While losing to a top ten team might not be catastrophic, the way Villanova played against the Oklahoma Sooners was a disaster. Poor shooting allowed the Sooners to run wild on ‘Nova on Dec. 7th and 12 days later the Wildcats are playing another top 10 team in a true road game.
The Cavaliers have one blemish on their record and that was a road defeat to George Washington. The December 19th tilt at the John Paul Jones Area will involve two teams that have very different styles of playing basketball and one program that has been brought back to national prominence in an unconventional manner.
Any athlete who has competed in a team sport long enough has heard the cliché “defense wins championships.” While certain people may disagree with this philosophy, Tony Bennett and his Cavaliers have restored glory to the Virginia basketball program by playing tenacious defense. In the 2014-15 season Virginia led the nation in scoring defense and that defensive tenacity has not gone away, as the Cavaliers have only given up more than 60 points on two occasions.
Additionally, Virginia is not receiving commitments from 5 star recruits or potential one and done freshman. Instead, they are getting the right pieces for their style of play and developing them. Two teams that dominated the headlines in college basketball last season, Duke and Kentucky, were fueled by their freshman class, and just like in previous seasons, all the key contributors from both squads have left. The Cavaliers have appeared to be immune from this trend and have been able to compete at a high level without having to constantly bring in an influx of McDonald's All-Americans.
Anticipate the Cavaliers to go eight deep against the Wildcats and be led by senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who is their leading scorer at 16.9 points a game. The interior force on offense for the Cavaliers is Anthony Gill, who is the second leading scorer at 13.6 points per game and leading rebounder with 6.4 rebounds per game. It will definitely be interesting to see if the ‘Nova defense is able to travel and neutralize the main threats for Virginia.
The most vital team matchup will be how well Villanova shoots the 3 ball against Virginia’s defense. Being unable to connect from deep against Oklahoma led to the demise of ‘Nova in Pearl Harbor. If there is another 12.5% shooting night from 3, Jay Wright and company will tally another loss.
Furthermore, the most intriguing individual matchup will be Daniel Ochefu vs. the combination of Anthony Gill and 7-footer Mike Tobey. Tobey has the size to matchup with Ochefu but Gill might have more athleticism to deal with Ochefu. It will be interesting to see who takes Villanova’s inside force.
In the loss against Oklahoma, Ochefu was a non-factor on the offensive end and for Villanova to be successful, Ochefu needs to dominate the interior.
Prediction: Charlottesville, Virginia is a difficult place for anyone to play including Villanova. It will be difficult picking the Wildcats after their neutral site performance against Oklahoma. Villanova is the better team on paper, but the stifling defense of Virginia should be able to contain the talented Villanova guards and be victorious, 67-59.
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-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament