But where to start. Since the first piece of confetti hit the floor there has been more Villanova basketball content written and produced than in the last three years combined. Look at the Google Trends for searches of Villanova University. Except, it really isn’t hard to figure out where to start. I’m starting exactly where the season ended, with Kris Jenkins taking a three.1
I’ll let our old friend Dana O’Neil, “Heeeyyyy Danaaaa!!” get you up to speed2. Nice work Dana. In a nutshell, after consulting with ex-Assistant coach and apparent stat guy Billy Lange, Jay came to the conclusion that he needed to do two things. Recruit guys who can shoot threes and take a lot more of them. And wouldn’t you know, that is exactly what has happened.
The chart above shows the percent of total minutes allocated to players who take greater than a 1/3rd of their shots from three. Since 2013, minutes for 3-point shooters have increased and in this past season a whopping total of 80% of minutes where given to players who shot threes. The simplest way to think about this is that at pretty much all times, Villanova had four players on the court who shot threes.3
As you might expect, now with more players getting minutes who shot threes, the team as a whole took a greater amount of shots from three. In the past three seasons Villanova teams have taken the highest percentage of shots from three in the program’s history.4
Nothing here is groundbreaking. Jay had a theory about how he wanted to play and he executed it. So far I’m just adding a little heft to Dana’s single stat backing of Jay’s philosophical paradigm shift. Dana treats Jay’s epiphany like he is deciding to only have one sugar instead of two in his coffee, when in reality this subtle change has some rather large ramifications.
The result of this shift in shooting distribution is that Villanova went on a shot diet. We cut out the easy empty calories. They started bringing our lunch three days a week, and they bought the 8 oz. cans of soda. They cut out the mid-range two, the least efficient shot in the game. The closer to the rim the more likely a team is to make the shot, so eliminating the shots further from the rim that aren’t worth an extra point like a three, is a pretty good idea.
In 2012, our shot distribution was rather equally dispersed between shots at the rim, 33.7%, jumpers, 32.9%, and threes, 33.4%. In 2016 compared to 2012, Villanova’s shots at the rim stayed relatively the same, 32.4%, while they shot far fewer jumpers, down to 25%, and kicked up their three point attempts, 42.7%. As you can see in the graph above, the light blue stays roughly the same while the share of the dark blue cuts into the ugly fatty grey.
Importantly, the change in shot distribution not only impacted how many shots Villanova was taking at each location but the type of shot as well. Three point field goals generally are assisted field goals, and for Villanova this didn’t change even though they started taking a lot more of them. In 2012, 87.3% of their threes were assisted on while in 2016 85.6% were. Instead of running a play where a guy ran around screens to get a mid-range two or running a pick and pop with a big guy, think Yarou here, the two point jumpers they did take were because that’s just what the situation ended up calling for. They were shots that happened at the end of a shot clock, which suck anyways, or because someone pump faked at the three point line and took two steps in for a wide open shot. This is all a long winded way of saying Villanova stopped planning for and taking shots that had a lesser chance of success without the extra payoff of a three. Instead they looked for shots with more bang for the buck, either threes or at the rim.
The end result being that Villanova’s FG% on shots at the rim jumped from 58.6% to 68.9%. Just look at the change in % assisted. Higher percentage of shots assisted on means a higher percent of shots go in the basket.
I know I make it all sound so simple, but it really isn’t. The hard part is trying to disentangle scheme and philosophy from personal, but in college they really are one in the same. Bridges perfectly exemplifies this. Even though he shot just 30% from three, he didn’t start taking mid-range jumpers. Only 10% of his total shots were from mid-range.
But the player who really makes all of this work is the guy who fittingly took the last shot. Having a real stretch 4 that can knock down threes just completely changes the spacing on the floor. It opens up passing and driving lanes and forces the defense to stretch itself in ways that leave it especially vulnerable. And for those of you who still think that Jenkins wasn’t that good last year, let me put that to rest.
Dude just had one of the all-time 3-point shooting seasons in Villanova history. With that final shot, Jenkins became the third ever Wildcat to make 100 threes in a season, and he brought home the mother&%$#*&^ ship!
1 Of course everyone else was important, but I’m trying to keep this post short and focused.
Look, Ochefu when healthy was a bad man. He drastically cut down on his turnover rate, 16.2 from 22.4, while increasing his role in the offense, 20.1% of shots up from 17.4%, and maintained his efficiency, 62.7% eFG% down slightly from 64.4%. On the defensive side of the ball, Ochefu was a one man monster. He was 6th in defensive rating, and 3rd in defensive box plus/minus. Overall Ochefu was 15th in win shares per 40 and freaking 4th in box plus/minus. Just to clarify, those are national ranks.
Hart was an absolute force this year. He took and made big shots every single game. He finished 5th in kenpom’s player of the year rankings. He was 10th in defensive win shares and 18th in overall win shares. He made 100 more 2-point field goals this season compared to last, and he somehow improved his 2-point FG% almost four percentage points from 55.8% to 59.5%.
Mr. Arcidiacono improved in basically every single category. He took more shots, 20.1% from 18.8%, improved his shooting, 54.7 eFG% from 49.3%, improved his passing, 24.1 ARate from 22.1, turned it over less frequently, 14.1 TORate from 14.6, and created more steals, 2.5 stl% from 2.2.
As for the other dudes, they were a’ight. Reynolds was great coming off the bench, and after going 11-30 (36.7%) from the free throw line his first two years, he went 47-65 (72.3%) this season. Brunson, rather quietly, had a very good freshmen season, shooting 38% from three and 51% from two. Booth sucked, but he was the leading scorer in the Championship game, so let’s all forget about this year, ok? On opposite side of the shitty-insane spectrum, Bridges was flat out ridiculous. He finished 3rd in 2-point FG% and 13th in the country in box plus/minus. ↩
2 Anyone else get caught up on that first sentence, “burdened with a less than talented shooting team a few years ago…?” I always think of Villanova as a good shooting team, so it took me a second, but he is obviously talking about the Cheek and Wayns era…er catastrophe. And they sucked. That 2012 team posted the worst eFG% of any Jay Wright Villanova team, and Wayns and Cheek both sucked at shooting threes. Wayns for his career shot 29.1% on threes and Cheek shot 31.5% while at Villanova. Trash.↩
3 What I find most surprising is that it always seemed like we had a bunch of guys who shot threes, but that really wasn’t always the case as the chart shows Fisher only qualified as a 3-point shooter in two of his four years as an example. ↩
4 I’m just gloating/pointing out that I went and dug up data from the 80’s which you don’t see every day. The college basketball sports-reference pages are awesome, and more and more of the old stats are starting to get digitized.↩