Villanova's NCAA life hinges on its defense | City Six Observations

Mikal Bridges, right, and Jalen Brunson, center, of Villanova converge on Alpha Diallo of Providence during the 1st half at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan 23, 2018.

Never hurts to challenge your own assumptions. My assumption: Villanova might not protect the basket well enough to win an NCAA title.

A visit to statistics guru Ken Pomeroy’s website suggests … I could be right.

Let’s start with the understanding that Villanova’s offense is ridiculously effective. You’ve watched Villanova, you know that. Ken Pom agrees, rating Villanova’s offense the most efficient in Division I, ahead of Duke and Purdue. He rates it historically efficient.

What about the defensive side? His database’s criteria rank Villanova 48th in the nation. This sounds about right. Not terrible at all, considering how good the offense is. Duke, for instance, is 79th nationally. But is that good enough to win a title?

Here’s your top 10 on defensive efficiency: Virginia, Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Central Florida, New Mexico State, Texas, Michigan State, and Alabama.

Here’s your top 10 for offense: Villanova, Duke, Purdue, St. Mary’s, TCU, Auburn, Xavier, Arizona, Gonzaga, and Michigan State.

You see Michigan State in both — why a lot of people are still high on the Spartans to win it all.

Let’s go back to the most recent NCAA title games and see where the participants ranked on O and D:

2017 North Carolina (9th O, 11th D) over Gonzaga (16th O, 1st D).

2016 Villanova (3rd O, 5th D) over North Carolina (1st O, 21st D).

2015 Duke (3rd O, 11th D) over Wisconsin (1st O, 35th D).

2014 Connecticut (39th O, 10th D) over Kentucky (14th O, 32nd D).

2013 Louisville (7th O, 1st D) over Michigan (1st 0, 37th D).

Let’s note that, coincidence or not, the better D won four of the five matchups. However, not a single participant in those five finals had a D ranked as low as Villanova’s D is ranked right now.

We’ll throw up an asterisk here. It stands to reason that if you play six NCAA games and win five or six of them against the top teams in the nation, your defensive-efficiency figures will improve. Still, not one of the champions had a defense out of the top 11 nationally.

So that’s it? Villanova should put away the uniforms? Let’s throw another asterisk at you, a big one. Villanova has the most efficient offense since Pomeroy began keeping those rankings in 2013, slightly ahead of 2015 Wisconsin. So if the Wildcats don’t throw in a March offensive clunker, they’re obviously in the mix of top contenders, and it’s easier to improve your defense than your offense. Just trying to be realistic here.

All this tells you why …

I remain convinced Daniel Ochefu was the MVP of Villanova’s 2016 team. That’s not taking anything away from current first-year post players Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (or suggesting the defensive numbers all hinge on them). They both look to be ahead of where Ochefu was as a freshman. The point is that as a junior and senior, Ochefu became an elite collegiate defender and that should top the long list of reasons Villanova won it all.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Seniors Daniel Ochefu, left, and Ryan Arcidiacono of Villanova holding up the championship trophy after the Wildcats earned a 77-74 victory over North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament final on April 4, 2016.

No Funk here

The only time I saw Taylor Funk play before he got to St. Joseph’s, Funk was on a loaded Donofrio team, playing with Lonnie Walker, now at Miami, and Eli Brooks, now at Michigan. The night I saw him in Conshohocken, Funk was dropping threes just the way he has for the Hawks. The first time I talked to Phil Martelli after that, I asked if Funk would play right away at St. Joe’s or if he’d be easing into things.

“Oh, he’ll be playing,’’ Martelli said.

This season, Funk has averaged 12.6 points, making 40.6 percent of his three-pointers. He broke out of a mini-slump with 22 points Saturday against Massachusetts. The 2.9 threes he makes a game are third in the Atlantic Ten. Not bad for a stretch four in his first college season.

Making his mark

Another freshman who has impressed is La Salle’s Miles Brookins. The Southern Californian is a bit under the radar since he often plays the same position as Explorers star B.J. Johnson, but Brookins had 20 points and 6 rebounds over 36 minutes in La Salle’s last two games. Prediction: Like Funk, Brookins has an all-Big Five future.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Miles Brookins, left, of La Salle battling for a rebound with Carl Pierre of Massachusetts on Jan. 24.

More predictions

Ken Pomeroy gives Temple a 16 percent chance of winning Thursday at Wichita State and a 42 percent of winning Sunday’s home game against Houston. If correct, that gives the Owls a 46-47 percent chance of winning one of the two games — either would be immense for Temple’s NCAA chances.

Big-time talent

Everyone knows Quinton Rose has it. Lately, the Temple sophomore has played a more efficient game. During Temple’s current five-game winning streak, Rose has scored 91 points and committed eight turnovers (four against Wichita State). That’s an improvement for a guy who was too loose with the ball early in the season.

Stat of the week

Drexel’s Alihan Demir had four three-pointers (in seven attempts) and 10 offensive rebounds over his last two games. The Colonial Athletic Association has learned that you don’t sleep on Demir, wherever he is on the floor.

Check it out

Harvard at Penn, the Palestra. Feb. 24. (For background, see Ivy League standings.)