The Villanova Wildcats head into the Final Four this week in preparation for their matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners. As a number two seed, the Sooners are one of the nation’s top teams. Head coach Lon Kruger has led his squad to a 29-7 record, despite having the fourth highest Strength of Schedule rating in the nation. Here are three keys for Villanova to have success against Oklahoma:
The thing is though, Buddy Hield has only recorded one single digit point game this season. Obviously, the hope is for Josh Hart to completely shut down Hield, but the chances of this happening are not high. He needs to contain Hield, but then additionally come out on the offensive end ready to produce. He, along with the rest of the ‘Nova backcourt, will have to match the Oklahoma backcourt offensively. Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins, and the rest of the Villanova big men should have some trouble, as they face one of the best defensive frontcourts in the nation. While starting forward Ryan Spangler has a defensive box plus/minus of 4.1 (second on the team for people who have played more than 200 minutes), 6-foot-9 forward Khadeem Lattin has a defensive box plus/minus of 9.2, which is fourth in the nation and has earned him a spot on the Big 12 All-Defensive Team. The Villanova frontcourt will need all of the help they can get, as the Wildcat big men will be more than likely slowed down.
Moreover, it’s the entire team that often lives by the three. Although they’ve found ways to win without the three ball, they average 25 three pointers per game. If they’re making their three’s, they are the best team in the country. The Wildcats need to pressure the perimeter shooters and force the ball inside or drive them into mid-range jump shots. While Oklahoma’s big men are solid, their guards are much more dangerous on the offensive end. However, defense is something that the Wildcats do well. But if they don’t do it well Saturday evening, they will find themselves heading home earlier than desired.
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In a tightly contested contest between (1) Kansas and (2) Villanova, ‘Nova prevailed 64-59 in the final of the South Regional at the KFC Yum! Center. The Wildcats will return to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.
‘Nova entered halftime with a five point lead over the Jayhawks but were given a scare at the beginning of the second half when Kansas cut the deficit to three off of two made free throws by senior Perry Ellis and a turnover by ‘Nova junior Kris Jenkins on an inbounds, which was intercepted by Frank Mason III, who scored a layup off the turnover.
The Wildcats would maintain the lead until there was 13:24 left and Ellis scored a layup, his only made basket of the night, giving Kansas the one point advantage. The Kansas lead did not last, as a three from senior Ryan Arcidiacono gave ‘Nova the 2 point lead with 8:42 left and they did not look back after that.
‘Nova’s sound defense and free throw shooting throughout the game and down the stretch helped Jay Wright and company come out of this one victorious.
Devonte’ Graham led the Jayhawks in scoring with a game-high 17 points, while Wayne Selden Jr. and Frank Mason III each had 16 points. Ellis was limited to four points (1-5 FGM-A).
Josh Hart, Arcidiacono, and Jenkins all had 13 points of their own for ‘Nova. Daniel Ochefu added 10 points and 8 rebounds. Mikal Bridges’ 6 points, 3 boards, 1 assist, and 5 steals off the bench can not be overlooked. The redshirt freshman played a huge role in the victory for the Wildcats. His work on the defensive end was stellar and he made a key steal in the final minute of the game to send ‘Nova into the Final Four.
Villanova will face West Regional winner (2) Oklahoma and star Buddy Hield next Saturday in the Final Four.
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On Thursday night in their Sweet 16 appearance, Villanova imposed their will against Miami (FL) in a lopsided 92-69 victory. The Wildcats dominated in all phases of the game and are now one win away from a trip to the Final Four. While 'Nova fans are elated with their team's run, Jay Wright and his team have a tough challenge ahead.
Kansas has developed into one of the top basketball brands in America. Their history speaks for itself, as great players like Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, and Paul Pierce have made their way through the university. Kansas has also dominated their conference, by winning a Big 12 title for 12 consecutive seasons. As a result of their success, the Jayhawks are able to land the most prized recruits in the country each and every year. This team is full of these star recruits, even if they don't play much. Last recruiting year, Bill Self managed to claim the services of McDonald's All-American game MVP Cheick Diallo. However, Self rarely uses the high school phenom, as Diallo only averages seven minutes a game.
Kansas has had mixed reviews when it comes to their recent history in the NCAA tournament. In 2008, the Jayhawks ran up against Derrick Rose, John Calipari, and the Memphis Tigers. And with the assistance of poor Memphis free throw shooting and a Mario Chalmers 3 pointer, Kansas was able to win the national title.
Since then, Sweet 16 bids have been far from automatic for Kansas as they were eliminated in the 2nd round in 2009 and 2010 of the NCAA tournament. In the last two years, similar to Villanova, Kansas could not reach the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Now just like 'Nova, Kansas has dashed their previous futility and is one win away from staking their spot in the Final Four.
The 2016 edition of the Kansas Jayhawks are led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Perry Ellis, who averages 16.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. His shooting percentage is outstanding, as he nails 53.3 % from the field and 44.4% from 3 point land. The number two scorer for the Jayhawks is 6-foot-5 junior Wayne Selden Jr., who is averaging a 13.6 points a game.
Yet the biggest concern for Villanova will come off the Kansas bench in the form of Landen Lucas. Lucas is the leading rebounder for the Jayhawks and his offensive game is built on finishing plays around the rim, as is evident by his 61.5% field goal shooting. During their game against Miami (FL), it was clearly seen that Daniel Ochefu was limping. While the Wildcats were able to easily dispatch the Hurricanes, the Jayhawks are a totally different challenge. Kansas could exploit Ochefu if he is not completely healthy, as they are not deep in the frontcourt.
The person who needs to deliver for Villanova if they want to win will be a very familiar person in Ryan Arcidiacono. Arch is the four year senior captain and is the catalyst for the Wildcats. If the Jayhawks can contain or befuddle Arch, it will be very difficult for 'Nova to cut down the nets and secure a trip to Houston.
So, what does Villanova need to do to defeat the number one seed Kansas? Villanova can pull off the upset if they are able to the following. To start, they will have to play to their strengths and hit at least 10 or more three pointers. They will also need to play pressure defense, which has been able to generate turnovers and has translated into easy offense. Finally, Kansas needs to keep off the glass and Villanova needs to out rebound the Jayhawks. This means big men Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds will need some help, which has to come in the form of Josh Hart and then Mikal Bridges off of the bench.
Prediction: Villanova played their best game of the season against Miami and they need to come back and play a better game in 48 hours. Kansas has too much talent and will unfortunately end Villanova’s season 73-65.
Photo: Paul J. Bereswill
(2) Villanova’s going to the Elite Eight after beating (3) Miami 92-69 in the semifinal of the South Regional at the KFC Yum! Center. This is the first time since 2009 the Wildcats have reached this stage of the tournament.
The Wildcats never trailed in this one but only took a six point lead into halftime. Thier effective shooting and hustle efforts carried them throughout the night and ultimately won them the game. ‘Nova shot 62.7% from the field, 66.7% from three, and 94.7% from the foul line.
Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins both scored 21 points for the Wildcats, while Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart added 17 and 14 points, respectively.
Sheldon McClellan had a game-high 26 points for the Hurricanes and Angel Rodriguez tallied 13 points.
‘Nova will either face No. 1 seeded Kansas or No. 5 seed Maryland on Saturday in the final of the South Regional.
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Benjamin Simon & Simon Williams
Who: #2 Villanova University Wildcats (31-5) versus #3 University of Miami Hurricanes (FL) (27-7)
Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
When: Thursday, March 24, 2016
Why: 2016 NCAA Men’s Tournament Sweet 16 South Region
Line: Villanova -4
Miami: Jim Larranaga's squad this year has shown a few sides of themselves. This season there were plenty of inspiring wins (11/20 vs #16 Utah, 11/22 vs #22 Butler, 1/25 vs #25 Duke, 2/22 vs #3 Virginia, 2/27 vs #11 Louisville) and a few questionable losses as well (11/27 vs Northeastern, 1/16 at Clemson, 1/30 at NC State, 3/5 at Virginia Tech). In a three of the losses, senior point guard Angel Rodriguez was held to single digit points, effectively removing him from the equation. As the season has progressed, though, Rodriguez has developed much to the liking of Coach Larranaga. “Coach L,” as Rodriguez calls him, was the most active in recruitment when the Puerto Rico native made his announcement that he was transferring from Kansas State. The move from Manhattan proved to be worth it, as the one time 2nd Team All Big 12 selection has made national headlines within the ACC. Ever since the January 25th win at home against defending national champion Duke, Rodriguez’ numbers are up, most notably in points, minutes and field goal percentage, giving him an advantage. On paper at least.
Miami as a whole will bring it offensively, too. They average 75.4 points per game and behind leader and 2nd Team All-ACC selection Sheldon McClellan, can hurt an opponent from all of their starting five. McClellan is an athletic, strong guard who can do a little bit of everything. As their go-to scorer this season, he averaged 16 points per game and only had 3 games in single digits. As a Houston native, he spoke on a Final Four run being a homecoming run, he said "It will be the best thing in my life so I'm praying and hoping we get there. I'd probably need 100 tickets but I just want to get there."
He also teams up in the backcourt with 6-foot-6 guard, Davon Reed, who averages 11.2 points per game, 4.1 rebounds, and also shoots 39% from beyond the arc.
A potential x-factor is senior forward, Ivan Cruz Uceda. The big Spanish native has been quiet for the majority of the season, but him playing well against the Wildcats could be a gigantic boost. His ability to shoot the three and stretch the floor could have a huge impact on the game. The ‘Cats can shoot the three ball quite well, so someone to offset that for the Hurricanes and stretch Ochefu out of the paint could be important. This would subsequently open up big driving lanes for the dynamic Miami guards. Despite struggling to find time on the court the last few games, if Uceda can find the stroke that helped him to score double digit points in 5 of the season’s first 11 games, the Hurricanes could find themselves traveling to the Elite Eight.
With a more than accomplished coach in Larranaga (top 60 winningest coaches of all time) Miami is positioned to do well, but against a stifling matchup-zone defense of Villanova, the Hurricane shooters will be tested.
Villanova: ‘Nova head coach Jay Wright worked his team to a 30-win season for only the third time in program history with the 87-68 win over Iowa in the second round. This was an Iowa team that beat eventual #2 seed Michigan State twice and at one point was in the conversation for a number one seed. The shutdown of Hawkeye forward Jarrod Uthoff was pivotal, too. Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart again added their usual production of 16 and 19 points, respectively. Arcidiacono is a heady point guard with tons of experience. As a fantastic game manager, he is easily one of the toughest guards in the country. There isn’t a player in the country who better runs and dicates the ‘Nova offense, so if the ‘Canes want to slow the ‘Cats down, they must find a way to get Arcidiacono in a funk.
Miami will be a test for sure. The two teams are nearly identical in every major statistical category and matchup well, most specifically the guard play with McClellan/Hart and Rodriguez/Arcidiacono.
An overlooked matchup is 7-footer Tonye Jekiri against Daniel Ochefu. Ochefu looked great against Iowa and has put together some solid runs throughout the season. Although Ochefu is only averaging 22 minutes per game, he is focal point of the Wildcat offense. His ability to play with his back to the basket, spot up from midrange, and also make the right pass when met with a double team gives him fantastic basketball attributes. At 6-foot-11, he is Villanova’s anchor in the middle. But with Jekiri’s slight height advantage, not only Chef, but backup big men Darryl Reynolds and Mikal Bridges will be given a battle in the paint.
Final verdict: In a great game from two exciting teams, Villanova will take the win and advance to the Elite 8 behind guard play and lockdown defense in the paint. Hart will be able to contain McClellan and his other teammates will struggle to step up and counter Villanova’s similarly strong guard play. With a ‘Nova win, they would face the winner of #1 overall seeded Kansas and #5 Maryland.
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As the clock winded down at Barclay’s Center, an overdue celebration was set to occur. The Wildcats imposed their will against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 87-68 victory where the Hawkeyes never stood a chance. ‘Nova hit on all cylinders, as the defense was able to generate live ball turnovers and their offensive connected consistently from three in their half-court offense. When the final buzzer sounded, an over exuberant Villanova team celebrated at center court.
When looking at the game on the basis of it being one game early in the tournament, the celebration might have been deemed excessive. There was no thrilling comeback or fantastic buzzer beater that carried ‘Nova to victory. Iowa was far from a traditional rival that has had a series of highly competitive contest for decades. This game was also far from an upset as Villanova was expected to win. To understand why the celebration was intense you must comprehend the recent history of Villanova during the NCAA tournament and the one major critique of the 2016 seniors of Villanova Basketball.
When it comes to the regular season Villanova asserted themselves as the most prolific and successful program in the reinvented Big East. In 2014, 2015, and 2016 Villanova has claimed the regular season conference title. National rankings are nothing new to the Wildcats, as they climbed all the way to the number 1 ranking in the AP poll, which is something Ed Pickney or Kerry Kittles did not accomplish in their careers at Villanova.
The biggest blemish on the legacy of the 2016 seniors at Villanova has been their inability to advance to the Sweet 16. As freshmen in 2013 the Wildcats were able to secure an at-large bid but were one and done as they fell victim to the North Carolina Tar Heels. This loss was disappointing but ultimately anticipated. Villanova had to scrape and crawl to 20 wins and there were no grand expectations of a deep NCAA tournament run placed on the shoulders on the 2013 edition of ‘Nova basketball.
With 2014 came tremendous regular season success and with great regular season success comes the demand of validation. Villanova has risen to the top of the Big East and to prove how great they were, they needed a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, at the HSBC center the Wildcats were paired with UConn in the field of 32. Led by Shabazz Napier, the Huskies engineered one of several upsets as UConn ran all the way to the NCAA title.
That one defeat in the NCAA tournament altered the entire 2014 to a letdown. Regular season wins are important but failing to capitalize on a high seed will quickly diminish your regular season accomplishments. Now going into 2015, Villanova did have postseason success…in the Big East tournament. The Wildcats were able to cut down the nets at the World’s Most Famous Arena and had secured bragging rights over their conference foes.
Yet once again on the grandest stage, Jay Wright and company could not advance past the first weekend as NC State was able to dispatch ‘Nova in the field of 32. The whispers of them not being a good team have changed to more audible calls stating how the Wildcats were never going to conquer the rigors of ousting out-of-conference foes in the NCAA tournament.
With each impressive win, whether it be over Xavier or Seton Hall, those evaluating on the national stage would not recognize ‘Nova as a legitimate threat because of previous performances. Certain people were anticipating another early exit this year which meant that Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu would never make the Sweet 16.
Yet with one simple victory over Iowa, all of the anguish and sorrow from seasons past have been eliminated. The Wildcats have finally reached a destination that has been so close in years past and with that victory, people have finally come to respect the Villanova program that has been lacking on the national stage.
Since Villanova is still playing, the legacy of both Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu can still grow. A legacy that two weeks ago was depicted with an inability to win big games could be morphed into a legacy that delivers a national title for Villanova. It is amazing how opinions on players can change if the players can put together a six game win streak in March.
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(2) Villanova defeated (7) Iowa 87-68 yesterday in the second round of the South Regional at the Barclays Center. The Wildcats advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, when they made it all the way to the Final Four, but lost against North Carolina.
The Wildcats finished the first half leading 54-29, while shooting 52.6% from three throughout the game. They are now 6-0 at the Barclays Center.
Junior Josh Hart led the way for ‘Nova scoring a game-high 19 points, while senior Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins added 16 and 15 points, respectively. Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff scored a team-high 16 points and freshman Nicholas Baer had 15 points of his own.
‘Nova faces (3) Miami this Thursday in the South Regional semifinals.
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(2) Villanova defeated (15) UNC Asheville 86-56 yesterday in the first round of the South Regional at the Barclays Center. Senior Daniel Ochefu led the way for the Wildcats with 17 points and 10 rebounds, tallying his eighth double-double of the season.
‘Nova scored 27 points off of 14 Bulldog turnovers and shot 13-of-28 (46.4 %) from beyond the arc. Freshman Dylan Smith led the Bulldogs in scoring with 14 points and added 5 assists.
Up next for ‘Nova is (7) Iowa, who defeated (10) Temple in OT later in the day, 72-70.
Photo: CBS Philly
Who: Villanova University Wildcats (29-5, 16-2) vs University of North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs (22-11, 12-6)
Where: The Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
When: March 18 at 12:40 pm
Why: 2016 NCAA Men’s Tournament Second Round
Line: Villanova -18
Head coach Brett Carey of the UNC-Asheville class of 2002 has turned the program around following a 15-16 record and an ousting in the Big South tournament quarterfinals in his first season as head coach last year. This young Bulldogs team then finished one game behind the leaders of the conference in the standings, compiling a 12-6 record. Behind their stifling defense, UNCA took home a Big South Tournament championship after three straight upsets of Liberty, High Point, and Winthrop. The win earned them an at-large bid and a #15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Over the course of the season, the ‘Dogs dealt with a few interesting matchups. In the Great Alaskan Shootout hosted by Division II University of Alaska Anchorage, UNCA beat down on a sloppy Drexel team in the first round and even went to Georgetown and beat the Hoyas by six, capping a five-game win streak later in the season. When the committee looks at potential seeding come postseason play, an important piece of criteria is strength of schedule. It puts wins and losses in perspective and the case can be made that if UNCA had a stronger schedule, they could be a 12 or maybe even a 11 seed. UNCA holds a strength of schedule rating at 0.472, good for 211th in the country, tied with four other teams, including the #10 seed in the South Region, Hawai’i. The Bulldogs played one top 25 team this season: the future #3 regionally ranked Texas A+M. The 28 point loss in College Station doesn’t hurt their resume too bad but also isn’t desirable.
Offensively, UNCA is respectable, but on the other side of the ball is where they make their name. They hold opponents to a low 67.5 points per game average and against an offensive minded team like the Villanova, every stop you can make defensively increases your chances of an upset ten-fold. Some key players to keep a look out for are senior forward #31 Sam Hughes, who averages 10 points per game and shoots 50% from the field, and freshman guard #22 Dwayne Sutton, who averages 12 points per game and 8 rebounds. The team only has two players taller than 6-foot-8, John Cannon (6-foot-10) and Giacomo Zilli (6-foot-9). However, those two have only played a combined 171 minutes throughout the season. In order to match up with Villanova's big man Daniel Ochefu, the Bulldogs may have to go a little deeper into their bench than usual.
This Villanova team is one of the most exciting teams in the country. From top to bottom there isn’t one subpar shooter, making them a tantalizing underdog for a potential Final Four run. Senior captain Ryan Arcidiacono has etched his name into Villanova basketball history with his scrappiness and dedication to the program, but looks to further his legacy in the postseason and erase the “Villanova can’t make it past the first weekend” comments for good. This is his team and he is head coach Jay Wright’s go-to guy in every facet of the game, forcing a ton of the responsibility of this team on #15’s shoulders.
That being said, you know he is going to bring it. In games against ranked opponents, Arcidiacono averages just over 14 points per game. With his consistent productivity on the big stage, the rest of the roster fills out pretty nicely. Big man and fellow senior Daniel Ochefu has developed his game over the course of his career into what has become a dynamic post-to-midrange threat and always is tough with rebounds. A powerful presence in the paint is how teams go from good to great nowadays. Just look at last year’s Final Four. Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns, plus Wooden Award Winner Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin all were the main focuses of their respective teams on both sides of the ball. The gameplan for opposing coaches with those players was always “how do I attack (fill in name of big man here) and how do I go from there.” A similar scenario is applied to this Villanova team except there is a glaring issue of not enough big men. As the season started, ‘Nova had Ochefu and that was it. Then junior Darryl Reynolds, who saw more time as things carried on, started to get physical down low and began scoring with a deeper range than most have ever seen with him.
Wright commented on Darryl’s progression and still think there’s room to improve noting that “we believe [his] best basketball is ahead of him." Coach Wright also said of his opponent, “they’re comparable to the all the good mid-majors that have upset people. They have multiple scorers, they’re undersized, but they’re very tough and physical. They’re a good team and you know that’s what you’re going to get in the NCAA Tournament. You don’t win your conference tournament without being a good team and being hot at this time of the year.”
Villanova will attack the Bulldogs from the very start of the game. It is almost second nature at this point for the Wildcats to execute their tip-off play where Ochefu slaps it back to Arch and he runs the length of the court to the other basket for the lay-in score. It doesn’t seem like much of a play, but more of a thing they just do. It speaks to the persona of this team well, though: get the ball fast and score. With the complementary shooters of Kris Jenkins, freshman stud Jalen Brunson, and the ever-athletic Josh Hart, this is a team that can attack you from all ends.
Villanova is going to handle the Bulldogs. It is the safe and right choice when marking up brackets. So many people, at least in the Philadelphia area, are dying for the second round where there is a potential Villanova vs Temple matchup. ‘Nova enjoyed the first win they dropped on the TU this season, it would be fitting to add a second.
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After the grueling 18 game Big East regular season, Villanova found themselves in a familiar position by being crowned the regular season Big East Conference champion for the third consecutive season. Another banner will be hung in the rafters but the next month will determine how successful the 2015-16 campaign was for Jay Wright and the rest of ‘Nova.
First up in the gauntlet toward validation will be the Big East tournament, where all 10 conference teams travel to New York City to determine who will receive the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. The way this year’s bracket is designed, the Wildcats will have to win three games in three nights to repeat as tourney champions and earn the right to celebrate on the Garden’s floor.
The first prospected opponent for ‘Nova will be the winner of the Georgetown and DePaul contest. Both teams had different expectations at the beginning of the season with Georgetown selected to finish 2nd in the conference and DePaul was expected to be a cellar dweller being chosen 9 out of 10. But there is a reason why games are played and the Hoyas were the most disappointing team in the Big East, as they finished with a disappointing 14-17 overall record and have been eliminated from a postseason tournament barring a miraculous run. Unfortunately for DePaul, they did play as anticipated and finished the as the 9th ranked team in the Big East with a 9-21 overall record. Villanova matches up well with both teams and should be able to dispatch either of these foes.
The next evening match up will be vastly more challenging than the previous night as Villanova could face either the Providence Friars or the Butler Bulldogs. Both of these squads were going in the opposite direction of each other during the course of the season. Providence was ranked as high as number 8 and does hold a win against Villanova but the Friars appeared to peak with the victory against the Wildcats. After that victory the Friars lost 6 out of their next 8 and have almost played themselves into a bubble team. Butler struggled at the onset of conference play going a disappointing 2-5 to start but was able to right the ship and ultimately ended with a 10-8 Big East record.
Based on the last 10 games for both clubs Butler will be the tougher out. Providence does have a future top NBA draft pick in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil has emerged as the most improved player in the Big East but the team is not performing at the most crucial time. Butler does have a recent history under Brad Stevens of being at their deadliest when no one is talking about them. Currently Butler appears to be the silent assassin preparing to end other teams’ seasons.
Now if Villanova gets passed the first two obstacles, they will compete for the crown that is currently on their head. The two most probable opponents will be either Seton Hall or Xavier. The Hall is led by super sophomore Isaiah Whitehead who has grown in leaps and bounds since his debut season in Orange, New Jersey. Still in a direct matchup the experience of Villanova will be valuable and the Wildcats should be able to sink the Pirate’s ship.
Xavier, on the other hand, will be a different narrative. It will be a rubber match as both teams share a win on their respective home court. What better place for the deciding contest to occur than at Madison Square Garden? This could be the toughest opponent because of the depth and size of Xavier. Also ‘Nova can have an opportunity to defeat a top quality opponent on a neutral floor, which is an achievement that they has not accomplished yet. However, it will be an interesting tournament and one that the Wildcats can definitely win if they play it right.
Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship