The seasoned Villanova Wildcats came into a hostile environment in The Dunk and leaned on its two stars in Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore to win 89-84. The loss ends an 8 game winning streak for the Friars and makes them 21-3 on the year ahead of a Sunday match-up on the road against Butler.
We recap the game below and what Providence can do to avoid a similar fate in the future match-up against Villanova.
- Pick and Roll Defense Needs Improvement – Jay Wright identified a weakness in the normally strong Providence defense by switching a Providence big on a guard and forcing them to contest a deep look. The Providence bigs were largely ineffective in doing that throughout the game and had a terrible mental lapse late when Gillespie hit the dagger over a late to arrive Horchler and Reeves. In particular, it seemed like Gillespie or Moore were able to get clean looks from deep against Watson when Dixon set a pick for either of them. However, the looks were contested relatively well, which brings me to my next point…
- You aren’t Beating Villanova when they Shoot like that – If you were to tell me pregame that Villanova scored 89 points, I would have said we lost by 20+. Villanova shot approximately 12 percent above its season average from deep, going approximately 48% from deep. Villanova historically has lived and died by the three, and last night was one of those nights where they certainly lived. Even though I think tweaks could have been made to the pick and roll defense, you have to tip your cap to the opposing team for making contested 3’s over a 6’11 big man. These guys have a championship pedigree for a reason, and it showed last night at the raucous Dunk.
- Providence Played into Villanova’s Gameplan – I thought offensively that Providence fell in love with the three ball way too much. Providence has the athleticism and physicality over Villanova, and I think a fan of either team would easily acknowledge that. Thus, it was befuddling to see Providence continue to hoist up 3’s when pretty much all of Providence players were beating their man off the dribble with relative ease. Providence was 21.7% from 3 and shot the same amount of 3’s as Villanova, with the Wildcats making 6 more. That’s the ballgame right there. Providence should study this game and continue to get downhill, while cutting the number of 3’s in half.
- More Paint Touches – Watson scored 20 points on his usual efficient 6-9 from the floor. Villanova did an admirable job of fronting Watson and not allowing him to get easy access to the entry pass; however, I still think Providence should have looked to him more often. Villanova doesn’t have a match-up for him, and it should be programmed into the identity of the next game to get Watson double the amount of touches.
- Bynum is No Fluke – Although it happened in a loss, I think one of the most positive takeaways for the Friars is the emergence of Bynum as a top point guard in the Big East. It is “easy” to score 20+ against the cellar dwellers of the Big East, and it is another thing to score 18 on an efficient 7-13 against Villanova. He has quickness that is up there with anybody in the Big East, and Providence can lean on him to manufacture a shot whenever is needed. Great game by Jared.
- Emergence of Reeves – The old confidence of Reeves seemed to return. Reeves scored 16 points and was not just settling for jumpers. This attacking version of Reeves needs to be here to stay because it creates more offensive weapons for the Providence Friars. As somebody who has battled with ups and downs and injuries his entire career, it was great to see him play well . The story of A.J. Reeves is just getting started, and his swagger is built for a big stage in March.
- Adjustment to Durham’s Offensive Approach – Durham needs to be playing downhill the entire game and not settling for 3’s and jumpers. He is at his best near the rim with his propensity to drawing fouls and finishing through contact. He is bailing out the opposing guards of other teams by settling for jumpers. I hope Cooley reiterates this because he too can get to the rim when he wants.
Big Picture Takeaway
This Villanova squad has the potential to be an elite 8/final 4 type squad. Make no mistake about it. Villanova likely played their best game of the season, and the Friars still almost pulled off the victory. While losing to Villanova leaves a sour taste in the mouths of Friar fans, the Providence team should hold their head high and move on. Butler on Sunday will be a tough one, and you can’t let an emotionally draining loss to Villanova lead to a slip-up Sunday. The Big East regular season title is still theirs to lose, and they need to come ready to control their own destiny Sunday. It was a great showing by the team and fans last night, and I believe this Providence squad will remain nationally relevant through March…and just maybe April.