Is it possible for a starter to also give instant offense off the bench?
That might sound silly, and may be the wrong term, but it may be possible when you’re talking about Caleb Daniels, a starter for Villanova this season, one of three true guards in the opening lineup.
Within Villanova’s early-season rotation, the Tulane transfer, a 6-foot-4 junior, is just as likely to get his shots after a little bench time. So far, the starting designation doesn’t mean so much. Daniels got it going Friday night at Georgetown, a big part of a big comeback, from 18 down late in the first half, to a 76-63 Big East opening victory.
When a guy such as Daniels makes 5-of-9 threes, scoring 18 points in 25 minutes, Villanova’s high-end offensive efficiency naturally hits another gear. Friday’s comeback came quickly but without steals and fast breaks and full-court pressure, just a more energetic defense feeding an offense that tends to wait you out searching for the right look. Even trailing by double digits, Villanova stayed in search mode.
Going into the night, Villanova was fourth in the nation in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com. That stat is annually a good one for Jay Wright’s squad, not just in the NCAA title years (third in 2016, first in 2018.) Villanova was third in 2017, 16th in 2019, 15th last season.
The stat is designed to measure points per possession, factoring in the level of defensive efficiency each opponent provides. That’s how 68 points against Texas (second in defensive efficiency) can be more valued than 87 against Hartford (262nd in defensive efficiency.)
Does Wright look at that efficiency stat, or is just a byproduct of what they’re trying to accomplish?
“It’s something we work on. We want to be good at that,” Wright said. “We know if we’re playing our way, playing smart … were going to be efficient offensively. We know it takes time to get there.”
Which brings us back to Daniels. It also takes a little time, Wright said, to figure out how best to use him.
“I can’t define his role yet,’' Wright said. “We’re still figuring that out. We’re trying to get him to understand our defensive concepts first, which he really did a good job of tonight. He struggled a little bit in the Texas game.”
Of that strong help defense, which kept him on the court, “Usually when you do that, your mind’s free,’' Wright said. “I think what we’d like to get him to be ... He’s a great shooter, a great [isolation] guy. You saw it, I think, once or twice tonight. He really got to the rim strong. He can do that. And believe it or not, he’s really good in the post. We just haven’t been able to get him in there yet.”
The interesting thing about Villanova, the opponent is not always the key factor. It’s a cliche when coaches say, ‘It’s all about us.’ But that’s often the case with this group, even historically. This season, we’ve seen the good and the bad already. You saw both Friday actually. When Villanova beat Boston College in the season opener, you might have thought BC was Final Four ready the way the Wildcats struggled to get going. In fact, after beating Rhode Island, BC lost three straight.
Virginia Tech, the team that did beat Villanova, also just lost to Penn State by 20. Some of that variance is just early-season basketball. But a lot of it is just whether Villanova gets into a rhythm. Against Georgetown, the Wildcats had a season-low seven turnovers – the low side of normal, with eight in three others, nine in another, 11 the season high.
After Friday night’s game, Daniels, asked about being down so much against the Hoyas, said, “We practice those types of situations every day.”
It’s a Villanova kind of answer since it seems like whatever situation you bring up, a player will typically tell you they practice it every day. If, however, part of those practices was spent on finding Caleb Daniels in the right spots, that turned out to be time well spent.