A hard-fought, old fashioned Big East slugfest ends in the Pavilion. The band plays the alma mater, and Bill Raftery is on the floor for the post-game interview. A Villanova player steps up to the microphone – and upon being asked Raft’s first question, answers “We just played Villanova basketball for 40 minutes.”
The Main Line faithful have grown accustomed to their team living up to Jay Wright’s standards. It is taken for granted that a Wildcat on any given play will dive for a loose ball, slide into help position when a teammate loses his man, hustle back on defense, or make the extra pass. Jay Wright has built his Villanova program on these types of plays, summarized in four pillars: Play Hard, Play Together, Play Smart, Play with Pride. It’s hardly revolutionary; Dean Smith was preaching the first three during his 36-year run at North Carolina. But it has been effective.
Coach Wright has taken Villanova into national prominence much the same that John Thompson Jr. did at Georgetown. The elder Thompson took over a program with only 3 post-season appearances – and led them to 20 NCAA tournaments in 23 seasons. However, John Thompson III’s Hoyas are a tad more Craig Esherick than Big John.
JT3 has never had an issue getting talented players to come to Georgetown – but he has struggled to identify the right players (see: “After Stephen Domingo commits to Georgetown, local product Josh Hart has moved on“). He has failed to build any semblance of a culture or team identity like his father did throughout a Hall of Fame career, when team play and aggressiveness were preached.
The latest projections have seven Big East teams advancing to the NCAA Tournament – and if you told anyone this prior to the season, Georgetown would have surely been thought to be one of them. Instead, the school is headed to its second consecutive losing season, which has not happened since John Thompson’s first season as head coach in 1972.
Meanwhile outside of Philadelphia, Villanova practices what Jay Wright preaches. On a defensive possession against Georgetown in their first matchup on February 7, Donte DiVicenzo displays this when he gets switched onto Jessie Govan in the paint:
DiVicenzo is giving Govan five inches and 70 pounds – and yet, he fights for position and knocks the entry pass loose. Effort leads to a Josh Hart bucket.
Now, a Georgetown defensive possession as the Hoyas decide to double Josh Hart:
The lazy double team allows an easy pass to the open Kris Jenkins. Bradley Hayes now must abandon the paint to try to close out on Kris, forcing LJ Peak to move from guarding DiVicenzo on the wing to boxing out Darryl Reynolds. Donte glides to the hoop untouched for an easy put back dunk, as Rodney Pryor and Reggie Cameron watch the entire play unfold from their original double team position at the top of the key.
Villanova is at its most dangerous in these pick-and-roll situations with Josh (or Jalen) as the ball handler. It forces the first defender to fight over the pick to prevent the easy jump shot while the second defender has to both close the ball handler’s lane to the hoop and guard the screener either popping out for a three or rolling to the hoop. It is nearly impossible for the best defensive teams in the country to defend.
With Eric Paschall setting the screen, LJ Peak fights over the top, leaving Josh with some downhill leverage. Akoy Agau plays it halfway, not fully stepping up to guard Hart in order to prevent Paschall from rolling towards the basket unguarded. Josh recognizes this and has an easy floater for two.
Back to the Hoya dysfunction: Jalen Brunson gets a pick from Darryl Reynolds, and both Pryor and Hayes stick with Brunson on his drive to the basket. Reynolds rolls to the basket unguarded and gets in the way as Akoy Agau loses Mikal Bridges. Agau bites at the initial Mikal pump fake, and then again runs past him on the second, leaving Bridges with the open 15 foot jumper.
It all comes down to effort, and too often in these clips, the Georgetown defenders are losing their assignments in large part due to a lack of communication and hustle.
Georgetown cut the Villanova lead to 2 in the final ten minutes of this matchup, as the second half saw Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart struggle from the field and a few defensive breakdowns by the Wildcats, but strangely the game never felt in doubt. Hart put the game away here when Jessie Govan forgot he was guarding a first-team All American:
That three put the game away, Villanova’s eighth win in nine tries against Georgetown.
It is always troublesome when a fan base begins to question the effort of its team. Looking back to this February 7 game, it is clear Georgetown was not only outplayed but also outhustled. On Wednesday, Jeff Goodman wrote that former Georgetown players know “a change needs to be made. But no one will dare stand up and say it” out of fear of Big John. It could take another year, but if this year’s effort by the Hoyas is any indication, John Thompson III’s tenure at the school can be summed up with a Josh Hart gif: