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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with VU Hoops

What should you expect as #12 Virginia heads to #1 for an out of conference showdown?

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Villanova
Hart is a favorite for player of the year.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Virginia, coming off of a huge road win at #14 Notre Dame, continues Hell Week as they trek to Philadelphia to face the reigning national champions: #1 Villanova. In order to get a little more information on the upcoming GQ Bowl between Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Nova’s Jay Wright, we reached out to our friend Chris Lane (@chrisjjlane) over at VU Hoops (@VUhoops).

Streaking the Lawn: Ok, road loss to Marquette. What do you expect to see out of the Wildcats on Sunday, and should UVA fans be panicking about an angry Jay Wright squad?

VU Hoops: Avoiding back-to-back losses has been a hallmark of this Villanova program during the past several seasons, so at the very least I'd expect to see an intensely focused, game-ready band of players to come out of the locker room.

Coming back home after a loss and performing well (as well as losing to UVA last year) will definitely be the big motivating factors for this team, but angry probably isn't the right word for it (though don't piss off Josh Hart, who definitely plays with an edge).

I think both teams are very well coached, seasoned groups so I'm expecting a contested affair that displays good basketball on both ends of the court.

/cue the ugliness

STL: Obviously the three point shooting against Marquette was an anomaly as you have four guys (Hart, Brunson, Jenkins, Bridges) shooting better than 38% from beyond the arc this season. Which of those guys not named Josh Hart has impressed you the most this season?

VUH: Definitely Jalen Brunson, who has transformed into the 5-star PG that everybody thought Villanova was getting. He took a backseat out of the spotlight last year (he was still very good) but now he's running the show and making the Villanova offense tick.

The biggest surprise - and I shouldn't be surprised since we saw this in HS/AAU/FIBA - is his ability to take over offensively. He's so crafty in the lane and so good at making the right decision. He can score at all three-levels and his shooting from the outside has been a big boon to the offensive game that 'Nova employs because opponents have to respect him.

STL: Josh Hart is unreal. What do you like most about his game, and how can Virginia try to slow him down?

VUH: The biggest plus he has going for him is his ability to be a two-way player. He's improved his shot considerably in his 4 years on the Main Line, but he's always had the ability to finish strong at the rim. His offensive game is very well-rounded, even if he's not the elite athlete that the NBA craves.

But what sets him apart is his ability to defend and use that to transition into offense. He's an excellent rebounder, reads passing lanes well and can guard multiple positions. When he's engaged on that end, 'Nova has the ability to blow the game open.

STL: What concerns, if any, do you have with regards to post play?

VUH: I love me some Darryl Reynolds, but I'd be laughed out of a room to suggest he's anywhere near the offensive presence that Daniel Ochefu was. Villanova isn't going to run offense through him often, and gives him even less dedicated play calls on that end.

And to be honest, it's fine. What Reynolds lacks with his back to the basket he makes up for with his ability to finish on the move. He's excellent in PnR and understands that he's going to get his by hitting the glass hard and moving off the ball. He exceeds Ochefu there, and might even be a better fit for Villanova's space and ball-movement.

Defensively, the drop-off from Ochefu to Reynolds is much bigger though Darryl has held his own this year.

STL: Defensively, who is your toughest guy? Who do you think they'll matchup with?

VUH: Hart's by far the 'toughest' guy on the roster and typically will draw the assignment of the other team's best player.

But instead let's focus on Mikal Bridges, who is rapidly starting to move up draft boards. He was the equalizer to Villanova's problem against quick guards last year and hasn't dropped off at all this season.

While we'll see a ton of Jalen Brunson on London Perrantes early, Villanova likes to switch everything so there will be plenty of rotation. If Perrantes gets hot or starts to expose Brunson, we could see Bridges take a turn at chasing him and trying to slow him down.

STL: Obviously, Virginia became the only team that Villanova played last year that they didn't beat. Do you think that matters to the players? Fans?

VUH: It definitely matters to the fans, and this game has been circled on OUR calendars since the home-and-home was announced. Part of it is just respect though. We love playing good teams from good programs with good coaches and this is a series I'm sure we'd love to see renewed in the future.

To the players, they will tell you publicly that it is just another game but I have to imagine inside they want to win the big game at home.

STL: If we agree to lose, can you guarantee us the National Championship? Can we make the UVA-Villanova game the annual "loser wins the Natty" game?

VUH: We're not just out here for a repeat but a 9-peat! How about this? We will buy you a cheesesteak from a place of your choosing (Jim's is my vote, avoid Pat's and Geno's).

I certainly find myself rooting for Virginia more often than not given the conference they play in (Down with Duke! Down with Carolina! Down with all who left the Big East!) but now that Tony Bennett is starting to poke around Philly recruiting I'm sure my distaste will grow.

STL: What is your prediction for the game?

I really thought last year was going to be an ugly grind given Villanova's pace and Virginia's reputation and it was anything but. So while KenPom thinks this game will be in the 60s (at least for 'Nova haha!), I think we'll see more execution and pace than that. I called it 71-68 Villanova in our prediction contest, so we'll stick with that here!

Huge thanks to Chris and VU Hoops for their time. Game tips Sunday at 1pm, and will be televised nationally on Fox.