Villanova has the Wright balance

Posted: February 05, 2014

THERE ARE a dozen ways for a college basketball team to find its way deep into the month of March - fast or slow, big or small, young and precocious or old and wise or some other clichéd combination. Villanova's way will be different than that. If the Wildcats are so fortunate, it will be because they bludgeon you with balance.

If James Bell is emerging as their leader - and he is, in a very big way, in a 27-point and eightrebound way on Monday night against Xavier - the success of this team, now ranked No. 6 in the nation, is because of the multiple options at coach Jay Wright's disposal.

The box score from the 81-58 dismantling of Xavier was typical enough. The team has four players averaging double figures in scoring and this game featured three of them: Bell with those 27 points, Darrun Hilliard with 17 and JayVaughn Pinkston with 11. But it is more than the numbers.

Wright plays nine guys and they all seem to understand the options that surround them. When Hilliard says, "I never worry about missing shots - that's part of the game," he was speaking as a basketball player but also as a member of a team that has seen eight players score in double figures this season.

Or, as Wright said, "It's so much easier that way."

You would think there might be some complication, with getting the right combinations on the floor or with getting the minutes right for each guy or something. But Wright says it isn't. His teams the last couple of years have kind of been built the same way, and he says that balance is nothing but a benefit.

"We have a lot of answers, and that part is really easy," Wright said. "It's a challenge, as a coach, when you're spending a lot of your time trying to figure out how to get one or two guys shots. But I really never have to do that. For us, if this guy doesn't have it going, OK, we'll go to this guy. And if that guy doesn't have it going, OK, we'll go to the next guy. It makes it a lot easier that way, and it makes it a lot easier because the other team has to play defense against everybody.

"Whatever play you run, if they don't have to guard a couple of guys, the plays don't look so good. Everything looks good when everybody can score. People say, 'This guy can coach offense, this guy can't coach,' but I'm telling you that everything looks good when you have multiple options. Nothing looks good when you have one or two. You may be able to score, but it doesn't look good."

Villanova looks good. That is true, even acknowledging what was kind of a train wreck of a first half against Xavier. Truth be told, Xavier could not have played much worse at the start - 8-for-26 shooting and 11 turnovers at halftime - but Villanova's lead was only 28-22. The Wildcats missed three dunks, and rebounded only 12 of Xavier's 18 misses, and kind of slept through the final couple of minutes, and allowed Xavier to hang around.

Wright said there was no great speech at the half. He says there was no reason in particular that Bell and Hilliard took over the game, scoring 21 and 15 points in the second half, respectively. He says it was mostly that Bell is a senior and Hilliard is a junior and, well, "Juniors and seniors, man. It's just so nice to have them in college basketball."

In the Wildcats' previous game, against Temple, it also was Bell and Hilliard igniting a great second half. In other games, the ignition has come from some other combination - but more and more, Bell is their unquestioned leader.

The Q & A after the game was mostly aimed that way, and the leadership role is one that Bell clearly accepts. As he said, "They look at me as an older brother and I pretty much take that role."

But the story of this season, this 20-2 Villanova season, is that Bell is not alone, not nearly.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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