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Where They Stand: Wildcats Have Four Games Left

With back-to-back losses for the first time in two seasons, Villanova has hit that rough stretch that so many experts predicted would arise due to the team’s difficult February schedule. The losses have brought doubt to a team that just two weeks ago had so little.

A season ago, Villanova went through a similar stretch losing three of its first  five Big East games before winning six straight games. As a team that has been in the top-10 all season long, the talent is obviously there and perhaps the only positive from this streak is that it happened now and not in March.

With four games left, including two against top-10 teams, here is a look at the Wildcats major areas of concern:

  • Fouls: It seems to be a weekly discussion, but after the Pitt game it is worth revisiting again. Overall, Villanova did a better job limiting fouls against Pitt and was hurt by some questionable officiating. However, the Wildcats still have a knack for picking up unnecessary fouls. The team needs to play smarter. As mentioned yesterday, there is no reason Corey Fisher should have put himself in the position to pick up his second foul on that blocking call. Taylor King does not need to set an illegal screen to free up a driving Scottie Reynolds. Realizing the situation and acting accordingly will only help the Wildcats goal to limit their fouls.
  • Half-court offense: One of the common threads between the UConn and Pitt losses was the way the game was slowed down. Consequently, Villanova saw it’s fast break points limited and were forced to run its half-court offense more. For a high-scoring team, Villanova looks very uncomfortable in the half-court. It seems like the players are waiting for Reynolds and Fisher to make a play rather than trying to make their own. The exception is Antonio Pena, who has been very aggressive down low lately. This sit-and-wait offense can be highlighted by the fact that Villanova had just one assist in the first half of Sunday. The key to this is getting Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding more involved. They need to look to shoot more, and if they are able to capture their offensive rhythm again, it will make the rest of the team more dangerous.
  • Bench: The Wildcat bench has all but disappeared lately. At times Taylor King, Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek have all shown flashes of offensive talent, but none have been able to sustain that success lately. That coupled with the struggles of Redding and Stokes have the Wildcats running a lineup that too often features just one realistic scoring option. A year ago, this was a problem as well because there were times when Redding, Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson offered very little offensively. Eventually, Anderson stepped up, and the season took off. If this year’s Wildcats can get that boost from a player off the bench, they will become the top-5 team again that they had been for most of the season.
  • Be aggressive: For most of the season, Villanova did a great job getting to the foul line. With their own foul problems, the team’s struggles to get to the line have been hidden. While the Wildcats are second in the conference in free throw attempts, the last two games they have went to the line 20 and 18 times, respectively. Meanwhile, their opponents have taken 42 more free throws over that time span. Considering the Wildcats lost those two games by a combined 14 points, it is easy to see the difference. The Wildcats are a smaller, quicker team than most of its opponents and they need to use that to their advantage by attacking the basket and making bigger opponents try to make a play.

The common thread among all these problems is that they can be corrected. With four games remaining, those corrections need to be made quickly. Wednesday’s game against USF is clearly a must win, but it will be important to see if there are improvements in these areas. The Wildcats can beat USF by correcting none of these, but they will be sitting ducks against Syracuse.

– David Cassilo

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