When Jay Wright and Villanova walked into legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse they were gearing up to face a team that was expected to be atop the Big East Conference and ranked nationally. Both the Wildcats and Butler Bulldogs had a strong showing in their nonconference portion of their schedule, but the two schools have gone in different directions upon the beginning of the Big East schedule. While ‘Nova has a clean slate in their first three conference tilts, the Bulldogs have an unanticipated 1-2 conference record after three conference contests.
The game was a tale of two different halves as Butler had a 6 point lead at halftime mainly because of Villanova’s poor shooting. ‘Nova was able to regroup after intermission and claim a 60-55 road win against a nationally ranked team.
One major positive was the nearly flawless free throw shooting from Villanova. Out of their 13 attempts from the charity stripe the Wildcats converted for 12 of them (92.3%). In college basketball, many teams shoot 60% sometimes 50% from the line, but being able to convert free throws especially late in the game, will enable Villanova to seal many victories when the opposition is forced to foul.
Secondly, the team was able to out rebound Butler, 39-30. If there is a weakness on Villanova it is their lack of size and frontcourt depth. The opportunity to expose this weakness was increased by Daniel Ochefu’s foul trouble only allowed him to play 19 minutes. But the Bulldogs were unable to take advantage of this opportunity and struggled to control the rebounding margin and subsequently, the pace of the game. While a well played road win always helps build the NCAA resume, there were still some negatives taken away from this game.
One negative was Villanova’s inability to convert from three by shooting 4-15 (26.7%). In the past two seasons, in order to defeat the Wildcats, the opponent had to stop them from hitting from downtown. This was not the case against Butler. Even though there was no killer outside threat for the ‘Nova offense yesterday, they were able to come away with the victory.
A second major struggle was their inability to force turnovers from Butler. The Bulldogs only made 8 turnovers and while credit needs to be given to their team, the Villanova defense needs to be more tenacious. They need to force more turnovers to be successful. By being able to force live-ball turnovers, it will allow for the Wildcats to get opportunities for easy offense. This will especially be helpful when the three ball is not dropping.
Next up for Villanova is the Marquette Golden Eagles who are currently 2-2 in conference and have a road win against Providence as their marquee win for now. The two biggest offensive threats for the Golden Eagles are 6-foot-11 Luke Fischer (13.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.9 BPG, .600 FG%) and a potential one and done freshman forward Henry Ellenson (15.9 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .428 FG%). With the strength of their team as the interior, it means that more responsibility will have to fall on Ochefu’s shoulders.
What cannot happen is for Ochefu to pick up early fouls, especially on moving screens, because Marquette is more equipped to take advantage of a smaller lineup. The Golden Eagles are also not as experienced as the Butler backcourt which means the Marquette guards will be more prone to commit turnovers.
The biggest correction for Villanova will be their three-point shooting. With the talented guards Villanova has, there should be very few nights where connecting from downtown should be an issue. However, returning to the friendly confines of The Pavillion will hopefully remedy the poor shooting performance. They will need to find a way to shoot the ball well if they want to find themselves on top against a tough Marquette team.
Photo: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (9) Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament