Coming into this year’s NCAA Tournament, the Villanova Wildcats were looking to prove that them getting bounced in the Round of 32 last year to the eighth seed North Carolina State Wolfpack was a fluke. Last year as a one seed, Villanova was out of sorts as NC State punched them in the mouth and defeating the Wildcats 71-68.
With majority of the players’ from last year’s team returning this season, the goal was simple: make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats haven’t made a deep run in the tournament since 2009. That team went to the Final Four and was led by senior point guard Scottie Reynolds. This year’s Villanova team may not have Scottie Reynolds but they do have Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu and a host of other key young players off the bench.
After losing to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament Final and eliminating their chances at a number one seed, Villanova came into the NCAA Tournament on Friday looking to dispel any notions that they cannot get past the first weekend. The Wildcats did just that on Friday afternoon as they defeated the 15th seed UNC-Asheville Bulldogs 86-56 thanks to a balanced attack. Seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu led the way with 14 and 17 points respectively and they got help from the rest of the team. Jenkins pitched in with 12 points, while redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges added 12 points off the bench.
As a team, the Wildcats shot 57.9 percent from the field, while holding UNC-Asheville to 36.8 percent shooting from the field. The Wildcats knew for them to advance out of the Round of 32, they needed to keep bringing that same balanced attack.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon, and the Wildcats’ balanced attack put on a clinic defeating the seventh seed Iowa Hawkeyes 87-68. Villanova outscored Iowa 54-29 in the first half and had a 30-14 run to end the half. In the second half, the Wildcats slowed down a bit but the game was already in hand. The Wildcats’ balanced attack came to play as they had four players reach double figures.
Junior guard Josh Hart led the way with 19 points and shot an efficient 7-of-11 from the field. While Hart was getting his buckets, the Iowa guards hard a time with the backcourt of Arcidiacono and Brunson as combined for 28 points and eight assists. Jenkins also gave the Hawkeyes problems as he stretched floor, scoring 15 points, shooting 3-of-5 from three-point range and dishing out six assists. When Villanova is playing balanced and everybody is getting in the action, they are tough to defend.
On the defensive side of the ball, Villanova held Iowa to only 45.0 percent shooting from the field and 29.2 percent shooting from three-point range. They also forced the Hawkeyes into 13 turnovers, which in many instances turned led to fast break points for the Wildcats. Villanova outscored Iowa 18-0 in fastbreak points.
Finally, the Wildcats’ defense also made life tough for Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok. Jok only scored 11 points but on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. Then when it came to Uthoff, the Wildcats held him to 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field. Villanova also outrebounded Iowa 28-26, which will be a key factor heading into their Sweet 16 matchup with the Miami (FL) Hurricanes.
Villanova finally has the proverbial monkey off their back but their road doesn’t get easier with the Hurricanes come knocking on Thursday night. The Hurricanes are just like the Wildcats in that they can attack you from multiple ways just ask the Wichita State Shockers. The Hurricanes were able to stave off a serious second half run from the Shockers, thanks to senior guard Angel Rodriguez. Rodriguez was key down the stretch as he was a part of 23-14 run to end the game.
Rodriguez finished the game with 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 from three-point range. It is going to be an interesting matchup on Thursday to see Rodriguez going against Arcidiacono. Miami’s three guards on Saturday afternoon scored 58 of their 65 points. This shows that Villanova’s guards will have a challenge on their hands.
Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup should be fun as both teams are mirror images of each other. For Villanova to win, they need their starting lineup to be a factor and continue to shoot the three-pointer well. If the Wildcats can do that, they may be setting themselves up for matchup in the Elite 8 with either Kansas or Maryland.