Welcome back to PAND’s coverage of Villanova Basketball. Last week, the Villanova Wildcats had quite the rollercoaster week, but ultimately sit just one game away from the regular season Big East crown. For those of you who took our advice a few weeks ago and bet the Wildcats at -182, you’re just one game away now.
What happened last week?
Villanova vs Butler
On Sunday, Villanova traveled to Indiana to face Butler in what was expected to be a fairly straightforward, routine game. As with most trips to Hinkle Fieldhouse, it was anything but straightforward and routine. Once again, Villanova went down at Hinkle.
It was their fourth loss in the last five seasons at Butler. We should’ve probably seen it coming more, but it is what it is. On paper, it may seem like the reason Villanova lost this game was simple (they went 2-27 from three). However, it was so much more.
Villanova lost the rebounding battle, and they couldn’t seem to find easy looks from the floor. Overall, the Wildcats shooting was terrible (37%), but Butler did an incredible job making things both frustrating and challenging for Villanova.
The Wildcats managed just six assists for the game. The only reason Villanova didn’t trail by 20 the entire game was the awful free throw shooting of Butler (9-20). Following the loss, Villanova had just two full days off, before their revenge date with Creighton back at Finneran Pavilion.
Creighton comes to town
On Wednesday, Villanova hosted Creighton with a chance to take back control of the Big East. As with every other game following a loss this season, Villanova rose to the occasion. The Wildcats assumed control of this game early in the first half and cruised to victory.
Leading by 19 at the half, Villanova led by as much as 22 points, before stalling for a good chunk of the second half. With just over three minutes to go, Villanova led by only five. It took a quick burst of three consecutive three-point plays, but the Wildcats were able to balloon the lead back to 14 with just a minute to go.
The key, as we discussed last week, was for James Robinson-Earl to stay aggressive but play smart (and also for Villanova to be at least decent from the field). Robinson-Earl was able to double his rebounding total (14) from the last time these two met, as well as stay clear of foul trouble.
His presence in the paint was enough to disrupt the attacking guards of Creighton, as the Wildcats pulled back ahead in the race for the Big East crown. Justin Moore took over offensively, going 9-12 from the field (3-5 from three) and a perfect 3-3 from the line.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the win came at great cost to their title hopes this season. Collin Gillespie suffered a meniscus tear in his knee during the game, prematurely ending his season and jeopardizing Villanova’s title chances this year.
With just one more game until the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats need to handle their business at Providence this weekend.
Villanova Basketball’s schedule so far
NOV 25 (W) – Boston College 76-67
NOV 26 (W) – Arizona State 83-74
NOV 28 (L) – Virginia Tech 73-81
DEC 1 (W) – Hartford 87-53
DEC 6 (W) – Texas 68-64
DEC 11 (W) – Georgetown 76-63
DEC 16 (W) – Butler 85-63
DEC 19 (W) – Saint Joseph’s 88-68
DEC 23 (W) – Marquette 85-68
JAN 19 (W) – Seton Hall 76-74
JAN 23 (W) – Providence 71-56
JAN 30 (W) – Seton Hall 80-72
FEB 3 (L) – St. John’s 59-70
FEB 7 (W) – Georgetown 84-74
FEB 10 (W) – Marquette 96-64
FEB 13 (L) – Creighton 86-70
FEB 20 (W) – UCONN 68-60
FEB 23 (W) – St. John’s 81-58
FEB 28 (L) – Butler 73-61
MAR 3 (W) – Creighton 72-60
Preview for this week
This Saturday, Villanova (16-4, 11-3) will travel to Alumni Hall in Rhode Island to face Providence in the season finale. In their first meeting, both teams shot poorly from the field (38%) and deep, but Villanova was able to make a strong push midway through the second half to pull away from the Friars.
The big difference in that game was turnovers and rebounding. Villanova was +10 in turnovers and +4 in rebounds. This time around, the Wildcats will be without Collin Gillespie (knee injury). Odds are, Jay Wright will elect to go with a bigger lineup in this game and likely moving forward. Both Cole Swinder and Brandon Slater picked up the load after Gillespie went down.
Though the court vision and leadership may not be there, the offensive production and rebounding were. Looking ahead, this larger lineup should be able to give the Wildcats an edge in rebounding at the least, but concerns for offensive stagnation will remain throughout the postseason.
At least for this game, I can see the size advantage will be significant for Villanova. I do expect some sluggish possessions offensively, but the overall size and athleticism of Villanova should give them the advantage in a close game otherwise.
Prediction: Villanova 68 Providence 63
Championship Winner: Gonzaga +250
Looking ahead to March Madness, we really like this line from the DraftKings Online Sportsbook.
There is this misconception going around that Mark Few can’t and won’t win a title. People used to say the same thing about Jay Wright, until Wright won two titles in three years. Gonzaga set themselves up with the toughest out of conference schedule this year. Their only win by less than 11 points this season was an away game against West Virginia (87-82).
They’ve beaten Iowa, Kansas, Auburn, and West Virginia. The Bulldogs feature two projected top ten picks in this year’s draft, so they’re the most talented team in the field this year as well. The odds aren’t amazing, but Gonzaga is a complete team, the outright best team in the country, and one that is very well-coached.