Scouting Report: Villanova
Vanderbilt's men's basketball team has already lost in blowout fashion to a power-conference opponent (Oregon). So has Villanova (Alabama). Vanderbilt has already endured a double-digit loss to a small-conference opponent (Marist). So has Villanova (Columbia.) Vanderbilt stubbed its toe against a mid-major (Davidson). So has Villanova (La Salle.) The problems that Kevin Stallings and his staff are facing at the beginning of December are not terribly different from the ones Villanova coach Jay Wright is staring at. Stallings has been in Nashville since 1999, while Wright's tenure at Villanova stretches back to 2001. Two coaches, two VU crews, two rosters that can't match the excellence of recent years – it's as though Vanderbilt and Villanova were made for each other in this 2012-2013 season of struggle.
They meet at Memorial Gym in the "Big V" installment of the Big East-SEC Challenge.
The main difference between Vanderbilt and Villanova as programs is that Villanova's fall from lofty heights has been more pronounced and extended. The Wildcats reached the Final Four in 2009 (oh, for the Commodores to make just one…), but they have steadily declined instead of sustaining momentum and prominence. A lack of harmony in the team's inner circle at the end of the 2010 season sabotaged a once-promising campaign. As a No. 2 seed, Villanova crashed out of the Big Dance in the second round.
It has never been the same since.
The Wildcats made the 2011 NCAA Tournament but lost their last six games of the season. Villanova's final win of that campaign came on Feb. 19 against perennial Big East doormat DePaul. An utter collapse in late February and the month of March only furthered the sense of diminishment and impending doom that has enveloped this program. Last season, Villanova finished with a 13-19 overall record, 5-13 for the Big East. Everyone in and around Philadelphia had to wonder if this really was the same school that played North Carolina in a Final Four National Semifinal three years earlier in Detroit. As this season began, people in and around the program were wondering if the narrative – and the results – would change for Wright, an esteemed coach who has been groping for answers and coming up empty.
The past few weeks have offered a quick and authoritative "No!" to the fans of the Pennsylvania-based VU team in this matchup.
Losing by 22 to an Alabama team that was on top of its game is not really cause for embarrassment. Getting its doors blown off by Columbia in a 75-57 laugher? That's reason to be red-faced. Losing a "Big Five" game to Philadelphia rival La Salle isn't so much embarrassing as it is a source of great anger. Villanova can already see its season slipping away, with bad losses immediately giving the Wildcats a resume worthy of no postseason tournament to speak of (and not just the NCAAs). If you think Vanderbilt needs to play a desperate brand of high-energy basketball on Saturday, you're right. It's simply worth mentioning, though, that Villanova is in the exact same place.
Forward – Mouphtaou Yarou – Senior, 6-10, 255 2012-13 STATISTICS: 7.8 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game
Three of Villanova's five starters received extended minutes last year. All in all, the composition of Wright's rotation, which will go at least eight deep and probably nine, is mostly comprised of returning players, but there are a few fresh faces in the mix.
Yarou is an inelegant low-post player who is not blessed with a full toolbox of skills. He's not an accomplished scorer, but he does fill the middle and can be a significant presence for Villanova on the glass. Matching Yarou's energy will be a foremost task for Vanderbilt in this game. If Yarou can't get to loose balls or become a disruptive force as a defender, he doesn't have much of a reason for being on the floor.
Forward – JayVaughn Pinkston – Sophomore, 6-6, 240; 2012-13: 12.3 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.5 assists per game
This is not Villanova's best player, but Pinkston is the Wildcats' most well-rounded player. Pinkston's heft and his tweener size as a small forward enable him to bang in the paint and attack the rim with an extra measure of authoritativeness. Yet, he can operate on the wings and perform multiple roles for the Cats. Pinkston doesn't shoot the three, so it's not as though he emphasizes a perimeter game; he likes to work closer to the basket. However, he's versatile enough that he'll give opposing defenses some different looks when Villanova has the ball.
Guard – James Bell – Junior, 6-6, 225; 2012-13: 11.2 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.3 apg
Bell is a more perimeter-oriented version of Pinkston. He's 15 pounds lighter and – at the same height – likes to shoot threes. He's second on the team in attempts with 27. Bell, as you can see, is just as productive on the boards as Pinkston is, so don't let his fondness for the long ball lull you into thinking that he's soft. He's just as much of a worker bee as Pinkston is, only with less muscle and bulk.
Guard – Darrun Hilliard – Sophomore, 6-6, 205; 2012-13: 10.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Do you want another 6-6 player on the Villanova roster? Here you are. You can see that the Wildcats don't offer a lot of diversity to opponents. You can have only so many tweener players. At five spots on the floor, you need loose-limbed shooting specialists and lightning-quick point guards. A particularly polished scorer in the low post doesn't hurt, either. When you survey the Villanova starting five, you quickly realize that there aren't many well-delineated roles on this team. It is not a collection of complementary parts. In a strong and very real sense, three players – Hilliard, Bell and Pinkston – are really a three-headed version of one player. No wonder the Wildcats are struggling this season.
Guard – Ryan Arcidiacono – Freshman, 6-3, 195; 2012-13: 13.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.5 apg
A freshman is Villanova's best scorer… and yet, Arcidiacono is a high-volume shooter who is hitting under 30 percent of his three-point attempts. This tells you something about Villanova: It just doesn't shoot well. Villanova's team field goal conversion rate is .416, 15th in the Big East Conference and 237th in Division I-A competition. The Wildcats' offense – in several basic statistical measurements – is buried below the 200 mark in various national ratings. Arcidiacono seems likely to eventually ripen into a fluid scorer-shooter, the kind of player Villanova needs. In a certain sense, he's already the player who is willing to take the big shot whereas others on his team aren't. However, Arcidiacono does not yet have the polish or the fluid understanding of the game that will enable him to be a top scorer in the Big East… or against power-conference foes such as Vanderbilt, especially on the road.
It's not going to come across as a surprise that for a laboring, lumbering team such as Villanova, none of its four primary reserves offer a lot of scoring punch. 6-11 forward Maurice Sutton leads the charge with 6.7 points per game. Another 6-11 tree, Daniel Ochefu, contributes 3.3 rebounds per game. Guards Tony Chennault and Achraf Yacoubou grab more than two rebounds per contest. This is a team that has trouble finding reliable offensive production up and down its roster.
Keys to the Game
1) One-and-done. For a team like Villanova that doesn't shoot well, the primary offense – the best and most fruitful one – can often become a missed shot. Everyone chases the miss on the glass and puts it back for a bunny. Vanderbilt must simply seal Yarou and every other Wildcat off the backboard, limiting the visitors from Philadelphia to one shot. If Vanderbilt accomplishes that much, it should have a great chance of winning.
2) Clog the paint. Villanova is not a quick team, but its trio of 6-6 tweener players can certainly muscle their way into the lane. If Vanderbilt successfully fills driving lanes and forces the Wildcats to shoot mid-range jumpers, the Commodores should gain the upper hand.