The Sun’s Arizin: Is Villanova Basketball Too Dependent On The Three?

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Happy Wednesday Nova Nation! Tuesday is one of my favorite days of Villanova basketball week because it’s when a whole bunch of my favorite basketball podcasts drop (or at least I get to listen to them). My usual rotation includes Titus & Tate, Eye on College Basketball, and of course our most Villanova-centric friends at State of the Nova Nation and The Full 40. If you haven’t listened yet, their crossover episode featuring the Great East the regular season is a must-listen.

Now, to show behind the curtain a bit, I tend to play the part of a cranky old man yelling at young podcasters like Pat and Emma when they mess up a stat or throw a hot take. Normally this happens on our Slack VUHoops channel, but today’s topic was interesting enough that I thought I’d include you in the discussion. The subject: Is Villanova too dependent on three-point shooting?

Pat touched on the subject in their Baylor game recap, and some of his stats were quite concerning:

  • 46% of Villanova’s points (not shots, points) come from behind the arc.
  • That 46% rank them 5th in the country and represent their greatest dependence on the three for a season in the past decade.
  • No other ranked team comes close to this mark, the next closest being Tennessee at 37%.
  • Emma also added that this team doesn’t have as many pure shooters as the teams in the past.
  • Emma’s final point was that we weren’t impressed with Nova’s shooting performance, especially recently against Baylor, Syracuse and the Big 5.

What the fuck is this team doing!?!? Pack the paint, give up the three !!! Well, not so fast. Here’s Old Uncle Brendan for putting a different perspective on this take.

Let’s start with what was not said with some of these statistics, they are incomplete. We are talking about 10 games, which is between 25 and 33% of a season. There are two reasons why this is important. The first is that when you compare this to previous seasons, you are not comparing apples to oranges. And that’s especially true given the second point, which is that Jay Wright actively encourages his teams to take three-plus earlier in the season. He’s said repeatedly that shooters develop best when you give them the confidence to let him fly early and work with them to improve shot selection. So yes, fewer games and more than three are going to lead to more confidence.

That said, Pat isn’t wrong about the 46%. It’s not just the past decade either, no Jay Wright team has finished a season 46% or better in their previous 20+ seasons at Villanova. But again, there’s a bit of a lack of context here. First, Villanova didn’t really embrace the “Shoot ‘Em Up, Sleep In The Streets” model until 2014, when they started taking over 40% of their shots in depth. Since then, the distribution of points has tilted more and more towards the three pointers. In fact, in three of the past four seasons, Villanova finished the year with over 40% of her point distribution coming from three, and placed in the Top 15.

This fits perfectly with the identity of Villanova during the “Gillespie years”. Dude … he’s been really here for a while. Having said that, it’s still a bit high and I think we can all agree with Pat and Emma that bringing that point distribution closer to 40 than 45 wouldn’t be a bad thing. Especially when you consider their next point, which is that no ranked team is close to that point distribution. Not only is the next closest ranked team in Tennessee at 37% (63rd nationally), but the next closest Power Six school is Butler at 39% (41st nationally). Heck, Villanova’s point distribution is almost a percentage point above VMI, and they have the highest three-shot percentage in the country! Okay, so we come back to the too dependent side of the three of the argument.

Oh but wait, let’s dive a little deeper into the rabbit hole. The next point was Emma’s, pointing out that this team just didn’t have the same caliber of shooters that Nova’s teams had in the past. Well, by kenpom.com (where most of this data comes from), to make it into the Top 500 Shooters nationwide every season, you typically need to connect in depth to around 37% clip. So let’s make that the watermark for shooters and see how many we have in our “Gillespie Years” date range:

2018 – 6: Bridges (43%), Spellman (43%), Brunson (40%), DiVincenzo (40%), Gillespie (39%), Booth (37%)

2019 – 2: Gillespie (37%), Bey (37%)

2020 – 2: Bey (45%), Moore (39%)

2021 – 6: Slater (41%), Swider (40%), Daniels (38%), Antoine (38%), Gillespie (37%), Samuels (37%)

2022 – 4: Dixon (55%), Gillespie (43%), Daniels (38%), Moore (38%)

Well, that doesn’t seem to support the podcast theory. Currently there are four players for Nova averaging over 37% depth, and Slater isn’t too far down at 35%. The real problem with this argument is that it’s very rare that you both get all of your three points and you’re not good at hitting them either. That’s just not the case here for Nova, who shoots 37.7% as a team and is ranked 38th nationally in three-point shooting.

In fact, I think all this addiction to the three debates is triggered by one game: Syracuse. Yes, in a surprise twist I’m going to blame it all on the Orange.

Before the Syracuse game, Villanova shot 42% deep as a team. They had reached over 35% deep and hit triple-digits in six of their first eight games. Then came Syracuse, which practically taunted Villanova to beat them on three. Unfortunately, it was a bad shooting night for the Wildcats. Despite a ton of open shots, they only managed 26% to shoot deep. In this game alone, 60% of their shots and 60% of their points were from the depths. Before this game, Villanova’s point distribution was 44.3%. It’s still high, but it’s clear the Syracuse and Baylor games have made that number a bit more excessive.

So at the end of the day do Pat and Emma have a point where we need a better balance in our score? Of course they do! Effective inner scoring is what opens things on the outside. The ability to drive all the way to the basket is what makes those false perimeter shots so deadly. Villanova MUST do a better job of finishing on the rim and in the paint than what we’ve seen in the last two games. However, are we so far from the game plan that radical changes need to be made? Of course not. Do I think this is more of a bad game against an area and another bad game against an elite defense? I do.

Grumpy Ol ‘Rant Over. Stay calm. To encourage. Go download a podcast.

In other news, Villanova is still the favorite to win the Big East (and that was a stupid question to ask), COVID is delaying DiVincenzo’s return, and three Grid Wildcats win All-American Honors. Enjoy!

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