November 15, 2016

Title defense underway: Villanova picked up a major win at No. 15 Purdue

I get it. Nobody in Philly cares about college basketball in November (which is just how Jay Wright likes it, mind you), but it should be noted that Villanova picked up a big win last night over a ranked opponent in a hostile environment. Mackey Arena was sold out and 15th-ranked Purdue gave No. 3 ‘Nova an excellent test, but the Wildcats were able to make it out of Indiana with a 79-76 win:

That is the type of win that could mean the difference between a one and two seed in March. Here are a few takeaways:

•    Villanova’s mental toughness is a major weapon: This wasn’t the Wildcats shooting Oklahoma out of Houston. Purdue was able to fire up the crowd by keeping it close, but what struck me was how calm ‘Nova was at all times. Here is what Josh Hart told the Inquirer’s Joe Juliano:

"I thought we handled the adversity well. It was a crazy environment here. Like Coach said, every time we did something they came back with a run. We opened a lead and they came back. I think the biggest part of that was handling that adversity.

Jalen Brunson hadn’t been on the free-throw line the whole game, but he stepped up and made four foul shots to help keep the lead at three points in the guts of the game. Why wouldn’t he? Brunson and five other players on the floor for ‘Nova last night also grinded out six tournament wins just a few months ago. A little road game in November is nothing.

•    ‘Nova might have trouble dealing with big frontcourts: Purdue’s frontline is really good. Caleb Swanigan is an active player in the post that can step out to the three-point line, while Isaac Haas is simply a gigantic human. They combined to score 42 points on 23 shots. Down the stretch, the 7’2” Haas got whatever he wanted. Here’s what Wright said:

"We made a lot of adjustments and none of them worked. Honestly, we did everything. We tried zone. We tried to trap them. We tried to play behind them. We tried to front them. We just outscored them, really. I'd like to sit here and say I was a genius, but it didn't work tonight.”

This is the worry when five-star recruit Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible. Darryl Reynolds is a solid player (and he played well last night, with 12 points on 5-6 shooting and 8 rebounds), but right now he’s all by himself up front. Last year, Daniel Ochefu had Reynolds sitting behind him if he got into foul trouble. That’s not the case anymore, and Reynolds was helpless against Haas late when he had four fouls.

Again, not many opponents have Purdue’s frontcourt. But for a team with Final Four aspirations, I think this is something worth keeping an eye on.

•    Kris Jenkins seems to like this spot:


•    Hart’s Naismith campaign didn’t take a hit: Hart wasn’t perfect and Purdue was able to keep him out of the lane at the end of the game, but he puts so much pressure on the opposing defense. He finished with 24 points on 8-17 field goals and 7-11 free throws, the first of what should be many big performances in his final season.


Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann