Villanova lost back-to-back games for the first time this season after a 70-65 loss to the 19th-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers. This is no time to panic; the Big East schedule is grueling, and the Petersen Events Center is always one of the toughest places to play in the country. However, there have been some discouraging trends in Villanova's losses that must be addressed for continued success.
The most alarming stat from each of Villanova's losses has been the free throw differential.
Pitt (26-34), Nova (11-16)
UConn (35-44), Nova (16-20)
Georgetown (34-50), Nova (17-23)
Temple (12-17), Nova (9-11)
In every loss, the opponent has made more free throws than Villanova attempted. Conspiracy theorists will blame the referees, and they might have a case, but the bigger issue is likely due to Villanova's interior defense. Penetrating guards are able to get to the basket, and Nova's undersized front court has no option but to foul them. Ashton Gibbs got to the line 12 times, and scored 21 points. Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson had a field day in the paint in the game before. Villanova would love for Mouphtaou Yarou to step up and be a defensive stopper in the paint, but judging by his minutes in the Pitt game (1), Jay Wright doesn't believe he is ready to fulfill that role yet. For now, Nova will have to execute better help defense to prevent opposing guards from getting to the basket.
Scottie Reynolds scored 20 points and Corey Fisher scored 12, but no other Villanova player scored in double figures. Scottie and Fish have been the team's best players all season, and they have played great even in Nova's losses. For the team to win Nova needs another another player to step up offensively. Antonio Pena has been the Cats' number three scorer recently, and he had another solid game against Pitt with 8 points and 9 rebounds, but you can't expect him to score much more than 10 points a game. Maalik Wayns, Taylor King, Corey Stokes, and Reggie Redding were consistently lighting up the scoreboard at different points earlier in the season, but they have all struggled lately. Taylor King has failed to score in double figures for 10 straight games. His 3-point shot has been off, which may be the result of tired legs. The 6'6 King has been forced to play out of position at power forward against players much bigger and stronger, yet he has held his own on the boards (5.8 rpg).
After missing the first ten games of the season due to suspension, Reggie Redding returned with a vengeance, scoring 10+ in 6 of his first 7 games, all wins, but he hasn't scored 10+ points since. Redding was never a big scorer, so it may have been unrealistic to expect him to keep up that pace. Redding also expends a lot of energy on the other end of the floor guarding the opposing team's best scorer. Corey Stokes has been the most wildly inconsistent scorer on the team all season. He scored 20 points in the first game of the season, then scored 1 point in the third game, and he has scored everywhere in between since. Stokes, the team's top 3-point threat, has shot just 28% from long range in Nova's losses. Big East Freshman of the year candidate Maalik Wayns may be the biggest offensive x-factor for Villanova. Wayns is averaging 10 points per game in Big East wins, but just 5 points in Big East losses. Wayns' minutes have been jerked around a bit lately, (16 vs. Georgetown, 3 vs. West Virginia, 14 vs. Providence, 7 vs. UConn, 15 vs. Pitt) which may be effecting his confidence. The bottom line is as good as Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher may be, they need some help from one of these players for the team to win.