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Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs #5 Villanova Wildcats

The Golden Eagles have to face their third top 10 ranked team of the season after losing their last two games.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 23 Div I Men’s Championship - Second Round - Villanova v Purdue Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (5-4, 1-2 Big East) vs #5 Villanova Wildcats (7-1, 2-0 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Time: 6pm Central
Location: A very empty Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Koby McEwen, 15.2 points/game
Rebounds: Theo John, 6.7 rebounds/game
Assists: D.J. Carton, 3.4 assists/game

Villanova Stats Leaders

Points: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 16.6 points/game
Rebounds: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 7.6 rebounds/game
Assists: Collin Gillespie, 4.3 assists/game

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #42
Villanova: #4
Game Projection: Villanova has a 63% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 71-68.

Tempo Free Fun: Villanova is, with respect to the late great Dennis Green, what we thought they were. The Wildcats are 7-1 on the season, with the lone loss coming in overtime in the Mohegan Sun Casino Bubbleville in a game that was not scheduled when the Wildcats left the Main Line to go to Connecticut. In fact, if I understand the story told by Matt Norlander on the CBS Eye on College Basketball podcast, the Villanova players went to bed one night, expecting to leave in the morning only to be told when they woke up that they were staying in Bubbleville to play Virginia Tech the next day. And they still had gone on a 14-2 run in the second half and were up 62-59 with a minute to play before the Hokies commanded the final minute of regulation and all of overtime.

Villanova already has three Major Seven victories on the season outside of league play. They have neutral site wins over Boston College and Arizona State along with a road win over Texas. If we’re basing things on KenPom rankings and adjusting for the location of the game, going into Austin and knocking off the Longhorns is the best win by any team so far this season. The Wildcats are also 2-0 in Big East action after rallying from down 18 to beat Georgetown by 13 (what) on the road (seriously) as well as dismissing Butler at Finneran Pavilion by 19. VU was in pretty solid control of that one when they tacked on a 13-2 run in the final five minutes to really put it out of reach.

They’re coming into Wednesday night fresh off of a 20 point home win against local rival Saint Joseph’s on Saturday. A 10-0 run by SJU in the early-ish going was the last time that Nova was stressed in that one. The run put the Hawks up 15-14, but Nova snapped the run with a three and never trailed again. In fact, they put together a 17-2 run in the middle of the second half just to make sure that the message got through to Saint Joe’s.

Villanova is KenPom.com’s fourth most efficient offense in the country. They combine a glacially slow pace with 37% three-point shooting and 55% two-point shooting to end up with the #37 effective field goal percentage in the country. Most possessions end with a shot going up, because the Wildcats only turn the ball over 12% of the time. They only kind of care about offensive rebounding, which might be more of a function of “we have Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, it seems like it would wasteful to not let him get putbacks” than anything else. VU also does not get to the line very much at all, which is their only real offensive flaw, but that’s also built into the design. So far this season, over 44% of Villanova’s shots are coming from behind the arc, and only the very dumbest of opponents foul jump shooters.

If you read our discussion of Marquette and opposition three-point attempt rates, the fact that Villanova loves to shoot threes and will be very happy if you let them shoot more threes should probably terrify you. Of course, I’ve heard Villanova fans complain on more than one occasion — usually after a loss or at the very least after a game that was closer than it had to be — that head coach Jay Wright is a little too liberal with the “no, go ahead and shoot that shot from there” attitude.

Weirdly, Villanova’s defensive strengths — they’re KenPom’s #29 defense — are the things that they’re not great at on offense. If you miss your first shot against Villanova this season, you’re only getting a second crack at the rim 20% of the time. That’s a terrifically great defensive rebounding effort night in and night out to get that number that low, and credit for that goes to Jermaine Samuels and his #132 defensive rebounding rate ranking. You also don’t get to shoot free throws against Villanova, as the Wildcats rank #31 in the country in free throw to field goal attempt ratio.

Villanova doesn’t block shots and they don’t create turnovers. You’re probably getting a shot up on your possession against them and honestly, you’ve got a pretty good chance of putting it in. Villanova is not a good shooting percentage defense team, no matter how you want to slice the splits there. But you’re only getting the one chance each time down the court, and you’re only getting 65 trips so you have to make them count.

I can’t help but wonder if Villanova’s choice to play things extremely slow this year — #350 out of 357 in adjusted tempo per KenPom — has anything to do with Jay Wright’s attitude towards his roster. Eight Wildcats have played in every game this season. Only one guy has played in less than that, and that’s Chris Arcidiacono getting 12 minutes spread across four games. The Wildcats are only eight games in, and Wright has his rotation pretty locked in. In fact, he’s not even relying very heavily on #7 and #8 in the rotation. Brandon Slater is averaging just 12.8 minutes per game and Eric Dixon is at 10.0 per game. So it’s mostly those top six guys playing somewhere between the 34.8 minutes per game that VU is getting from Collin Gillespie and the 20.5 that Cole Swider occupies. Villanova hasn’t been particularly expedient up and down the court for the last several years, but with Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (shin) and Bryan Antoine (shoulder) not playing a single second so far this season, that’s leaving Villanova without two guys they were expecting to have. An even slower than usual pace by Wright would go a long way towards keeping his guys healthy as well as fresher at the ends of games.

Speeding up Villanova would seem to be a potential tactic to use just because of VU’s lack of depth, but that’s probably not an option for Marquette. The Golden Eagles went with only seven guys against both Creighton and Seton Hall, and only the return of Symir Torrence to active status from a foot injury moved Steve Wojciechowski to play eight guys on Sunday against Xavier. Marquette has more healthy bodies than Villanova, sure, but it would seem that Oso Ighodaro, Dexter Akanno, and Jose Perez are not factoring into the equation all that much and thus that probably means running bodies at Villanova to tire them out is not an option.

With so few guys playing, it’s notable that Villanova is spreading their offense around pretty well. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl leads the team in scoring at 16.6 per game, but Caleb Daniels is #4 on the team at 12.9 per contest. JRE might be #8 in KenPom.com’s effort to measure the best player in the country, but he’s not playing like a guy who needs to be the centerpiece every night. When Villanova pummeled Hartford by 34, Robinson-Earl played 36 minutes..... but only attempted five shots all night. When Villanova needed to make that comeback against Georgetown, JRE finished with nine points on 3-for-9 shooting and let Collin Gillespie (18, 8-for-11) and Caleb Daniels (18, 6-for-11) carry the day for the Wildcats. The only thing more dangerous than a ruthlessly efficient scoring machine is a ruthlessly efficient scoring machine with selfless components. If Marquette wants to notch their third top 10 win of the season and second top five win of the season, then it’s going to take a full team effort on both ends of the floor.

All Time Series: Villanova leads, 25-12.

Current Streak: The two teams have each won at home in both of the past two seasons. Villanova got the season sweep in 2017-18, which means as far as a streak goes, the Wildcats have won four of the last six meetings. Marquette has won three of the last four games in Milwaukee, though.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - The official Marquette team account
@NovaMBB - The official Villanova team account
@BenSteeleMJS - The Journal Sentinel’s beat reporter
@VUHoops - our SB Nation friends that cover Villanova
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that cover the entire Big East