Villanova came in to Monday night’s game against Georgetown as the No. 4 ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, one of only three teams in the country ranked in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and projected by at least one popular bracketologist as a No. 1 seed come March.
It left the Verizon Center having lost a 78-58 thrashing to the Hoyas, as well as first place in the Big East, wondering how to get its exceptional season back on track.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and reserve Isaac Copeland led a balanced Hoyas attack with 17 points a piece, while Georgetown’s disruptive, frenetic defense -- underpinned by a three-steal, two-block, one-bizarre eye injury night from guard Jabril Trawick -- forced 17 Villanova turnovers that led to 24 Georgetown points.
Villanova scored just .59 points per possession in the first half, hitting only six of their 22 shots and appearing overwhelmed, going almost eight minutes in the first half without a field goal. The Hoyas, meanwhile, used an 18-1 run to sprint to a 26-point lead bolstered by 65 percent shooting and a raucous crowd.
Both teams in the second half succumbed to a pace of play neutered by fouls. While it was an aggressive contest, the officiating crew blew 51 total whistles, including 23 over a 12 minute span in the second half, underscoring the tenacity between the two heated rivals.
Monday marked Georgetown’s coming-out party for the 2014-15 season. While the Hoyas have no ‘bad’ losses so far, they also didn’t have any KenPom Top 25 victories to speak of, either.
Now they do.
Going forward, the Hoyas aren’t going to face top-five teams and be propelled by amped crowds night after night. Georgetown needs to remember what got them this victory: speed and aggression that led to sharp basket cuts and feeds on offense, to go with smothering ball pressure on the defensive end. The Hoyas penetrated the lane and fed Joshua Smith at will.
One of Georgetown’s hidden strengths is its offensive rebounding ability. It grabs the rebound more than 37 percent of the time when it’s on offense. This helped the Hoyas get second chance points and win the overall rebounding battle 26 to 18. Keeping this aggression on the glass alive will be key if Georgetown wants to hold serve against teams like St. Johns's and Butler, the strong defensive teams it will face down the stretch of the Big East season.
Villanova’s most important task at hand is not panicking and getting back to a winning mentality. Its next three games come against arguably the three ‘worst’ teams in the nation’s second-best conference: Creighton, DePaul and Marquette. None of these games will be easy, but they are winnable for Villanova.
Few lamented the Wildcats’ only other loss this year, a road tilt in overtime against Seton Hall, because of the improved quality of the Pirates and the close nature of the loss. Monday night, however, represented a different atmosphere entirely. The Wildcats were out of the game from the under-12 media timeout in the first half, onward. Its usually formidable post duo of Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston were held to only 10 points and seven rebounds combined.
Villanova’s biggest strength might be its balance - and not just in terms of offensive output. It allows .90 points per possession on defense, and is among the top 25 teams in the country in a wide range of tempo-free statistics, such as turnover percentage, effective field goal percentage, steals and assist-to-field goal ratio.
One key for Villanova will be not just getting the ball to Ochefu, but ensuring he gets shots. He was so disrupted down low Monday night that he only took five shots the entire game. For a big man shooting 66 percent from the field, that’s unacceptable.
With seven teams in the RPI Top 40, the Big East is the second strongest conference in college basketball right now. There will be cannibalization, here. Villanova will lose another game in the Big East at some point. It might lose two. That’s OK. What the Wildcats can’t afford to do is let this 20-point drubbing rattle them into losing three of six, or five of nine.
Except a fired up Jay Wright team to make sure this doesn’t happen when the two teams meet in northwest Philadelphia in less than three weeks from now.