‘Nova’s Success Not All About Its Offense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The overwhelming angle of West Virginia’s Sweet 16 match-up with top-seeded Villanova is that of the top offense in the country against Press Virginia’s attacking style.
It’s a fair point, though the Mountaineers’ pressure isn’t what it once was, while its halfcourt defense has elevated itself as head coach Bob Huggins has been forced to rely upon such. There’s no question the Wildcats can score. They lead the nation at an average of 87 points per game and have an incredible six players averaging more than 10 points per game.
That scoring punch, led by guards Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, has helped carry the ‘Cats to a 32-4 overall mark, including first and second round NCAA Tournament wipeouts of 16-seed Radford (87-61) and nine-seed Alabama (81-58). But just as VU head coach Jay Wright has often recruited excellent guard play, he also has players with the physical skill sets to defend effectively.
“They are very athletic and they have great foot speed,” Huggins said. “They have shot blockers. They have everything you need to be a good defensive team.”
If one looks at the Pomeroy rankings for adjusted defensive efficiency, Villanova ranks 19th nationally in allowing 95.4 points per 100 possessions. That’s 21 spots above WVU, which is giving up 97.1 points over the 100 possessions. Part of that is the Mountaineers aren’t forcing as many deflections or live ball turnovers as they have in the past. That typically (in the case of deflections) or always (live ball turnovers) leads to the end of possessions for foes, and thus no points.
Without that aspect, WVU has had to rely on slowing opponents in the halfcourt. When the Mountaineers are good, making the proper rotations, closing in on shooters, understanding the scouting report and switching effectively – along with a host of other tangibles – they’ve been able to hold teams down. But for truly elite level offenses, that has only come in stretches, and that’s why the likes of Kansas and Kentucky and even Oklahoma State, which can score it from all five positions, have been able to make runs.
“They really shoot the ball,” Huggins said of Villanova. “That’s the biggest thing when you look at their stats and watch them play. They make open shots. Bridges has been terrific. Everybody they put on the floor can score the ball and everybody can make threes.
“You can’t over-help. You have to stay attached to your guy. It’s kinda like playing Oklahoma State or Kansas to a degree. If you don’t stay attached, they will make shots. Sometimes even if you stay attached they still make shots. I think we have as good a frame of reference as anybody.”
It’s true the Mountaineers have played three times against Kansas, twice against Oklahoma State and once against Kentucky. It has also played TCU twice, a squad with an excellent offensive efficiency (the Frogs rank 10th nationally in adjusted offense) but one that doesn’t quite have the athletes of ‘Nova, KU or UK. So there’s no question West Virginia is aware of what it will be facing in the East Region semifinal Friday in Boston.
Stopping it on a consistent basis is another story. The Wildcats indeed rank first in both scoring and adjusted offense, making them both potent and efficient. Behind 19.1 points from Brunson and 18 from Bridges – along with the four others in double figures – Villanova is hitting shots from everywhere. Brunson is shooting an unheard of 53.5 percent from the floor, including 42 percent from three. Bridges is at 51.7 and 44.2 percent, respectively, and three of the other primary four scorers are shooting at least 39.1 percent from three.
Those percentages are absurd, and it’s stretched and strained defenses to the point where the stress at both ends becomes to much and they wilt into the second half. It’s led to a one-seed mark for Villanova, which remains the top seed left in the tourney and the third straight No. 1 seed the Mountaineers will face in the Sweet 16 along with Kentucky in 2015 and Gonzaga last season.
“He recruits great guards,” Huggins said. “They have been kinda tagged as guard U, which helps. Jay does a great job recruiting and a great job coaching. He puts them in positions when they can be successful. Their spacing is terrific. There are a lot of people who have guys who can make shots but not bounce it or bounce it but not make shots. They can bounce it and make shots.”