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