Winning ugly is a good thing, right? Well, it certainly beats losing ugly, and by that standard Jay Wright should be a happy man.
His fourth-ranked Villanova team escaped the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, on Wednesday night with a 69-68 win in overtime over Seton Hall. If you're thinking that everything about the previous sentence except the win sounds familiar, you're correct.
It was the Wildcats' second consecutive overtime game on the road. In their previous outing, Nova was defeated 89-83 at Creighton.
If you play close games, you'll lose some and win some. But what has to trouble Wright is the other link between the past two games his team has played.
As unbelievable as it might sound, Villanova has now played two consecutive games of below-average offense. And "below-average" here means worse than what would be normal coming from a middle-of-the-pack Big East team, much less what we've come to expect from the mighty Wildcats.
In this stretch of two games on the road, the Wildcats were held to 0.97 points per possession, a far cry from the 1.25 points they had been averaging on each trip in Big East play. It's as if Villanova's offense has hit a wall.
Give full credit to the Bluejays and the Pirates. They forced the Wildcats out of their routines on offense, and limited the number of scoring opportunities that Wright's players usually generate for themselves on both sides of the arc.
Still, part of this current slump is the responsibility of the team that is slumping, as well. Phil Booth has shot just 2-of-13 from beyond the arc in those two games, Donte DiVincenzo's 2-of-11 from out there over the same span and, as a team, Villanova hit only 27 percent of its 3s against Creighton and Seton Hall. That's not the Nova we're used to seeing.
Speaking of a team we're not used to watching, the Wildcats launched no fewer than 75 3-point attempts in 90 minutes of basketball in Omaha and Newark. Wright has been running a perimeter-oriented -- and highly efficient -- offense for a while, of course, but, even by Villanova standards, devoting 54 percent of shot attempts to those from beyond the arc is noteworthy.
Naturally, if a healthy percentage of those 3-point attempts had actually fallen, this would be a different story. In that case, Nova would have won handily in both games, and we would be saying how this team is peaking at just the right time.
However, the 3s did not fall, and, the way this offense is operating right now, that matters. Accuracy on the first attempt of a possession is pretty much the alpha and the omega of the Nova attack as we begin March. This team isn't making many trips to the foul line, and Villanova pulled down a mere 21 percent of its missed shots against the Bluejays and the Pirates.
So it's a classic "live by the 3, die by the 3" situation, right? Well, no. The Wildcats did win at Seton Hall, and Wright's guys came close to doing the very same thing at Creighton. What we're seeing is a team that, when its 3s don't fall, can become embroiled in one-possession games on the road against NCAA tournament-quality opponents.
That's not ideal by Villanova standards, certainly, but it's still the kind of worry reserved for an elite program that remains (lest there be any doubt) on a trajectory to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
What's the matter with the Wildcats? Their 3s aren't going in the basket. How will Wright fix that? Tell his guys to keep taking the open looks.
In the meantime, the wins that Nova records are likely to be rather unsightly. You've been warned, but Wright will take those victories, just the same.