Villanova Faces Biggest Test of the Season Saturday Against Kansas

NCAA Basketball: Pennsylvania at Villanova
Dec 4, 2019; Villanova, PA, USA; Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) brings the ball up court against the Pennsylvania Quakers during the first half at Finneran Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova’s first ten games of the 2019-20 NCAA Men’s Basketball season has been filled with some ups and downs. At first glance, it’s difficult to argue with an 8-2 record. However, with a deeper look, some flaws can be identified.

The Wildcats have racked up wins against Army, Ohio, Middle Tennesse, Mississippi State, La Salle, Pennsylvania, Saint Joseph’s, and Delaware. Just one quick look at the level of competition and it’s easy to determine that these were contests Villanova should have won. Their two loses, on the other hand, came against the two best teams they’ve played thus far. Both Ohio State and Baylor are nationally ranked and established their superiority against one of the Big East’s best.

Still, Jay Wright and Villanova are currently the 18th best team in the nation with aspirations of continued ascension up the rankings. There’s no better opportunity to do so than pulling off an upset against their opponent on Saturday, the Kansas Jayhawks.

Get to Know the Kansas Jayhawks

After previously being ranked number two last week, Kansas is now the nation’s number one team. Ten games in, the Jayhawks are 9-1, with their only loss coming against Duke at the beginning of the season.

Along with being the highest-ranked team in the country, they are one of the nation’s highest-scoring teams as well. Of ranked teams, only Gonzaga, Arizona, and Dayton average more points per game. Additionally, they are an efficient team, in regards to scoring, recording a .529 field goal percentage. Offensively, one area of improvement for Kansas is their success beyond the arc. The Jayhawks are outside the top 40 in three-point field goal percentage. In today’s game, this is quite rare for the NCAA’s top team.

Kansas also distributes the ball very well, averaging 17.3 assists per game. In regards to ball protection and turnovers, the Jayhawks are somewhere in the middle. They are averaging 14 turnovers a game, which can be improved upon but isn’t awful either. The best teams in this category average just below ten a game. On the other hand, the worst teams average north of 19.

Small-ball has been a theme in Villanova for quite some time now. Of course, when they take on a team like Kansas, that leads to some mismatches. The Jayhawks will bring some height to the court when they visit the Wells Fargo Center, especially in the form of seven-foot center Udoka Azubuike. The lengthy senior is averaging 26 minutes a game, posting 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds a contest.

Sophomore guard, Devon Dotson, currently leads the Jayhawks in scoring with 19.6 points per game. He also leads Kansas in assists with 4.8 helpers a contest. Dotson is an efficient scorer and Villanova will benefit from slowing him down and preventing high-quality scoring opportunities.

Three Keys to a Villanova Victory

Neutralize the Size Disadvantage

As mentioned before, Villanova does not match up well with Kansas in terms of size. However, Jay Wright’s small-ball style of basketball can assist in limiting this advantage for the Jayhawks. Villanova needs to dictate the pace of the game, execute on perimeter scoring, and force Kansas to come out and defend them. Still forwards such as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Cole Swider, and Saddiq Bey on going to have to get physical defensively. Making things easy for Azubuike could result in a long night for the Wildcats.

Force Kansas to Execute from Long Range

Kansas is not one of the nation’s best teams from beyond the arc. For Villanova, that means making the opposition earn their points via the three-pointer or long two. Then the Wildcats have to shift their focus to crashing the boards. Forcing teams to throw up lower percentage shots accomplishes nothing if you can’t gobble up the rebounds. Due to the size of Kansas, the more second-chance opportunities they receive, the more likely it is they will win.

Win the Turnover Battle

This goes without saying for almost every basketball game. The more disciplined and careful you are with the ball, the more likely it will be that you walk away victorious. Villanova needs to protect the basketball and force Kansas into making some suspect decisions. Of course, if Villanova can dictate the pace of the contest, Kansas will be forced to make more risky plays, leading to more turnovers.

Final Thoughts

Saturday afternoon is going to be anything but a walk in the park for Villanova against the NCAA’s top team. However, pulling off the upset is certainly within the realm of possibility. The Wells Fargo Center will be booming with energy in this highly-anticipated showdown and the Wildcats will look to take advantage. Expect this game to come down to the wire and possibly be decided on the final shot.

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports