On Tuesday evening at 7 o’clock, Fox Sports 1 will be airing as the struggling Villanova Wildcats host the 9th-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles in the pair’s second meeting of the 2023-‘24 season. Just two weeks ago, the Wildcats were 4-1 against Big East teams and determined to grab their fifth in-conference win before losing handily to the Golden Eagles on Marquette’s home-floor; 87-74. For the Wildcats, that loss proved to be a tone-setter of sorts; as the Philly suburbanites are (now) on a four-game losing streak that dates back to their shellacking in Milwaukee.
By contrast, that matchup gave the Golden Eagles all the confidence in the world. Since then, the Milwaukeeans have won three straight games; extending their winning streak to four and looking to make it five in Philly this Tuesday night. With both teams on opposite trajectories, it’s a bit puzzling that Villanova is only a half-point (+0.5) underdog. Then again, siding with the home team in college basketball is one of the safest bets in sports. Still, banking on ‘Nova defending their home-floor in this one seems like quite the gamble. If the ‘Cats have visions of restoring their mojo, this is what they’ll have to do:
Ditch the Press
On the Golden Eagles’ way to victory on January 15th, they ripped apart ‘Nova’s middling press defense; easily advancing the ball past half-court and proceeding to punish the ‘Nova defenders who were having trouble recovering. As the game wore on, Shaka Smart was imploring his offense to attack the paint; dismantling the visitors’ defense by way of 60 paint points. Against the press, Marquette’s highly capable ball-handlers had no problem attacking it; using their dribble and passing ability to create a ton of good looks close to the basket.
If the Wildcats resort to the press (again), chances are they’ll be trailing by a sizable margin when they do. If Kyle Neptune decides to pull it out earlier than that, he may have gone crazy or the Wildcats have miraculously found a way to drastically improve it in a short period of time. In other words, the Wildcats are better off without their press.
Since Moore returned to the team after missing several weeks with a knee injury, the Wildcats have yet to hit their stride and have lost four of those five games. To get the most out of themselves, their best guard needs to get back to who he is (/was). To improve those chances, Neptune needs to be willing to get Moore going early; by drawing up a couple of plays for him and allowing him to handle the ball more than he did against St. John’s.
While it would be ridiculous to blame Kyle Neptune for Moore’s lower level of play lately, he hasn’t exactly been inclined to rely on him as much as he should be. For starters, Neptune should try to isolate him and one of his teammates on one side of the floor; (either) in the post with his back to the basket as he awaits the entry pass or on the wing facing the hoop and coming off a Dixon/Hart screen. Somehow, someway, Moore needs to impose his will offensively and score 14 plus points if the ‘Cats want to avoid dropping their fifth straight game.
The Butler Bulldogs’ head coach, Thad Matta, said it perfectly when his team was trailing about midway thru the second half in its comeback-victory over Villanova:
“We’re going to win this game…I want nothing but winning thoughts (flowing through your heads)”
Towards the end of regulation & the overtimes in that crushing defeat, Villanova didn’t look like a team that wanted to win the game. Instead, the ‘Cats acted like they were trying not to lose it. Offensively, Villanova’s ball-handlers were consistently passing up opportunities to attack the basket and take shots late in the game. Content to keep passing the ball around the horn, the Villanova back-court lost its aggressiveness and was focused on avoiding mistakes rather than making winning plays.
Defensively, the ‘Cats had no interest in protecting their 2-point lead at the end of regulation and OT; allowing Butler to get all the way to the rim and score in uncontested fashion. Rather than playing “scared”, all five of Villanova’s players who are on the floor at the end of the game (& during it) have to remind themselves of who they really are. Simply, they need to keep in-mind the fact that they were recruited to a very accomplished program for a very specific reason; because they can flat-out play the game of basketball. When you catch the ball on the perimeter (or anywhere) and don’t even look at the basket before shoveling it off to one of your teammates, you’re telling your opponent exactly what they want to hear. In other words, you’re telling them you don’t want to be blamed (by your own team) if your team ends up losing the game. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Try this:
Give the Golden Eagles every reason to believe you are the guy who’s going to win your team the game.Although Justin Moore missed 10 of his 12 shots against Butler and wasn’t himself throughout the double-OT loss, at least the kid was willing to take (& miss) what would’ve been the dagger with his team leading by 2 and 29 seconds left in OT. It’s that kind of mindset you need to have to win games; and (especially) to get out of slumps.
Let’s Go ‘Nova.