Case Study: Villanova’s Depth Keeps It On Top

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We’re out of the Top 5, but there’s no lack of talent left to study. Jay Wright’s Villanova team has bounced back from a few dark years to find themselves ranked in the Top 10 in the AP poll. This Philadelphian university and its fans are hopeful, so let’s find out why.

Part of the reason for the Wildcats renewed success lies in their offense. They run a four-out motion offense, with is a little bit unique, especially compared to the offenses discussed previously. The key concept of the offense is spacing and motion. The offense spreads out, with two players on the wings, two players in the slots (sometimes one of these is a shorter forward who is adept in the post), and one player inside, usually posted up. This spread gives an athletic post player room to move, and takes away height advantages for the other team.

What about the motion part of the offense?

Well, that’s where the complexity lies. Each role has a very specific set of rules for interacting with each other, mainly involving flare screens. A flare screen is a play where a player sets a screen on the back of the defender who’s covering the ball handler. The ball handler then passes to a wing player, cuts across the screen, then catches a pass for a — hopefully — wide open shot. These plays are all over Wright’s offense, with both wings and both slot players setting screens both off and on the ball. Creating mismatches all over the floor is exactly what he wants, and giving the inside player room creates a one-on-one shot even if none of the outside players can knock it down. Even when not screening, the slot and wing players are still in motion, rotating around the court, forcing their defenders to stay focused on them instead of the ball.

Unlike some of our past teams, Villanova is not built around superstars.

Last week, Duke’s Jahlil Okafor was nearly half of our case study, but the Wildcats are a different story. Only two players on the team (Dariun Hillard II and Ryan Arcidiacono) average more than 10 points per game, but that doesn’t stop them from having the 26th overall points-per-game ranking in the country, at 75.6. Indeed, Villanova is all about depth, with eight players playing more than 20 minutes a game, two higher than average.

As with their offense, their defense is all about depth. Where their team is not very tall, they have consistency. The starters are 6-5, 6-6, 6-6, 6-7 and 6-11. All of these outside players can cover any other outside players, giving them flexibility to change matchups on either the offensive or defensive end at will. Every single one of their four outside players can rotate and over any other outside player. While they’re not amazing at any key defensive stat, this small thing helps a team that is above average across the board turn into a great defense.

Villanova is about to finish up one of the best seasons of Wright’s tenure, and are hopeful going into the NCAA Tournament. With their agile offense and flexible defense, they have a great shot at making it into the later rounds.

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