After knocking off the overall No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks last week in the Elite Eight, Villanova looks like a real threat to capitalize on its deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats beat their first three NCAA Tournament opponents by a combined 72 points, then stymied a Kansas team that seemed like a lock for a Final Four berth.
Villanova will meet Oklahoma in the Final Four with a chance to move on and take on the North Carolina-Syracuse winner for the school’s first men’s basketball championship since 1985. Here’s why the Wildcats will do it.
A Second Chance
Villanova and Oklahoma met back in December for a match-up at Pearl Harbor. Fans weren’t sure what to think of the Wildcats yet, despite head coach Jay Wright’s many public compliments of his group.
But Villanova wasn’t anywhere close to a Final Four team that night. They shot 4-of-32 from three-point range, a result of ill-advised shots when they were in an early deficit. The Sooners smashed the Wildcats, 78-55.
Villanova learned its lesson. The shot selection is smarter, passes are crisper and effort is present for 48 (or more, if necessary) minutes.
The Wildcats will keep their wits about them, even if the Buddy Hield-led Sooners come out hot and take an early lead. Villanova will be poised to respond to avoid getting run out of the building like they were at Pearl Harbor.
The most important part of Villanova’s gameplan in its upset over Kansas was the defensive preparation. Despite having one day to prepare, the Wildcats limited Kansas senior Perry Ellis to four points on 1-of-5 shooting while holding the Jayhawks to only 27 percent from beyond the arc.
Villanova wasn’t only disrupting shots. They also forced 16 Kansas turnovers, the most the Jayhawks have turned the ball over since a 74-63 loss at West Virginia in early January.
The Wildcats’ zone defense cause havoc for Kansas’ offense all game long. If Ellis touched the ball — a rare sight — Villanova defenders swarmed around him and smothered any scoring threat he presented. The overall team length and speed kept Kansas in a funk all night, and will prove useful against Oklahoma’s shooters, as well as whoever the Wildcats match up against in the championship game.
No, this isn’t your every-day “balanced attack.” There isn’t one player in particular to lead the team like Buddy Hield does for Oklahoma. However, Villanova has a plethora of high-octane players that can step up and be the go-to guy at any point of the game.
Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono each scored 13 points in the win over Kansas. Daniel Ochefu added 10 more.
The Wildcats balanced attack has kept defenses from keying in on any one or two guys, allowing Villanova to spread the floor and get more open looks.
The Wildcats’ field goal percentage through the Sweet 16 was right at 60 percent, by far better numbers than any other team put up. Nova shot a little over 40 percent from the field against Kansas, dropping its tournament field goal percentage to a still-staggering 55.1 percent. During the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, Villanova made 18 of its 19 free throw attempts.
Nova hasn’t trailed for long in the NCAA Tournament. If opponents get on a hot streak and gain a lead over the Wildcats, there’s no telling how Villanova might respond. If it looks anything like the game against Oklahoma in December, they won’t be in the game very long.
Foul trouble could prove problematic for the Wildcats. Although Villanova provides a balanced attack, the starting five is the key group. If a few guys have to sit with foul trouble, the defense becomes less effective.
The Wildcats take on the Sooners on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET on TBS.
Featured image courtesy of Bryan Horowitz
Edited by David Bradford