Strong defense carries ’Nova to NIT Tipoff title



Jack McCarthy

While most Villanova students were feasting on turkey and mashed potatoes over the recent break, the men’s basketball team was taking care of business in the NIT Season Tipoff at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 

The Wildcats won games on Thursday and Friday against Stanford and Georgia Tech, respectively, by a combined 31 points to move to 6-0 on the year. 

Jay Wright’s squad has now won three straight non-conference tournaments, dating back to the Battle for Atlantis in 2013. 

While the NIT tipoff did not have the same level of competition as a tournament like the Battle for Atlantis, it gave Wright an idea of what this squad needs to work on moving forward. 

These were both “grind-it-out” wins in every sense of the phrase. The Wildcats were certainly not at their best offensively but were able to find other ways to pull away late in both games. 

Against Stanford, ’Nova shot only 30.6 percent from the field and 20.6 percent from 3-point range, and against Georgia Tech, shot 52.9 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from three. 

The only concern here should be getting the three pointers to fall at a more consistent rate. As a team that has already taken 189 threes in six games, the Wildcats need to stay confident with their shooting and not dwell on bad games. 

While the shooting numbers will fluctuate from game to game and aren’t much of a long-term concern, the rebounding numbers may be. 

The Wildcats were outrebounded by a large margin in both games, as the frontcourt depth was tested by the larger size of Stanford and Georgia Tech. 

Two players stood out individually, albeit for different reasons. The main bright spot was Jalen Brunson, who stayed aggressive through the team’s offensive dry spells. 

He tallied a career-high 18 points in the Stanford game and was able to add 13 more against Georgia Tech on 5-of-8 shooting. 

As Brunson becomes more comfortable with the offense and continues to adjust to the college game, expect his play to gradually improve. 

After his performance last week, Wright acknowledged that Brunson has the talent to be a one-and-done type player – as difficult as that may be for ’Nova fans to hear. 

On the other side, center Daniel Ochefu really struggled for the first time this season. Early in the season, Ochefu was leading scorer several times and averaged a double-double. 

In two games last week, he totaled eight points and seven rebounds while only taking six shots. 

While this sample size is small, there may be a correlation between the Wildcats shooting numbers and Ochefu’s decreased output. Overall, they should look to get the ball inside early and often in order to open up the floor for more driving and better shots. 

The main positive coming from these two games has to be the defense. Through six games, Villanova is ranked first in the country by KenPom in adjusted defense. 

This may be the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s. Yes, the offense may be a little more inconsistent, but the defense seems good enough to carry ’Nova through some games. 

This can be attributed to a younger, quicker and more athletic lineup. 

Mikal Bridges has been especially impactful at the top of the 1-2-2 press, and Darryl Reynolds has shown he can be a reliable rebounder and shot-blocker as Ochefu’s backup. 

As long as the ’Cats can stay very tough on defense, they can survive the inevitable bad shooting night every once in a while. 

The road does not get much easier for ’Nova in the non-conference portion of the season, as it begins Big Five play and top 10 teams Oklahoma and Virginia also loom. 

While the Wildcats’ stellar defense will allow them to grind out wins in tough games, they will look to improve their rebounding and shooting consistency moving forward.