Villanova's Biggest Weakness on Display as Physical Butler Scores Upset Win

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 5, 2017

Avery Woodson (0) and Kelan Martin (30) helped pace Butler to a win over Villanova.
Avery Woodson (0) and Kelan Martin (30) helped pace Butler to a win over Villanova.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Hinkle Fieldhouse claimed yet another victim Wednesday night as No. 18 Butler shocked No. 1 and previously unbeaten Villanova by a score of 66-58.

Josh Hart entered the game as the near-unanimous favorite to win the Wooden Award only to have his worst game of the season. A couple of buckets in the final five minutes kept his line (13 points, eight rebounds and three assists) from looking too bad, but his shot simply wasn't there. That struggle was compounded by the whistles, as Hart spent much of the game in foul trouble.

Moreover, both Mikal Bridges (zero points and two rebounds in 28 minutes) and Eric Paschall (zero points and two rebounds in 17 minutes) had their worst games of the season, while Kris Jenkins (11 points on 11 shots) didn't make his typical impact, either. As a result, it's tempting to just write this one off as a Hart-broken outlier; a tough road conference loss that doesn't matter for Villanova in the grand scheme of things.

After all, Villanova was the best regular-season team in the country over the previous three years and it trailed in the second half of each road game against Butler, eventually eking out three wins by a combined margin of 11 points.

But Butler just beat the No. 1 team in the country while forcing six turnovers and shooting 25.0 percent from three-point range.

That shouldn't ever happen.

Kamar Baldwin pickpockets Josh Hart to seal the deal.
Kamar Baldwin pickpockets Josh Hart to seal the deal.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Even on cold shooting nights, great teams find a way to dig deep to manufacture their points. They get to the free-throw line. They crash the offensive glass. Whatever it takes to put points on the board while keeping the opposition from stringing together runs.

Instead, Villanova got punched in the mouth and became complacent on offense.

"We felt if we could make it ugly on the defensive end, we'd give ourselves a chance," Butler head coach Chris Holtmann said after the game, according to Michael Marot of the Associated Press (h/t the Kansas City Star).

Maybe they were just trying to kill as much clock as possible to reduce the effect of Hart's foul trouble, but for most of the second half, the Wildcats played with no purpose. They settled for three-point jumpers well beyond the arc with minimal ball movement. Just about the only open looks they got within 20 feet of the hoop came on Jalen Brunson drives, and only after he head-faked the entire Bulldogs defense to clear some space for himself.

This has been a trend for Villanova against physical, scrappy teams. And with Hart leaving his Superman cape in the locker room for this one, it finally resulted in a loss.

With Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas in the frontcourt, Purdue pushed the Wildcats around in the opening week of the season. They narrowly prevailed thanks to 24 from Hart. Similarly, Notre Dame was the aggressor against Villanova in early December, but Hart was unconscious and finished with 37. And one week ago, the Wildcats would have lost a home game to DePaul if not for 25 points from you know who.

Mr. Reliable couldn't buy a bucket against Butler.
Mr. Reliable couldn't buy a bucket against Butler.Eric Francis/Getty Images

Because they kept winning, we willfully ignored their flaws. Even lackluster teams like La Salle and Western Michigan had little difficulty getting to and scoring in the lane against Villanova, yet the first-place votes kept pouring in for the reigning national champions.

Part of the problem can be attributed to lack of depth. Since losing Phil Booth to a knee injury in the third game of the seasonstill no news on if or when he'll be backthe Wildcats have only been playing seven guys. They lead the nation in defensive free-throw rate, but that's largely because they play a combination of zone and matador defense to stay out of foul trouble.

Lack of size is another significant issue. Omari Spellman was supposed to be Villanova's starting center as a freshman, but the NCAA clearinghouse ruled him ineligible. Darryl Reynolds has been everything Villanova could have hoped for as its primary 5, but there's no denying the frontcourt is a far cry from what it was last season with Daniel Ochefu manning the blocks.

Regardless of the cause, the effect is that the Wildcats have been vulnerable against teams that are committed to making them work for every shot.

As has been the case for a few years, when the Wildcats are making their triples, it's pretty much game over. Dating back to the beginning of the 2012-13 season, they are 62-1 when shooting at least 39 percent from beyond the arc, with the one loss coming in the game where Doug McDermott and Creighton put up an unreal 101 points on 69 possessions.

As we witnessed against Butler, though, there's no Plan B when those shots aren't falling.

Villanova is now averaging 66.0 points per game when shooting 36.5 percent or worse from beyond the arc this seasoncompared to 84.6 in its other 10 games. Its five opponents in those games weren't any better, shooting a combined 22.8 percent from three-point range, but they were able to make it competitive by muddying things up on the defensive end.

The good news (if we can call it that) is that Villanova will get plenty of chances to practice against physical opponents the rest of the way. Games against Seton Hall, Georgetown, St. John's and the rematches with Butler and DePaul are sure to feature a fair amount of trench warfare. The rigors of Big East play helped the Wildcats become the 2015-16 national champions, and it may well have that same effect this year.

As things currently stand, however, Villanova is a finesse team that can be pushed around. Until the Wildcats prove otherwise, look for opposing teams to push harder than ever against them.

Stats courtesy of KenPom.com and Sports-Reference.com.

Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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