Examining the A10 and if Providence can Hang with Villanova

Examining the A10 and if Providence can Hang with Villanova article feature image

© David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Today I will analyze whether or not PC (+15.5) can keep up with Villanova, and also dive into a few intriguing A10 games: Davidson at Dayton, VCU at St. Louis. Follow me on twitter @jorcubsdan for injury news and second half updates.

Davidson (-1) @ Dayton 

We are indeed living in strange times. Bob McKillop has gone zone at Davidson. The Wildcats made the switch to a near-full-time 2-3 zone after an Atlantic 10 opening loss at Richmond. For perspective, Davidson used a zone on just 56 possessions in the entirety of last season, per Synergy.

Since the switch, Davidson has rattled off five straight league wins, and have clearly positioned themselves as the second-best team in an extremely down A10. However, I’m not certain that McKillop’s switch to zone is the defining reason why the Wildcats are playing well. Yes, the defense has indeed improved, as they’ve only allowed just one offense to exceed 1 point per possession during this win streak (St. Bonaventure). Don’t read too much into that, though. They’ve played mostly poor zone offenses during that strength (except for St. Bonaventure).

So, the question at hand: Does Dayton run an efficient zone offense? The answer is pretty murky. The Flyers score .93 points per zone possession, which puts them just slightly behind the Bonnies but decidedly ahead of SLU (most teams rank ahead of SLU offensively). Dayton has no reservation about firing away from 3, as they chuck the triple at the 26th-highest rate. And despite a decent amount of youth in the backcourt, they move the ball well with the nation’s 16th-best assist rate.

With a 4-out offense, Josh Cunningham has exploited single coverage in the post all year. He shoots 74% from 2 as one of the country’s most efficient block scorers. Defending the post is always a bugaboo for Davidson’s defense, as McKillop targets bigs who work well in his motion offense first and foremost. Predictably, the skill set required to excel in his scissor cut motion offense away from the rim does not translate to being a rim enforcer defensively. Davidson got torched by anyone and everyone at the rim until they went to the zone.

The defense has improved, but Davidson’s surge can mostly be attributed to their improvement on offense. Against St. Bonaventure, they scored 1.27 points per possession. Amazingly, that actually ranks as the second-least efficient game during their winning streak.

Defending Davidson boils down to how well you can defend them in motion, particularly Peyton Aldridge. With his height, mobility, and shooting ability, he provides a nightmare matchup in this league. Dayton head coach Anthony Grant has generally used a shifting zone with a 3-2 base this year to mask some of their defensive issues in man (namely that Jalen Crutcher is the only solid man to man defender). Zoning Davidson might clog up their motion a bit, but their shooters will take advantage. Davidson scores 1.1 points per possession vs. zone (94th percentile). When it comes to Aldridge, I don’t see any way that Grant would let the smaller Trey Landers guard Aldridge and stretch 4 Xeyrius Williams struggles defensively in man or zone. Grant’s best option might be to simply hope Davidson misses their jump shots on the road.

The Pick: Davidson -1 and over 144.5

Other Notes:

A lot to unpack with St. Louis at the moment, and it unfortunately revolves around a pending sexual assault investigation. As Stu Durando of the St Louis Post-Dispatch reports, it seems that a potentially suspended (or even expelled player) was shockingly allowed to play at UMass after a hastily filed appeal. Despite the grave seriousness of the offcourt issues surrounding the team, the Billikens strung together a second consecutive A10 win in Amherst. They did so thanks to their stifling 1-3-1 zone that morphs into a switching matchup zone.

VCU has looked a lot better after a “players only” meeting cleared the air after the Dayton debacle and subsequent loss to rival Richmond. But the Rams have struggled against zones this year, scoring at just the 36th percentile, per Synergy. However, SLU has been even worse in their press offense. They simply don’t have the depth to handle pressure for extended periods of time.

The Pick: VCU +2.5

I’ve previously stated that when Villanova plays anywhere near their game offensively, they’re simply unbeatable. They have five players on the floor at all times who can catch, shoot, dribble, and pass. And Jalen Brunson is arguably the best point guard in the country. Despite all of the superlatives, Providence might have a chance at Wells Fargo tonight. In the past five matchups against Villanova, Ed Cooley’s Friars have held the Wildcats to 1.08 points per possession. That number probably doesn’t make you wobbly in the knees, but Villanova has averaged 1.12 and 1.16 points per possession vs Big East opponents in each of the past two seasons, respectively. Cooley has always been willing to switch up his defenses depending on the scout. He also usually has long, versatile defenders to keep offenses off balance. This year is no exception with Isaiah Jackson, Alpha Diallo, Jalen Lindsey, and Rodney Bullock all ranging between 6’6 and 6’8. All can switch defensively without exposing a mismatch at 2-5. PC is one of three teams (Butler and Creighton) to win at Wells Fargo over the last 4.5 years. I’m not suggesting the Friars will necessarily win. However, their ability on defense to switch both scheme and personnel seamlessly can make this a competitive game. This versatility will also help them vs Jay Wright’s favorite wrinkle – posting up Brunson

The Pick: Providence +15.5

Tuesday Top Picks:

YTD: 315-294-6
2H: 26-16

Davidson -1
Davidson/Dayton over 144.5
VCU +2.5
Providence +15.5
Ball State -3
Western Michigan +1.5