Villanova has learned a lot about the makeup of its team following a 7-3 start to its nonconference schedule. In the words of assistant coach Mike Nardi, this year’s Wildcat team is comprised of “five guys who can all handle the ball, make decisions and spread the floor with their shooting”
And you can emphasize their ability to shoot. The Wildcats are averaging 30 three-point attempts per game, the seventh-most in the nation, and the most of any major-conference program. They are making over 11 threes per game, good enough for a 37.7% clip, which ranks among the top 40 nationally.
This is the most the Wildcats have shot from the outside since 2018-19 when they attempted 1,081 threes over 36 games (30.2 per game). Considering the program’s unrivaled success of late, 2019 could be considered a “down year,” despite the fact the Wildcats won the Big East Championship. Jay Wright’s team back then finished 26-10 overall, the most losses Villanova has had in a season since 2013, and were bounced in the Round of 32 by Purdue in blowout fashion (87-61).
Is that an omen that Villanova is taking too many threes in 2021-22?
With the outside shot being an integral part of Villanova’s offense, there is always potential they can run into the occasional off night. This was the case on Dec. 12 against Baylor, when the Bears held the Wildcats to just 36 points on 22% shooting from beyond the arc. Of the 54 shots Villanova attempted, 27 were threes. They only made six.
“We obviously don’t expect to have many of those,” said Nardi following the loss. “But the possibility of just not having it is always there, which just puts even more of an emphasis on us defensively and for us still getting quality looks or getting to the foul line.”
While Baylor deserves credit for coming up with a defensive game plan to stifle the Wildcats, the defeat again showed that despite being a good shooting team, Villanova cannot rely on the three-ball to be their only offense. In the previous game, Villanova attempted 50 threes against Syracuse, making just 12 (26%) in a 67-53 win.
Villanova currently has four players averaging double figures this season. All four of them — Colin Gillespie, Justin Moore, Brandon Slater and Jermaine Samuels — take 40% of their total field goals from beyond the arc. Although Slater and Samuels, both of whom are six-foot-seven, shoot over 30% from deep, a bigger emphasis may have to be put on getting them the ball inside, as both forwards shoot over 55% from inside the arc.
Wright, though, isn’t panicking about the team’s recent shooting slump, singling out Gillespie on Thursday as “an excellent shooter, who puts pressure on the defense while creating looks for the rest of his team.”
The competition has also played a factor, as Villanova’s three losses this season have been against No. 4 UCLA, No. 3 Purdue, and the aforementioned defeat to new No. 1 Baylor. According to ESPN, the Wildcats have played the hardest schedule among major-conference schools.
“It’s just a testament to the guys we have in the locker room,” said Nardi. “They can handle tough games early and not let it get to them if we lose.”
Getting battle-tested early is a philosophy that has paid off for the Wildcats in years past, and this year the schedule won’t get too much easier in a much-improved Big East. As a conference, the Big East is 89-24 and doesn’t feature a single team with a below .500 record.
The Wildcats open up conference play on Friday night in Omaha against Creighton. But the real question is how many threes will they take?
The way Nardi sees it, the issue isn’t about threes versus twos, but rather the quality of shots the Wildcats are taking.
“We’re just going to keep taking what the opponent gives us,” said Nardi, “whether we take some easy twos in transition that leads to more threes or vice versa, it’s all about keeping that balance.”