Villanova junior guard Jalen Brunson fights through a trap against St. John's.
Khaaliq Van-Otoo, Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Radford (23-12 overall, 12-6 conference)
Junior forward Ed Polite Jr. (13.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.9 SPG)
Redshirt freshman guard Carlik Jones (11.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, .418 FG%, .310 3P%)
Sophomore guard Donald Hicks (7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, .367 FG%, .403 3P%)
Sophomore guard Travis Fields Jr. (6.3 PPG, 2.2 APG, 1 SPG, .395 FG%, .361 3P%)
Summary of Season:
Radford started the season playing extremely mediocre basketball, alternating wins and loses on their way to a 5-5 record over their first 10 games. After losing their next game to drop to 5-6, they would go on a six-game win streak, including a 20-point defeat over the #1 team in their conference, UNC Asheville. They would trade wins and loses over the next couple of weeks before winning their last eight games of the season. This run would include three Big South tournament wins in route to a conference championship, where guard Carlik Jones hit a buzzer beater, and a 10-point win over LIU Brooklyn to get them into the round of 64. This is a strong defensive team that can win close, low scoring games and is 14-3 when putting up over 70 points.
Villanova (30-4 overall, 14-4 conference)
Junior guard Jalen Brunson (19.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, .531 FG%, .413 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Mikal Bridges (18 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.6 SPG, .521 FG%, .433 3P%, .851 FT%)
Redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo (13.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, .470 FG%, .382 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Phil Booth (10.9 PPG, 3 RPG, 2.8 APG, .455 FG%, .394 3P%)
Redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman (10.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.5 BPG, .480 FG%, .442 3P%)
Summary of Season:
The Villanova Wildcats began the season on a 13-game winning streak, putting together a perfect non-conference record in the 2017-18 regular season. After defeating DePaul in their first conference game of the year, the Wildcats lost on the road against Butler, who beat them twice last season. ‘Nova rebounded thereafter winning nine straight games, including a win versus #10 Xavier. In their next six games, ‘Nova would go 3-3, losing three games by single-digits against St. John’s, Providence, and Creighton. Ahead of the Big East tournament, the Wildcats won in overtime against Seton Hall by one point and also defeated Georgetown. After getting through the quarterfinals and semifinals of the conference tournament, ‘Nova battled against Providence and punched their NCAA tournament ticket with an overtime victory.
What Villanova will need to do to win:
The Wildcats are led by juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, who were both on the 2016 National Championship team. Brunson and Bridges will need to set the tone for ‘Nova early on by not coming out slow against #16 Radford. Nova’s strength this season has been their offense, as the Wildcats are first in the nation in points per game at 87.1. They will need to use that to their advantage to get ahead early on. Additionally, ‘Nova is second in the country in three-point field goals with 388 made threes. That will also be another crucial dimension of their offense. With six players averaging double-digits in scoring, the Wildcats will need to share the basketball, giving them a balanced scoring attack Radford won’t be able to match.
What Radford will need to do to win:
Radford will need to attack the glass and win the rebounding battle. Radford is not a great rebounding team and they do not have a favorable matchup in this game going up against the size of Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall for Villanova. Controlling the glass will also allow Radford to slow the game down, which they need to do. This game must be low scoring for Radford to have a chance. Additionally, if Radford wants to advance onto the next round, they must get to the line frequently. They made 16 and 21 free throws in the last two games of their conference tournament and they’ll need to do the same in this one. Radford’s shot at winning will come with controlling the glass, slowing down the pace, getting to the free throw line, and holding Villanova under 65 points.
Carlik Jones vs. Villanova backcourt
If Radford has any chance at staying in the game, they’re going to need Carlik Jones to get hot. The Big South Freshman of the Year can score consistently and he’s only getting better. He has notched double-digits points in each of his last 10 games, a stretch in which the Highlanders went 8-2. He’s not only a scorer, but a playmaker, as he posted 4 or more assists in five of the last six games. Radford will need his quick playmaking and finishing ability to wear out the ‘Nova defense.
On the other hand, if ‘Nova is able to shut down Jones, they will be well on their way to an easy victory. Especially as of late, Jones has been the main spark for the Highlanders and without him, they’re missing their top scoring guard.
Travis Fields and Donte DiVincenzo
Guard Travis Fields is a sneaky x-factor for Radford. The 5-foot-9 sophomore guard from Portsmouth, Virginia has been hot shooting the ball recently. Over the last five games, he has hit the three at a high rate, notching 11/13 his attempts for 85%. Fields, a transfer from Old Dominion, could provide a spark off the bench for Radford. If he can continue to shoot well and extend his double-digit scoring outings to four games in a row (the longest of his career), the Highlanders could catch the Wildcats off guard.
Guard Donte DiVincenzo checks in as an x-factor because of his ability to score. The Radford Highlanders allow just 64.3 points per game, 14th in the nation (a mark of 64.2 in conference play ranks them first in the Big South as well). In order for the Highlanders to win, they’re going to need to play their game and that starts on the defensive end. The perfect spark for ‘Nova: the “Michael Jordan of Delaware.” It wouldn’t be hard to see the Wildcats come out slow against the 16th seeded Highlanders (just check out last year’s game against Mt. St. Mary’s, where the Wildcats only had a one-point lead at half) and it will be DiVincenzo’s job to pick up the team’s production off the bench. Likewise, it would be good for DiVincenzo to find some rhythm after failing to score in double-digits during four of the past five games.
The Highlanders may keep the game close at the beginning, as they don’t match up terribly with the Wildcats and have kept a few games close with Power 5 schools this year (10-point loss at Ohio State and 12-point loss at Vanderbilt). While Radford could lock up defensively, Villanova will crack the code and blow the game open towards the end of the first half. Polite and Jones will score their points for the Highlanders, but they just won’t have enough experience or firepower to slow down the multifaceted offensive attack of Villanova.
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship