Villanova Basketball: What Went Wrong vs. Syracuse?
In the end, Villanova wasn't able to turn its season with a galvanizing victory over an undefeated, top-ranked team.
There were moments of toughness and of courage. Moments of youth and inexperience. Not enough of the former and too many of the latter.
Either way, Villanova basketball shows glimpses of its former self. Sticky defense. Scrappy rebounding. Fighting for loose balls and attacking the basket.
The Wildcats lost 79-66, a margin that seemed somehow closer than it was, but wider than it seemed.
There were five keys to Villanova making it a game, so let's see how they panned out.
1. Value Offensive Possessions
To compete against a juggernaut like Syracuse, Villanova needed to make the most of its offensive possessions.
Over the first 10 minutes, they managed to slow the game down and protect the basketball. They showed surprisingly deft ball movement and were tied 14-14.
It didn't last, as the 'Cats finished the game shooting just 34 percent on two-point field goals and committed 14 turnovers.
Villanova did manage to get to the foul line 28 times, scoring 20 points from the stripe.
The height, length and defensive tenacity of Syracuse was too much to handle. Villanova surrendered six steals and had eight shots blocked.
2. Focus on Defense
A huge factor in this game was going to be Villanova's defensive performance.
They've had trouble stopping good offensive teams. The 79 points they surrendered doesn't tell the entire story of their defensive effort, however.
The Wildcats actually played really impressive half-court defense. They contested shots and didn't allow too much scoring off the dribble. They were very active and forced 14 turnovers.
They held the Orange to 5-of-18 three-point shooting. What killed them was 22 second-chance points and 18 more off turnovers.
3. The Three Is Not Your Friend
It was discussed that Villanova is shooting 21 threes per game and only hitting 30 percent of them. They would need to resist the urge to shoot over the 2-3 zone of Syracuse.
They didn't. They had 20 three-point attempts and knocked down six, exactly 30 percent.
Even that stat is a little misleading, as they hit four of their last five in the final four minutes.
They hit their other two in the first eight minutes on six attempts. For the entire 28 minutes in between, they missed all nine attempts, a stretch where they were outscored 56-35.
4. Feed Mouph!
The thinking here was that Yarou could help Villanova in two ways.
First was working down low to get Big East behemoth Fab Melo into foul trouble. That part worked, with Melo getting whistled for four fouls and sitting three separate times due to foul trouble. Yarou went 8-of-9 from the foul line.
The other—and perhaps most important—was getting Yarou good looks from 12-15 feet in the middle of the zone. That one didn't pan out, as Yarou was 2-of-10 from the field.
He still scored 12 points and added 12 rebounds, which is impressive against such a dominant team.
5. Maalik Wayns
The final key was Maalik Wayns. Going against Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Rakeem Christmas, his friends from Philadelphia could have driven him to competitive heights.
It turns out it isn't so easy to carry the scoring load when you're the entire focus of a dominating Big East defense like Syracuse.
Wayns really never had an opportunity to get going, scoring just three points with three assists on the night.
Villanova had a rough time, but it showed a lot of fight and never quit. The Cats' inexperience showed, but there were definitely some things to build on. Syracuse is a great team, and the Wildcats will be better for having mixed it up with them.