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Joe Boozell | | February 17, 2018

Instant analysis: Villanova notches crucial road win over Xavier

Villanova Basketball: Omari Spellman | Newcomer Spotlight

Here are five things we can take from No. 3 Villanova’s 95-79 win over No. 4 Xavier on Saturday.

Villanova’s offense is fine

And that's an understatement. Villanova had the No. 1 offense coming into Saturday’s game, but it hadn’t shown quite the same zest in its last three outings. In losses against St. John’s and Providence, the Wildcats failed to top 75 points. Jay Wright was struggling to find Phil Booth’s replacement.

But Villanova exploded against Xavier, making 16 3s and shooting 60 percent from the floor. A common Villanova critique: it takes too many 3s. Sure, that can come back to bite the Wildcats on some nights. But when you’re an awesome 3-point shooting team, it would be foolish not to jack a lot of those suckers. Why fling a bunch of curveballs when you throw a 99 mile-an-hour heater?

Villanova was shooting 40 percent from 3 coming into the game and made 47 percent against the Musketeers. Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman combined to hit 12 triples.

Want to know how special Villanova’s perimeter attack is? The Wildcats scored 95 points and got to the free-throw line a grand total of five times. They attempted their first free-throw of the game with 13:15 left in the second half.

When the Villanova machine is humming, there’s no prettier — or more effective — offense in the country. Regardless of Booth’s status, there’s no need to worry about that end of the floor. Wright has too many plus shooters and ball-handlers at his disposal, and a system that maximizes the personnel.

When smaller players guard Bridges, every shot is an open shot

Mack used J.P. Macura on Bridges so Naji Marshall could guard Brunson – more on the latter soon – but Bridges absolutely torched Macura, scoring 25 points on 15 shots.

The thing is, Macura’s defense was fine. But he was giving up a ton of length to Bridges, who has a 7-foot wing span. If Macura was in Bridges’ face, it didn’t matter; essentially every shot he took was uncontested because Xavier defenders couldn’t alter his release point.

Manipulating the matchups to the extent that Mack did was an interesting choice. Marshall, who’s similar to Bridges in size, guarded Brunson, which forced Macura to defend up a spot. Macura is a cagey defender, but he was overmatched.

Bridges toggles between the three and the four for Villanova, and Wright does an excellent job of putting him in favorable matchups whenever possible. The slender Bridges even bullied a few guys in the post on Saturday.

When he plays like this, the Wildcats are nearly impossible to beat.

Chris Mack trusts Marshall more than any of his defenders

Mack used his 6-7 freshman on Brunson, and in one sense, it worked – the Naismith candidate didn’t go off against Xavier. Marshall held Brunson to 5-of-12 shooting for 11 points.

Brunson was bothered by Marshall’s combination of size and athleticism, which makes sense. Brunson isn’t a burner — when opposing point guards check him, he has a strength edge, not a quickness edge. Marshall is way bigger than Brunson, and about as fast. In a vacuum, he did an outstanding job.

But as mentioned before, slotting Marshall on Brunson had ripple effects — namely, Macura guarding Bridges and Quentin Goodin guarding DiVincenzo. Bridges and DiVincenzo did the bulk of Villanova’s damage.

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Kaiser Gates has fallen out of favor with Mack, and perhaps for good reason. He’s 4-for-his-last-23. But he’s a rangy defender who could have helped in this matchup; Bridges wouldn’t have smoked Gates the way he did Macura.

Props to Marshall for earning such trust as a freshman. But in order for Xavier to reach a Final Four, Gates needs to play like he did last March.

Villanova’s bench is making progress

Outside of defense, Villanova’s biggest weakness is depth. It was no coincidence that the Wildcats started to struggle once Phil Booth and Eric Paschall missed time. At full health, Jay Wright trusted six guys. Recent developments have forced him to give others a shot.

Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree have been inconsistent in general, but they showed out against Xavier. The ‘Nova bench mob combined for 16 points on 10 shot attempts. Gillespie canned two 3s and looked comfortable as a secondary ball-handler. Samuels looked great on defense; he’s another athletic wing that every team craves. Wright should give him a long look in February.

If the Wildcats can go eight-deep by March, they’ll be in great shape considering how dominant their starting lineup is.

The Wildcats’ defense has some issues, but it can stop post-up brutes 

Macura and Trevon Bluiett are Xavier’s most important offensive players, but the Musketeers almost always have an interior edge. Kerem Kanter and Sean O’Mara are throwback, post-up brutes who can serve as offensive hubs on a given night.

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Villanova’s defensive issues are well documented, but as we saw on Saturday, the Wildcats are equipped to stop guys like Kanter and O’Mara. That’s because Spellman and Paschall are built. There are a lot of long, rangy rim-protectors in college basketball. Not on Villanova. Spellman and Paschall are too physically imposing to be bullied in the post.

Kanter and O’Mara combined to score eight points, nine below their collective average. Villanova’s perimeter defense has been shaky at times this season, and it could use a little more shot-blocking. Like post offense, post defense isn’t as important as it used to be.

But based on Xavier’s personnel, it’s crucial in this matchup. And it’s part of the reason why the Wildcats have the Musketeers’ number.

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