Villanova didn’t exactly conduct a clinic in transition defense in its previous game, watching St. John’s dash past its players on fastbreaks time and again in a second-half onslaught on Sunday that spelled defeat for the Wildcats.
However, at this time of the season in college basketball, there’s always another game right around the corner, and the 17th-ranked Wildcats will get a chance to show improvement at the defensive end Wednesday night against Georgetown at Capital One Arena in Washington, the second of three straight road games.
The Hoyas (15-10, 5-7 Big East) play at the swiftest pace among conference teams, ranking 19th nationally in the adjusted tempo metric on Kenpom.com at 72.7 possessions for 40 minutes. That compares with the Wildcats (20-6, 11-2), who are at 63.4 possessions, 343rd among the nation’s 352 Division I teams.
In the second half of Sunday’s 71-65 loss, the Cats were burned for 21 fastbreak points by the Red Storm, who recovered from a 19-point first-half deficit. Coach Jay Wright said his film study of the game showed “just really sloppy basketball.”
“I can’t say they were unforced turnovers, but when they pressured us, we turned the ball over,” Wright said Tuesday. “When they pressured us, we settled for what I thought were some bad shots. It’s never one thing, it’s always a lot of little things, but they were the two that probably stood out the most.”
The Wildcats committed 16 turnovers in the game, and Wright said some of the miscues were so bad that their transition defense never had a chance.
The Hoyas lead the conference in scoring at 81.3 points per game. While they are not as adept as St. John’s in forcing turnovers, they are strong on the boards, ranking third in the league with a plus-4.4 rebound margin, led by 6-foot-10 senior Jessie Govan (7.8 rebounds per game) and 6-7 freshman Josh LeBlanc (7.4).
The Wildcats remain No. 1 in the Big East in scoring defense at 66.7 points per game, but defense has been a primary focus the last couple of days.
“They do a great job as a team on the glass, so keeping them off the glass and getting back in transition is big,” said guard Phil Booth, the team’s leading scorer. “Teams like that are very good in transition off turnovers, off rebounds, so we’re trying to do a good job limiting their easy points.”
Villanova won the season’s first meeting, 77-65, on Feb. 3 at Wells Fargo Center, marking its ninth straight win over Georgetown.
Govan, who currently averages 18.1 points, did not score, missing all nine of his shots and fouling out in 13 minutes. Wright said his guards were aggressive on ball screens involving Govan, but noted “he’s going to be a bigger factor” in the rematch.
Sophomore Collin Gillespie drained six three-point baskets and established a career high with 30 points against the Hoyas. However, he has struggled in his last three games, going 4 of 26 from the field and 2 of 19 from three-point range while scoring a total of 16 points.
Wright said he has no worries about his point guard.