Kansas takes its annual pre-Christmas trip this weekend, and this year the opponent is a bit more robust than in years past. Villanova comes in with an interesting profile: they rank 19th in KenPom, and are seemingly built to beat a team like Kansas, but they’ve lost badly to the only two KenPom top 50 teams they have played this year.
As has been somewhat the norm for Villanova the last few years, the Wildcats thrive on taking more threes than their opponents. Villanova takes just under 43 percent of their shots from three, and limits opponents to taking just 35.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. As you can imagine, that adds up.
Against Kansas, it will probably be even more stark given that Kansas ranks near the bottom nationally in terms of allowing threes. A large part of that is it’s nearly impossible to get good shots against them inside the arc, but it’s a bit troubling to go against a team like Villanova. The Wildcats are making 38 percent of their threes, and they’re no slouch from two either (56.2 percent), so it makes sense that they have the 3rd best offense in KenPom.
Frankly I think we could end the preview by saying if Villanova makes more than say 35 or so percent of their threes they’ll probably win and if they don’t they won’t, but I suppose it’s worth looking at their defense as well.
The good news is Villanova is much less imposing defensively. They rank outside the top 50 in KenPom, and teams are shooting nearly 50 percent from two against them. That is even more encouraging (from a KU perspective) when considering Villanova’s relatively easy schedule thus far. In their two losses, ‘Nova allowed Ohio State to shoot 61 percent from two and Baylor to shoot 50 percent from two. Needless to say, neither of those teams has Udoka Azubuike either.
Also, although Villanova is one of the tallest teams in the nation overall, much of that is on the wing. They don’t go taller than 6-9 at center, so expect to see a lot of Azubuike down low. Of course, I thought Kansas could get away with that in 2018 as well and whoops.
Players to Watch
Collin Gillespie, 6-3 junior guard
Gillespie has always been a decent player, but he’s taken a big step forward this year, posting an assist rate near 30 percent while shooting around 35.6 percent from three. He had strong games against Baylor and Ohio State as well, although one can see him having trouble staying in front of Devon Dotson.
Saddiq Bey, 6-8 sophomore forward
Bey will play some three and some four for the Wildcats, and has been incredibly effective at both. He’s more of a jump shooter than inside scorer, yet still shoots almost 59 percent from two. But you can’t leave him alone from three, as he’s a career 39 percent shooter from deep and is at almost 45 percent this season.
Cole Swider, 6-9 sophomore forward
For KU’s sake, I am hoping Swider is getting some sort of small sample size benefit here. After shooting 28 percent from three as a freshman, he’s up to 47.7 percent from three this season on 44 attempts. He doesn’t do much else other than catch and shoot, so it may be wise to have someone face guard him whenever possible.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 6-9 freshman forward
The KC native would look pretty good in a different shade of blue on Saturday, but he opted to head out east. It’s been a bit of an up and down season thus far for JRE, as he’s been possibly Villanova’s best rebounder, but also has really struggled against Villanova’s best two opponents, posting just a 37.5 eFG in those games.
I think this team is better prepared to play Villanova than the 2018 team was. While that 2018 ‘Nova team was better than this one (obviously), for all intents and purposes they’re the same given how well they shoot the ball from deep. But this Kansas team is better defensively - better at getting out on shooters, better at forcing weaker shooters to make shots against them, and better at rebounding. Also, with Azubuike in better shape than he was in 2018 and the emergence of David McCormack, Kansas can punish Villanova on the other end more effectively and get easy two after easy two.
Still, I just have 2018 in my head way too much. I’ll say Villanova makes a few too many threes and makes it a rough night for the Jayhawks, 84-77.
2019 ATS: 3-6