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December 29, 2016

After scare against DePaul, Villanova faces tough road trip to Creighton and Butler

There was a strange atmosphere in The Pavilion on Wednesday night. Villanova had just defeated DePaul, but it sure felt more like a loss. Jay Wright has settled into a funny routine over the past few years, one in which he’s apologetic for his team’s dominance over conference foes on the Main Line.

But after edging DePaul by the slimmest of marginsBilly Garrett Jr. had an excellent look at a three-pointer to tie the game up at the buzzer — Wright didn’t have to play down a stifling performance. Considering that his opponent on the night came in with losses to Illinois Chicago, Wyoming, Missouri State, and Temple (who ‘Nova smoked in the same gym a few weeks ago), this qualified as nothing less than stunning.

“I don’t think we played with great poise, to be honest with you,” Wright said. “I think we made one more great one-on-one play than they did at the end.”

Josh Hart came to the rescue again, and ‘Nova avoided what would have been the biggest upset of the college basketball season. The future consensus first-team All-American had some interesting comments after the game.

“I just wanted to help our team,” Hart said. “There was a couple ones the defense collapsed [on], I probably should have kicked it out. I just wanted to be aggressive.”

Hart is a bright kid, and his words were pretty revealing. The senior swingman knows that his clutch 10 points in the game’s last three minutes weren’t textbook Villanova basketball.

Wright, who was undoubtedly happy that Hart put the team on his back, felt that DePaul executed their game plan better than his team had.

“They forced us into that game, with us just going one-on-one and our guys trying to go one-on-one against them,” Wright said. “That’s their game plan and they’re smart at it, but it’s not ours.”

In recent seasons, nobody has played drive-and-kick basketball better than Villanova. Get into the paint and when the defense collapses, find the open shooter. If they don’t, take the layup or dunk. And if the defense takes away both options kick the ball back outside so the next guy can attack.

This year, with Hart possibly taking on more of the scoring burden, they have gotten away from that a little bit.

 YearAssist Rate
 National Rank

The strategy has worked so far, as the Wildcats sport the second-best offense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. Statistically, Wright should probably be more concerned about his team’s defense. When discussing any of the Wildcats’ flaws, it’s important to keep things in perspective. This is a still an elite college basketball team, but ‘Nova feels like an unfinished product on both ends of the floor.

For now, that’s fine. They have time to figure a few things out.

“We’re definitely going to learn a lot from this game,” Wright said. “We hope we don’t need wake-up calls. You know, we try to motivate ourselves from within but however you want to determine that from the outside, we’re going to learn a lot from this game.”

Some lessons would help, because a brutal road trip awaits them over the next week.  The Wildcats will face serious tests at ranked opponents in Creighton and Butler.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann