re running guys in and out, we’re not as organized as we want to be and we’re just trying to find a lineup here early in the season. And then when you play a good team and you’re doing that, it doesn’t look good. Throwing young guys in there against a really experienced and well-coached team.”
Early in the game against Furman, Villanova showed a team-wide defensive lapse in transition. Three players went to cut off the ball with two other players also standing in the lane. From the start of the play, Furman guard Jordan Lyons (hands up on the left side of the floor) knew he was open and called for the ball.
Furman slowed the fast break and swung the ball, first to forward Matt Rafferty (running by the logo at midcourt), then to Lyons.
Even once Rafferty caught the ball, Villanova’s defense still hadn’t recovered. There wasn’t a single defender on the left side of the floor.
Lyons had a wide-open three-pointer, which he missed, but Furman got the rebound and Lyons tried again from outside. This time he made it, giving Furman a 5-0 lead to start the game that quickly extended to 8-2.
Shot selection/three-point shooting
Last season, Villanova led the country with a 59.5 effective field goal percentage and the Wildcats shot just better than 40 percent from three as a team. They had four players who shot at least 40 percent from behind the arc, but all four are now playing professionally.
In its losses to Michigan and Furman, Villanova shot 3-of-15 (20 percent) and 14-of-44 (31.8 percent) from three-point range. Fifth-year seniors Phil Booth (29 percent) and Eric Paschall (17.6 percent) are shooting well below their averages from last season, and freshmen Jahvon Quinerly (18.2 percent) and Cole Swider (11.1 percent) haven’t offered any outside threat of note.
On this possession early in Villanova’s game against Michigan, fifth-year senior Phil Booth (5) takes a deep, contested, three-pointer with only one teammate in a good position for the rebound.
The shot clanked off the rim and Michigan had four players in position for the rebound to Villanova’s two. Simpson grabs the rebound and in one fluid motion, passed ahead to Matthews, who leaked out in transition after contesting Booth’s three-point attempt.
Matthews caught the pass ahead of Booth and Collin Gillespie, dribbled once and finished the layup, which was made possible by a low-percentage shot from Booth in which his teammates weren’t in position to grab the rebound.
Late in the first half, when the game was all but over, freshman Cole Swider took a contested three in the right corner with 25 seconds left on the shot clock, and like the Booth three-point attempt that we detailed above, Michigan was in great position to get the rebound.
Isaiah Livers boxed out Saddiq Bey for an easy rebound and drew a foul in the process.
Villanova made 14 three-pointers against Furman but it took 44 attempts. Booth was 3-of-13 and Paschall was 2-of-11 as Booth surpassed his previous career-high of nine three-point attempts in a game, and Paschall tied his career-high. But neither player’s production behind the arc against Furman warranted that number of attempts.
Taking care of the ball
Villanova turned the ball over on just 15 percent of its possessions last season, which ranked 14th nationally, and the Wildcats are missing the steady hands of Jalen Brunson (12.2 percent turnover rate in 2017-18) and Mikal Bridges (10.9 percent).
Sophomore point guard Collin Gillespie has a 19.7 percent turnover rate and his backup, freshman Jahvon Quinerly, is even more turnover prone (33 percent). Villanova’s 21.2 percent turnover rate ranks 257th with the most significant damage coming in its 21-turnover game against Michigan in which the Wildcats committed a turnover on roughly one of every three possessions.
The Wolverines led the country in defensive efficiency through Sunday, so perhaps that one game is weighing heavily in Villanova’s season percentages, but the Wildcats also turned the ball over 14 times against Morgan State and Furman.
After Villanova’s loss to Michigan, Wright said if he would have done anything differently it would have been setting a seven or eight-man rotation, rather than the 10-player contingent that saw action against the Wolverines. He has since put his words into action as Quinerly, a five-star point guard who was Villanova’s top-rated freshman in its 2018 recruiting class, didn’t play in the team’s loss to Furman.