The Villanova Wildcats had a lot to prove in the NCAA Tournament, and it seems as if they turned it on at the right time. Villanova won the South region, and did it all in blowout fashion. Villanova will have a tough matchup against the Oklahoma Sooners, and will look to shut down potential Naismith College Player of the Year Buddy Hield.
How They Got Here
Villanova finished 33-5 overall, as well as 16-2 in Big East Conference play. Their losses came against Oklahoma (Final Four matchup), Virginia, Providence, Xavier, and Seton Hall. After being a one seed in the Big East Conference Tournament, the Wildcats were upset in the championship game to the Seton Hall Pirates.
Villanova thrived in both transition basketball, balanced scoring, and three point shooting all season. Four players averaged double-digit scoring, including one player who averaged 9.8 points per game. Their leading scorer was Josh Hart, averaging 15 points per game as well as 6.7 rebounds per game. Kris Jenkins also contributed to the scoring dropping 13.5 points per game. Ryan Arcidiacono thrived as a team leader, as well as averaging 12.3 points per game. Daniel Ochefu was the best big man on the team, averaging 10.1 points per game as well as 7.6 rebounds. Jalen Brunson finished with 9.8 points per game.
Before the loss to Seton Hall, Villanova looked like a sure lock to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They had a very strong résumé, and four of their losses came to ranked teams, including three of those in the Top 10. Even after the loss to Seton Hall, Villanova was looked as a likely No. 1 seed in the tournament along with Virginia, Kansas, and North Carolina.
However, the selection committee thought otherwise. Villanova was selected as the No. 2 seed, and was placed in a very tough South region with the championship favorite Jayhawks. The Oregon Ducks got the surprise No. 1 seed. Along with Kansas, the other teams in the South region were: Austin Peay, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, South Dakota State, California, Hawaii, Arizona, Wichita State, Miami, Buffalo, Iowa, Temple and UNC Asheville.
Villanova began their run against UNC Asheville in the first round. The Wildcats controlled the entire game, defeating the Bulldogs 86-56. The game was never really in question, as Villanova's shooting was too much to overcome. Villanova knocked down 57.9 percent of their shots, as well as 46.4 from deep. Ochefu lead the Wildcats with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Villanova was matched up with a tough Iowa Hawkeyes team in the second round. Yet again, the offense exploded, and the game ended in a blowout. Villanova outscored Iowa in the first half 54-29, and won the game 87-68. Once again, their shooting percentage was terrific, shooting 59.3 percent and 52.6 percent from deep. Hart led the team with 19 points.
In the third round, the Wildcats had another great team on hand, matching up with the Miami Hurricanes. Miami was the favorite by many to be victorious in this game, but Villanova's offense was just too much once again. The team exploded for 92 points, and like their past two games, the defense was just as good. The Wildcats won the game 92-69, and their shooting this game was off the charts. The team connected with 62.7 percent of their field goals, 66.7 percent of treys, and a sensational 18-19 from the free throw line. Jenkins led the team with 21 points and nine boards. The team was the first since Connecticut in 1995 to score 85+ points in their first three tournament game.
The Elite Eight matchup was the one everybody was looking forward to, a matchup with the title-favorite Jayhawks. The Jayhawks were No. 1 in the AP Poll, and seemed ready for their first title since 2008. This game was much different for Villanova than their first three games. Neither team could hit their shots. Kansas actually shot better than Villanova at 46 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from deep compared to 22.2 percent. However, both were still ugly. Perry Ellis, Kansas' leader, was held to just four points, and the bench only played a combined 18 minutes to the starting five's 182. It was an ugly game for both sides, while the final score was 64-59. Not many people expected this outcome for Villanova, especially with their offense not playing the same as their first three games. Kansas could not settle in against the Villanova defense, and the final score portrayed that.
How Can They Beat The Sooners?
Villanova and Oklahoma already matched up this year on December 7, 2015. Though it was early in the season, the Sooners crushed the Wildcats 78-55. Villanova's offense was atrocious, shooting just 31.7 percent and 12.5 percent from deep. They were flat out outplayed from the tip, and cannot get anything going.
However, many things have changed since that game nearly four months ago. Villanova seems as if they have everything figured out now, and might be the hottest team entering the Final Four in Houston.
The thing that is so dangerous about this Villanova team is that anybody can step in on any given night, and they have five reliable scoring options on the court at all time. Villanova excels at sharing the ball and establishing a balanced scoring attack, and will surely need to do that against Oklahoma. Even from the first three games of the tournament, the leading scorers were different, and three players tied for the leading scorer against the Jayhawks. That is a dangerous team philosophy, as the defense can't expect one star player to take over the game.
The Sooners do not really have the same scoring attack. They will look to get most of their buckets from one man, Buddy Hield. Hield was absolutely fantastic in their Elite Eight matchup against the Ducks, dropping 37 points. He gives Los Angeles Lakers' legend Kobe Bryant credit for his performance, as the Laker great was in attendance for the game. Villanova does tend to switch in game between man-to-man and a zone, most commonly a 1-3-1 zone with Arcidiacono at the top. However, if they go man-to-man or even potentially a box-one to stop Hield, it will likely be Jenkins, Hart, or Mikal Bridges to attempt to slow Hield down. They will have their hands full, but with the way the defense played against the Jayhawks, anything can happen in March.
Villanova will also have to keep their three point shot in play against Oklahoma. Their three point shot has been deadly all season, and they commonly look to get open three point shots in transition, which they also thrive in. Jenkins, Hart, Arcidiacono, and Brunson are all very reliable shooters for the Wildcats, and Oklahoma will need to close out on all of them.
The Wildcats have to keep their heads high. Yes this will be a tough matchup, but they just beat a very talented team in a way they were not expecting it to. With the way the defense has been playing, if the offense is identical to where it was for the first three games, we could see the championship trophy back in Pennsylvania for the first time since 1985.