Jensen: Villanova all in on making short rotation work

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Villanova guard Phil Booth greets teammates in street clothes before Villanova played Providence on Saturday, January 21, 2017 in Philadelphia.

So if Villanova takes 34 three-pointers and makes six, they're vulnerable, even if seven might have done the trick Tuesday at Marquette. That's all a given and, by the way, was true last season. A tough shooting night spelled danger. The only time it happened in the NCAA tournament, against Kansas, Villanova's defense carried that day.

This season, the top-ranked (for now) Wildcats are a little more on the edge. They know it, playing seven regulars, one of them a true point guard, luckily a special one. With eight guys, there was a comfort zone. Eight seems perfect.

Seven is fine, more than fine most nights, unless someone is in foul trouble or gets hurt. Six is a danger zone.

It's obvious why seven usually works for Villanova. Look at the seven. Look at the havoc they create at one end, the precision they play with at the other. Let's see how Virginia, another group known for its defense and precision, handles it Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

Not having junior guard Phil Booth (sore knee) isn't perfect. Obviously, you'd much rather have your leading scorer from last season's NCAA title game. But those of you who think Jay Wright should get some other guys in just to get them in, to keep guys from tiring out or having them ready just in case, he's shown he's not going to do it.

A key point: Which guys is he supposed to take off? Bring in an untested power forward like Dylan Painter or Tim Delaney for a few minutes and Wright is taking Josh Hart or Kris Jenkins or Mikal Bridges off? Wright made that decision a long time ago. Villanova fans saw it way back in their exhibition game, when Wright only played eight in the first half. He's pressing his advantages, all in.

The greater risk would be changing course, risking the whole operation getting out of sync.

The "They'll get tired" argument advanced by some 'Nova fans simply doesn't wash. Villanova actually has fewer players averaging 30 minutes a game than La Salle, while St. Joseph's and Temple both have players averaging more minutes than Josh Hart, 'Nova's top minute man, the only Villanova player in the top ten in the Big East in minutes played. Hart is playing just 1.3 minutes a game more than he did last season.

Wright said he's usually looking at his bench thinking about getting guys into the game, not out of it.

"We still want to get more minutes for Donte and Eric," Wright said the day before the Marquette game, referring to DiVincenzo and Paschall, averaging 23.6 and 19.4 minutes respectively. "They can handle it."

Brunson averages 31 minutes a game, but for the nine minutes he's out, there were concerns.

"I tell you what, Donte's become a good point guard," Wright said. "In high school, his junior year, they had a good point guard. His senior year, he had to do everything and I watched him do it. I obviously wasn't sure he could do it at this level. When they would get pressed, playing the bigger-time teams, he would be the point guard. I'm not saying I thought we would do that here. But when [Booth] went down, once we tried it, [DiVincenzo] was really good."

When Villanova has it going, it has nothing to do with size. It's about speed and precision and decision-making. If there was another college-ready guard on the roster, he'd see time. Let's bet that if Collin Gillespie of Archbishop Wood, committed to come next year, was there this year, he would see a little time. Let's bet it factored into his recruiting, too. ("He placed a bet on himself," Wood coach John Mosco said last week of the recruiting of Gillespie, who started this Wood season with no Division I offers and just had 42 points this week against Neumann-Goretti).

Did Wright second-guess himself for not having another guard on the roster in case something like a Booth injury happened? He did, Wright said, "when it happened." But there was no third guess. They've moved on. "The other guy that can do it is Mikal. He can do it. We've done it a little bit but we just haven't had to."

This works more than anything because the players Villanova uses all have a sense of that court. When your forwards see the game like a guard, you've got an advantage from the start no matter how many guys walk over to the scorer's table.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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