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.
Photo: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship