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February 11, 2009, 11:56 AM ET
What in the World’s Gotten into Villanova?

by John Gasaway

When you score 204 points in two games against NCAA tournament-quality Big East opponents, you get an Unfiltered post.

Villanova is turning Philadelphia into the college hoops equivalent of Phoenix, circa 2007. A modified “seven seconds or less” is working in Philly, as over the past four days the Wildcats have won home games against Syracuse (102-85, 83 possessions) and Marquette (102-84, 77 possessions).

What’s especially impressive about this explosion is that almost all of these possessions are starting the old-fashioned way, either off a defensive rebound or an opponent’s score. Villanova’s phenomenal shooting over this stretch (44 percent on threes, 63 percent on twos) isn’t coming off of opponent turnovers, which have actually declined at the faster pace.

Whatever Jay Wright put into the Gatorade has made a difference across the board: Shane Clark is suddenly shooting as much as Corey Fisher. Fisher and Scottie Reynolds are suddenly making shots like they’re Dante Cunningham. Cunningham is suddenly making shots like he’s Bill Walton in the 1973 national championship game.

All this has the ‘Cats zooming up the charts in the metrics that matter….

Newly elite ‘Nova 
Big East pace and efficiency rankings
Through games of February 10, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP - Opp. PPP)

                                    Opp.
                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  Connecticut      66.4    1.14   0.94   +0.20
2.  Pitt             66.1    1.16   1.00   +0.16
3.  Marquette        68.9    1.15   1.02   +0.13
4.  Louisville       68.4    1.00   0.87   +0.13
5.  Villanova        72.4    1.10   0.99   +0.11
6.  Syracuse         72.3    1.09   1.05   +0.04
7.  West Virginia    67.2    1.01   0.98   +0.03
8.  Providence       72.7    1.06   1.07   -0.01
9.  Georgetown       64.4    1.03   1.07   -0.04
10. Cincinnati       65.1    1.02   1.07   -0.05
11. Seton Hall       68.3    1.07   1.12   -0.05
12. Notre Dame       70.0    1.06   1.14   -0.08
13. S. Florida       63.6    0.95   1.05   -0.10
14. St. John’s       67.0    0.94   1.07   -0.13
15. Rutgers          66.2    0.95   1.08   -0.13
16. DePaul           65.5    0.93   1.16   -0.23

Now the bad news. Villanova plays at West Virginia Friday night, a game that has “back to earth” written all over it. The Mountaineers have the best defense in the conference outside of Louisville and Connecticut, with a particular specialty in absolutely brutal perimeter D. (Big East opponents have made just 23 percent of their threes.) If the ‘Cats can venture north of the century mark in Morgantown, it’s officially time to send the Gatorade to the lab for testing.

BONUS top-to-bottom Big East coverage! Per my post yesterday, DePaul did indeed lose at home to Seton Hall last night, 72-49, bringing their record to 0-12 in-conference. Barring a Chaminade-scale surprise, the Blue Demons are now down to one last chance to avoid going winless in the Big East: their home game two weeks from Saturday against St. John’s. Lose that and it’s likely Oregon State in 2008-level infamy for the 2009 Demons.    

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