Holy War: Ten Takeaways

Villanova marched into Hagan Arena on Tuesday night and played, more or less, like the number 8 team in the nation. Villanova won its fourth straight contest against St. Joe's, beating the Hawks 86-72. Inside, we have a full breakdown of the game, with ten takeaways, some good, some bad.

1: For the fourth year in a row, Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats took care of business against Phil Martelli's St. Joe's Hawks. While the game this year was certainly more competitive, probably even more competitive than the 86-72 final score indicates, it was still a loss. Wright has the Cats rolling to a 7-0 start to the season. With Wright at the helm, the Cats have clearly established their dominance over the rest of the Big 5. The Cats are in a class of their own.

2: Villanova's ball movement was a sight to see. Their unselfishness on the offensive end, from Ryan Arcidiacono to Jalen Brunson to Mikal Bridges to Kris Jenkins, and right on down the line, is a direct result of their coaching and culture. Every time the Hawks seemed to be gaining momentum, Villanova would make an extra pass or two that resulted in a quality look from three. The ball whipped around the perimeter, often landing in the corner with an open jump-shooter. As a team, the Cats shot 11-31 from downtown, which is good for 35%. It wasn't so much the percentage as much as the timing. The Cats were timely with their makes, and often strung them together into runs.

3: Mikal Bridges is going to be a really, really nice player for Jay Wright. I mention him here in this recap for two reasons. One being that he was spectacular on Tuesday. The 6'7 redshirt freshman from Great Valley (PA) poured in a career-high 11 points, hitting 2-4 from three and flushing a huge and-one poster dunk on a baseline cut. Bridges is all arms and legs, and will only get better. I also mention Bridges here because he sort of represents a greater issue. St. Joe's recruited Bridges harder and longer than just about anyone. In the end it didn't matter, as the Cats swooped in and got a commitment from him shortly after offering. This has happened several times recently, including most recently in 2016 with Dylan Painter. And there's no reason to think it's going to stop.

4: Shavar Newkirk is putting it together. Last weekend, Newkirk, a sophomore point guard from Cardinal Hayes (NY) knocked down the game-winner against Old Dominion in the closing seconds. On Tuesday, he followed that up with an impressive 13-point, 9-assist, 3-rebound performance against Nova. Newkirk has really improved since the end of last season, as I've already written about extensively here. His improvements are across the board, and drastic. His scoring is up from 3.3 to 8.7. His free throw shooting is up from 57% to 78%. His three-point shooting (was 1-2 last night) is up from 19% to 29%. His overall shooting percentage from 28% to 42%. That's all stats. Just watching him, he's stronger, more confident, more assertive, and more vocal. Point guard play this season is certainly improved over a year ago, and Newkirk is a major reason why.

5: DeAndre Bembry was arguably the best player on the floor last night, although an argument could be made for Ryan Arcidiacono or Josh Hart as well. Bembry finished with 17 points and made several plays that had the NBA scouts in attendance reaching for their pens. Still, and this is not even close to a knock on him, it felt like he could do more. He scored only 4 points after intermission. Bembry has done a great job getting to the free throw line this season. He went 8-10 from the line against Old Dominion. He was 11-15 against Drexel. On Tuesday night against Villanova, he didn't attempt a single free throw. I don't think that's necessarily an indictment against a lack of assertiveness, but it doesn't help. Bembry is at his best slashing to the rim, which often results in him earning trips to the line. He wasn't able to do that at all against Nova.

6: James Demery has continued his strong play. After a freshman year that didn't meet expectations, the North Carolina native has embraced his new 6th man role. James had 13 points on 5-10 shooting, and an impressive 3-4 from the charity stripe. James has been solid all season, but especially in his last four games. In the Buffalo, Florida, Old Dominion, Villanova stretch that just wrapped up, Demery averaged 12.25 points per game and has shot a clean 20-40 (50%) from the field. He's stronger, his handle is tighter, and his confidence is paying dividends. His worst case projection moving forward was high-level defender and energy guy. He's showing, and showed last night, that he can be much more than that.

7: The atmosphere last night was terrific. I liked the majority of the rollouts, although I could have done without the one that featured a certain Villanova players' cell phone number. The student section was packed and the place got loud, especially when the Hawks cut Nova's lead to 54-49 mid-way through the second half. It was the second strong fan showing of the year, in addition to the Drexel opener. While they may not be the sexiest names, Princeton and Illinois State, the next two home games, are very solid teams. Fan support would definitely help in those two, and all moving forward.

8: Shooting from three and the free-throw line played a huge role in the outcome Tuesday night. Nova outscored the Hawks 33-18 from three and then 13-8 from the free-throw line. That's 20 points in a 14-point game. The Hawks will get Papa Ndao back at some point, and that should help. He has the size and shooting ability to make a difference. St. Joe's has been very quiet about when Ndao, who missed all of last year with a medical issue, will return, but it appears that it will be sooner rather than later.

9: St. Joe's didn't pack the house with recruits on Tuesday, but there was one of note. St. Joe's had 2017 Spring Grove (PA) point guard Eli Brooks seated behind the bench. Brooks, who runs with the Jersey Shore Warriors, was there with his parents and seated right next to current New York Knick Langston Galloway. Brooks is a high-academic kid, with offers already from the likes of Colgate, Penn, Lafayette, Monmouth, George Mason, and Drexel. St. Joe's hasn't offered yet, but it wouldn't surprise at all if they did in the coming months.

10: St. Joe's has a tough game on Friday when they travel to Columbia. The Lions are 4-4 with wins over Kean, Lehigh, Wofford, and Bucknell. Their losses are to Kansas State, Northwestern in overtime, Fairfield by a point in overtime, and Longwood by a point. Their four losses are by a combined 15 points. The Lion to keep an eye on Friday night is senior guard Maodo Lo. Lo averaged 18.4 points per game last year while shooting 43% from three. His numbers have dipped a bit this year, but he is certainly talented enough to give the Hawks fits. He had 23 points on 4-6 shooting from three and 7-8 from the stripe in their most recent win over a talented Bucknell team. Bembry and Demery will have their hands full defending him.

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