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03 April 2009

How can Villanova win?

posted by Pete @ LetsGoNova.com
4/03/2009 03:31:00 AM

Yesterday, the Rush the Court college basketball blog asked me to contribute a guest post to its site on how Villanova could win on Saturday.

Make no mistake about it: Villanova is the underdog tomorrow. North Carolina is favored by 7.5 points in Vegas and by 4 points by KenPom (with a 66 percent chance of victory).

More intuitively, common sense tells us the Tarheels are the superior team. North Carolina features five likely future first-round draft picks: Ed Davis, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Ellington, and Ty Lawson will all cash big NBA paychecks.

Villanova might sneak Dante Cunningham into this year's second round, but that's pretty much it in terms of NBA prospects as of right now. (Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, and Corey Stokes are also plausible NBA candidates, but are not quite there yet.)

The Tarheels have lost just four games this season, compared to seven for Villanova. While the Wildcats squeaked by Pittsburgh last weekend in one of the all-time great NCAA tournament games, North Carolina blew out Blake Griffin and Oklahoma, with a 12-point margin of victory in a game that was not even that close.

Carolina has not really been challenged in the tournament so far, winning four blow-outs. Villanova trailed American by double digits in the second half before coming up with the win. The 'Cats also played Pittsburgh to a virtual draw for 39 minutes and 55 seconds before Scottie Reynolds entered the pantheon of great NCAA tournament buzzer-beaters to win the game.

Villanova was able to blow out both UCLA and Duke, which is a good sign.

North Carolina also will enjoy a tremendous coaching edge. I don't care how much you like Jay Wright; Roy Williams is one of the all-time greats. I don't think there can be much debate about that.

Positives for Villanova include a rapid, intense improvement in quality of play late in the season, a versatile bunch of players who can multi-task on the court, a superior half-court defense, and a likely favorable crowd in Detroit, especially if MSU wins the opener.

Conventional wisdom also says that the Wildcats play "tougher" than the 'Heels, but I am not so sure toughness matters so much when your opponent has a lineup full of NBA players. (I do think it matters some.) We shall see.

So, in the face of these long odds, how can Villanova actually win the game?

Though the Wildcats probably won't have to play the much-vaunted "perfect game" like their predecessors did in 1985 to beat Georgetown, it's clear that this game will require an effort well above-average from Villanova.

If both teams bring their "A" games, Carolina wins. But if Villanova can play to its strengths while taking advantage of Tarheel missteps, it could be the Wildcats playing on Monday night for a spot in history.

"READ MORE" below for the keys to the game, as I see them.

  • Convert on open threes. Allowing uncontested three-pointers might be Carolina's Achilles' (Tar)heel. UNC let Oklahoma take several wide-open shots behind the arc, but the Sooners could not put them in. Hitting those long shots will be an absolute prerequisite for any Wildcat win on Saturday. Fortunately, Villanova has the firepower to take advantage of this. Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes are all excellent three-point shooters; Dwayne Anderson and even Shane Clark can put them in if they get going. Though Reynolds and Fisher have struggled from long-range in the tournament so far, perhaps their 2008 experience at Ford Field's "arena" will allow them to heat up quickly.
  • Win the battle on the glass. This isn't just a cliche. Of course, it's always important to grab rebounds in any game, but it's especially crucial on Saturday. Rebounding is one of the few areas where Villanova might be equally talented as the Tarheels, so the Wildcats need to create an advantage there. Wayne Ellington may be a better scorer than Reggie Redding by orders of magnitude, but there's nothing to suggest he is a better rebounder. Winning the rebounding battle will also give the Wildcats' less efficient scorers more chances to put points on the board, and limit UNC's offensive opportunities. Villanova does tend to play tough, smart, efficient basketball, whereas UNC relies on more of a shock-and-awe attack, overwhelming their opponents with points. Villanova definitely wants this game to be a battle of attrition, not a shootout, and rebounding is the first step to controlling the game's tempo and style.
  • Limit Wayne Ellington. Ellington's play may be the key to Carolina's margin of victory or defeat. He is the most dangerous third scoring option in the nation. Oftentimes when teams concern themselves with limiting Ty Lawson's penetration and Tyler Hansbrough's play in the post, Ellington burns them on the perimeter. Villanova is full of athletic big guards who can stay with Ellington should he try to drive to the basket; Reggie Redding, Corey Stokes, and Dwayne Anderson should all be up for the task. Where Ellington will be most dangerous is spotting up for three-pointers, whether in transition, off screens, or off a Lawson drive. It's the latter case about which I am most concerned. The temptation will be great for Nova's wing defenders to collapse in on Lawson as he progresses to the basket, and in many cases they will need to. But the one player they simply cannot leave open behind the arc is Ellington.
  • Hope Lawson is a step slow. Villanova has a lot of trouble with speedy point guards. The Wildcats have lost this year to Texas (AJ Abrams), UConn (AJ Price), Marquette (Dominic James), and Georgetown (Chris Wright). Even in their two wins over Syracuse, Jonny Flynn gave the Wildcats fits from the perimeter. Lawson, at his best, is faster and better than any of the guards mentioned here. Fortunately for Villanova, Lawson is recovering from a toe injury, and might not be as speedy as usual. Though he is the player of the tournament so far, Lawson has been getting it done with shooting and passing rather than on his trademark explosions to the rim. Villanova has the personnel to deal with the former two attacks, but has lots of trouble with the latter. If Lawson is not at 100 percent of his speed, the chances for a Villanova win increase dramatically.
  • Limit turnovers. This one is obvious. Carolina loves to run. The Tarheels have the horses to do it. No one can stop UNC in transition. Less obvious, though, is the fact that more turnovers by Villanova means fewer possessions that the Wilcats' advantage in the half-court defense can be applied -- on either end. One of the few areas where the 'Cats have an edge over UNC is in the half-court on defense. If UNC can render that moot by jumpstarting its offense via transition, the game will be over quickly. Similarly, the Tarheels' half-court defense is not as good as Villanova's, but that won't matter if the 'Cats forfeit possessions with turnovers.
If the Wildcats are able to execute most of those five keys to the game, a victory and a trip to the national championship on Monday would be well within reach.

What do you think the keys to the game are? Let us know in the comment thread below.

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At 4:38 AM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

Of all these, I think limiting turnovers is most important of all.

What are your thoughts?

At 6:32 AM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do you insist on talking about "coaching advantages"? At this level and at this time of year, that is just plain stupid. The game will be played on the court. Coaches matter but this game will be won on the court. And not sure whether you noticed last weekend, Lawson is back and looks pretty darn good.

Wildcats win 89-87

At 8:26 AM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Roy Williams is one of the all-time greats. I don't think there can be much debate about that."

There certainly can be. I'm not one of the people who says that he sucks; that would be (almost) as bad as saying that Wright sucks. But his NCAA tournement success has been low considering the quality of his players. I happen to think that that is a very good (though imperfect) measure of coaching skill. I'd say he is a hell of a recuiter who has been fortunate to coach at two schools that have reputations which make his recruiting job even easier. In terms of pure coaching skills, he is good, but not exceptional by any means.

If you pin me down, I'd say Villanova has a narrow edge in coaching. Wright doesn't have the resume, but his success given his talent is, I would say, better than Williams'. (Interesting question - which of them has won more games as an NCAA tournement underdog? I'm pretty sure it's Wright by a large margin.) But certainly neither team has a "tremendous" coaching edge. Your statement that NC has such an edge is ... well, not nearly as absurd as some of your other Wright bashing, but still dead wrong.

At 8:34 AM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your analysis otherwise isn't horrible, but I wouldn't but limiting turnovers at the top of the list (it's important, but causing turnovers is probably not a core strength of NC to begin with, so less of a concern in that sense).

More significant and unmentioned by you is limiting fouls by Cunningham without letting Hansbrough go wild. My guess is that Wright tries to do that by putting Clark on him, but that has risks of it's own, and then of course you need to worry about what happens when Clark picks up a few fouls. Hansbrough is as you should know very good at drawing fouls. My guess is that Pena gets more PT than he has been getting; I'm not saying that this is an insurmountable problem, but one worth mentioning.

At 8:49 AM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I checked the numbers at KenPom, and I was right. NC isn't BAD at causing turnovers, they aren't really bad at anything, but adjusted for pace, they aren't in the top 50 in steals and aren't even quite as good as Nova. Of course, they DO have a great (the best) transition offense, so I'm not by any means saying that Nova doesn't have to limit turnovers; I'm just saying that, of all the challenges facing Nova, it isn't at the top of the list.

At 8:59 AM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As sceptical as I am of KenPom's overall ratings, his breakdowns are very valuable. Playing around with them, and looking at their 4 losses, limiting turnovers doesn't seem to be a particular key to beating them. With one exception, they caused an average number of turnovers in their losses.

The big keys to beating them in terms seem to be limiting NC's shooting percentage and shotting the lights out against them. WHich might seem obvious, but it's striking the extent to which ththose stats are corrolated with NC's losses.

At 9:09 AM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Eric said...

I think the key is for IMKL to come on here and declare that Nova is going to put on a clinic. That worked great for UCLA and Duke! But seriously, I agree on the need to hit open threes. As you pointed out, we have so many guys who can do it, we just need a couple of them to be hot.

At 9:22 AM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking at the KenPom numbers, my list would be:

(1) Limiting NC's eFG% by playing the type of in your face defense they played against Duke;
(2) Hitting open 3s;
(3) Keeping Nova's bigs out of foul trouble.

Not a flame Pete; I still think your list is okay. The other stuff is important, just not the "keys to the game."

At 11:34 AM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The game will probably be close and the refs will screw us again

At 12:52 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

I didn't say UNC was awesome at causing turnovers, I said that once you turn it over, they are the best in transition (which kenpom confirms). That is why it's key to limit turnovers. (As it says in the paragraph)

At 1:18 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roy Williams "one of the all-time greats" Really??? Couldn't win the big one at Kansas ( couple of early flame outs) and the one he won with UNC was with Matt Doherty's players. So the guy has coached at 2 of the top 5 schools in terms of tradition, has a top 5 team ( in terms of talent) year in and year out but he has only won 1 championship ( WITH SOMEONE ELSE'S RECRUITS), but you call him one of the greats. No wonder everyone thinks you are a douchebag. If Jay Wright went into the tournament as a top 4 seed for the last 15 years and only won 1 time with Lappas recruits you would be ripping him from here to kingdom come. Admit it man, Jay Wright banged your mom.

At 1:20 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...


Are you seriously trying to argue that Wright is more accomplished than Roy Williams?

You will be laughed off the Internet if that is the case.

As of today, Williams is an instant hall of famer, and Wright has yet to equal that.

I don't think these are controversial statements.

Williams is one of the best coaches in basketball history and that's pretty well accepted.

At 1:22 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...


By the way, if Wright and Villanova went to the NCAA tournament 15 years in a row, each time as a top seed, I would be fucking thrilled.

At 1:30 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey genius, this ain't baseball. they don't wait until you are retired for 4-5 years to put you in the hall of fame. If he was a instant hall of famer as you say, he would be in the hall of fame already already right?? We're talking strictly coaching right?? Give Jay Wright 15 years with the same teams Roy has had and I guarantee you he has more than 1 national championship

At 1:34 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

14, you know its pretty hard to win national titles. only one can win per year.

I love how you are bashing Williams for winning "only one" title, while Wright has yet to get tone.

At 1:35 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

* to get ONE.

We all know Wright is already "tone." Dreamy!!


At 1:42 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve Lappas is a better coach then Roy Williams. If Lappas was UNC's coach Hansbrough would have been player of the year four consecutive years instead of a measly one. Lappas should be in the hall of fame not Roy!

At 1:46 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so if Villanova wins this year, is Jay Wright one of the "all time greats" or does he need to continually take top seeds to the tournament and get upset by a lesser seed for the next 15 years to earn that distinction. It's a shame you didn't visit the Kansas boards about 5 years ago to see what they thought about Big Roy's coaching in big games. He wins because most of the time, he has a superior talent addvantage. When the talent is comparable, he loses alot more than he wins.

At 2:00 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete #10,

Pretty defensive, huh? I guess I can understand why, giving all the bashing you get, though much of it is deserved. But I wasn't bashing you this time, I'm just disagreeing with you. Your statement was logical - just wrong* in my opinion if you look at the data. IN FACT the teams that have beaten NC have done so by (1) making their shots, (2) keeping NC from making their shots, NOT by avoiding turnovers.

Now, OF COURSE if NC gets a lot more steals than it usually does/Villanova gives up a lot more turnovers than it usually does, then Nova is likely to lose. But that's true of virtually every aspect of the game; if you look at it that way, then EVERYTHING becomes a "key to the game." My point, which I think is supported by the KenPom numbers, it that Nova can afford an average performance in terms of turnovers and still win. But if they have a "average" performance (average in terms of a combination of NC's stats and Nova's stats) in terms of shooting the basketball/stopping NC from shooting the basketball, they will lose.

Of course, if they keep thier turnovers low, that will help thier chance of winning. But, again, you can say that about just about ANY aspect of the game, not just turnovers.

*wrong in the sense of not being a key to the game - as I made clear, of course Nova wants to avoid turnovers, just like it wants to perform well in other aspects of the game.

At 2:06 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for Williams, I had my say in #3, I'm not going to rehash, but you act like you aren't even aware that the kind of criticism in #3 & #11 has been leveled at Williams from many people on many occassions. It's a common criticism of him. There is not by any stretch of the imagination a consensus that he is a great coach, as opposed to a great recruiter who has benefitted from coaching two very good programs. If you don't know that, it doesn't reflect well on your knowledge of the game.

Heck Pete, with the talent Willaims has had I bet even YOU could win a bunch of games.

At 2:12 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To drum my point in #19 home, Wake Forrest, Maryland, and Florida State all beat NC despite turnover percventages in the 18.1 to 21.9 range - not horrible but not great either. Only BC did an exceptional job of avoiding turnovers.

OTOH, the 4 losses also happened to be NCs worst 4 gamers of the year in terms of theor own EFG%, and 4 of their 6 (as I recall) worst games in terms of eFG% allowed. THAT was the key to their losses.

At 2:14 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And if Wright had been coaching as long as Williams, with that talent level, my guess is he would have several Championships. Sure as heck more than one.

At 2:15 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

Do you know how many active coaches have multiple national championships? The list is not a long one.

Let's wait till Wright gets one before we start saying he "would have gotten more" if he'd been coaching as long.

At 2:22 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

By the way, I am so sick of talking about Jay Wright.

Can't we discuss the other 99.5% of the content in the post? I know some of you already are. So from now on I will only respond to non-Jay-Wright comments in this thread.

At 2:24 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then stop posting about Jay Wright if you don't want people to comment on him

At 2:25 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve Lappas deserves more attention anyway

At 2:26 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...


You're kidding, right? I wrote a ridiculously long post that mentioned Wright in one sentence. The rest had nothing to do with him.

At 2:37 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pete #27 - and I responded at length (4, 5, 6, 8, 19) to the rest of the post - respectfully - yes, you answered that also #10 - but much more briefly. You are caught up in the whole Wright thing as well. Physician, heal thyself.

At 2:49 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...


you are probably right. it's easier to respond to the wright bashing than thoughtful comments. i will put more effort into the latter.

At 3:01 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...


Sounds like someone's got a case of the Mondays!

At 3:52 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous GEESUS said...

Pete I believe you mean Pantheon, not Parthenon


At 4:35 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger Pete @ LetsGoNova.com said...

nice find... corrected. thanks

At 6:17 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you still think Buzz Williams is a better coach than Jay?

At 6:20 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't want people making fun of you for your constant Jay Wright hating, then stop hating on him.

Buzz Williams?

At 6:44 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger pete said...

I have an idea.

Anyone who wants to talk about basketball and the actual content of my posts, keep commenting here.

Anyone who wants to become outraged that I am not properly honoring their pop idol, log off and go back to staring at your Jay Wright posters.

I understand that the world can be a scary place, and we all like to fall in line behind comforting authority figures sometimes. However, this is not a worship-Jay site. This is a blog about Villanova basketball.

All I said in this post was that national-champion winner Roy Williams, who's been to 15-straight NCAAs, is a better coach than Wright, who has 0 titles and is a relative newcomer to the tournament. I didn't think that was controversial, but once again you pathetic fanboys have proven me wrong.

At 7:30 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What you're not getting is that people aren't simply disagreeing about your evalaution of Wright (indeed a tired topic at this point), but (independantly) about your evaluation of Williams. He is not by any stretch of the imagination universally regarded as a great coach, for the reasons amply set forth by myself and others above. Simply repeating that he has "been to 15-straight NCAAs" doesn't begin to refute that.

At 10:18 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...


1. Find old doll...skinny...lanky best.
2. Scotch Tape hair or finger nail cutting of NC player, if available.
3.Go to NC Basketball Homepage and copy photo of NC player of choice by clicking on name.
4. Tape picture of NC player to to doll. Photoshop to size if you know how.
5 Stick pin in player when he is shooting foul shoots or 3 pointers.

For extra jinx power sing:

I'm Tar Heel born
I'm Tar Heel bred
And when I shoot a basket
My eye goes dead.



There'll be a VU victory
When cross our field we have fled
Cheer VU to Victory
For we are Tar Heels now we are dead

At 10:59 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous IMKL said...

LOL @ #7.

I don't see the clinic happening here, however it was also good news that I didn't see it vs Pitt and Nova still won.

However I will say this, I think UNC is a better match-up for us than Pitt. I think we can frustrate them, give them looks they are not used to. We are definitely going to have to hit 3s, as the best way to frustrate a team is to knock down all your open 3s, and play pesky defense.

Call me crazy, but I like this match-up and I like that we're being overlooked. I don't care that the UNC players "say the right thing".. I can bet that they don't take us as seriously as they should. If we pounce quickly, we can cause them to play as individuals who don't want their season to end in disappoint, while we continue to play as a team, holding them off for a 6 point victory.

Nova 82
UNC 76

If we lose... I blame Ford Field.

At 11:00 PM, April 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or to put it another way, if one indeed accepts that Wiliams is one of the all time greats, believing that Wright is even better would indeed be ... excessive ... and would justify your sarcastic comments in #37.

But NO ONE is saying that. People are saying that Williams is not a great coach, and Wright is very good. You obviously disagree with both points; fair enough (most but far from all people agree with you on the former point, whereas you are in a distinct minority on the latter point), but NO ONE is saying that Wright is perfect. And no one has ever said so in comments on this blog; your statements to the contrary represent a long running and boring straw man argument on your part.

I personally think that the total package with Wright - coaching, recruiting, public face of the program - is good enough that there aren't more than a half dozen coaches, maybe a dozen at most, in the country I would prefer. That's high praise indeed, but EVEN I wouldn't claim that Wright is perfect or anywhere near it.

At 11:21 PM, April 03, 2009, Blogger pete said...

42, OK, well fine on most of your points --

I guess I just don't agree that "far from all people agree" with me on Williams's greatness. Yes, there might be some disgruntled KU fans, but I think it's common knowledge that Williams is a good coach.

Obviously I am not going to commission a Gallup poll to prove my point, so we'll just have to disagree for now.

But regardless, I don't see how calling Williams great is a slight on Jay. I didn't say Jay was bad, I just said that Williams is better. Jay could well be very good, even great, and still not be better than Williams.

At 10:35 AM, April 04, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" think it's common knowledge that Williams is a good coach."

Not to belabor the point, but, I agree. But there is a big gap betweeen "good" and "one of the greatest ever." The former is not conroversial (perhaps aside from those disgruntled KU fans). The latter statement is somewhat moreso.

I will say that if he wins out with this team it will certainly buff his resume a little. But if he doesn't, with this team, it will provide more evidence that he can't win the big one.


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