Expect “Methodical” Houston-Villanova Game


Courtesy of Olivia Pasquale/Villanovan Photography

With two of the best defenses and slowest teams in the country going against each other, the Villanova-Houston game is sure to be a low-scoring affair.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

SAN ANTONIO — Before facing No.1 Arizona, Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson believed his squad could beat the Wildcats, but only if they did one thing.

“The key to beating Arizona is controlling the pace,” Sampson said. “We’re going to win a game in the 60s. But we’re not going to win a game in the 80s.”

Sampson’s Houston squad wins games by grinding out opponents defensively, winning ugly, playing good defense and not turning the ball over. If the Cougars can control the pace and slow the other team down, they usually come out victorious. There is one problem for Houston, though: Villanova likes to play even slower than the Cougars do.

Per KenPom.com, out of 358 teams, Houston ranks 334th in Possessions per 40 minutes. Villanova ranks 345th. Neither team plays slowly for the sake of playing slowly, as Villanova, again per KenPom, ranks 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency, while Houston is just behind in 10th.

Despite the numbers, Villanova head coach Jay Wright says his team doesn’t care about pace.

“I know this pace, this KenPom pace everybody talks about, we don’t talk about it at all,” Wright said. “If we feel like [we’ve] got numbers to break, we’re taking it. There are teams that have pressed us, and we played fast and scored in the 80s. I guess that just evens out from other games when you play teams that don’t.”

However, Wright did expect Houston to dictate the tempo.

“We really don’t care about pace. … It depends what Houston does, I think will dictate the pace. We’ll go either way. We’re good.”

As the point guard, graduate Collin Gillespie is the one who decides the speed at which his team plays, but he similarly declined to say whether the Wildcats would try to slow down the Cougars or vice versa.

“I think we’re just going to take whatever we see,” Gillespie said. “We’re going to run offense to score, and that could be a possession where we get out and go in transition or walk it up the floor and get into a set or whatever something that Coach calls. We’re just going to take whatever we have and whatever we see. Could be faster, could be slower.”

However, graduate forward Jermaine Samuels did expect the game to take a slower pace.

“You can expect a very methodical game, a very physical game, especially with Houston,” Samuels said. “I just know that it’s gonna be a great atmosphere and a very big challenge for both teams.”

Defensively, Sampson’s belief that his team will “win a game in the 60s” is backed up by the numbers. Through Sampson’s eight seasons at Houston, his teams are 169-30 when they allow less than 70 points. When the Cougars give up between 70-79, they are 24-24, and they are just 3-14 when they give up between 80-89 points. Similarly, Villanova is 24-2 this year when allowing less than 70 points, but 5-5 when allowing 70 or more.

Anything can happen in March, but with Villanova and Houston playing each other, one thing is certain — it won’t be a track meet.