Game Preview: (2) Villanova vs. (7) Connecticut
The Teams: (2) Villanova (28-4, 16-2 Big East) 1 Game Winning Streak
(7) Connecticut (27-8, 12-6 AAC) 1 Game Winning Streak
The Date: Saturday, March 22
The Time: 9:40PM ET
The Location: First Niagara Center; Buffalo, NY
The Story of Their Tourney (Villanova)
It's not how you start, but it's how you finish. Those seem to be the words that the Villanova Wildcats basketball team lives by this season.
Once again, the Cats looked mediocre, at best, in the first half against Milwaukee on Thursday, and in the early going, it seemed as if an upset was brewing in Buffalo.
But, as ‘Nova has done many times before, the team was able to use pure skill to pull away and handily defeat the Panthers. Now, while this strategy has worked for the most part this season, as the Wildcats advance to face more talented teams than the Horizon League Champs, eventually these slow starts will catch up to Jay Wright's squad.
The story of the game for Villanova was the poor shot selection that took part throughout, especially in the first half.
The Wildcats shot extremely poorly from beyond the 3-poin line, including an 0/11 clip from log range during he first frame, and that accounted for moat of their struggles. For the most part, the Cats have been pretty consistent from 3-point range during the regular season (Second in the Big East), but during the postseason, they have been absolutely atrocious. If the 3-pointers aren't falling early for them, it will be interesting to see how they react as a team, because so far their affinity for the 3-ball has won out most of the time. They've been much more effective driving the ball as of late, so shot selection will be huge if the shots aren't falling early once again.
Another guy who needs to step up if the Cats aren't playing well is James Bell. Bell has been playing miserably as of late, and that continued into Thursday's game. Yes, he finished in double figures (with 11 points), but he didn't shoot well, especially from 3-point range. He's really been in a funk down this final stretch of the season, and he hasn't been paying even close to the level of an All-Big East First Team performer. He needs to step up his game, especially with a matchup against Ryan Boatwright forthcoming in this one.
The Story of Their Tourney (Connecticut)
It almost gave everyone in Storrs a heart attack, but a win is a win. That's the mentality that anyone associated with UCONN regarded Thursday's nail-biting 89-81 overtime win over Saint Joseph's.
It wasn't in any sorts a pretty win for the Huskies, and it required a clutch and-1 conversion from freshman Amida Brimah to even advance to overtime.
Brimah came out of nowhere on Thursday to have an impact that no one could have seen coming. Coming into the Round of 64 game, he had been averaging 16.4 minutes and 4.4 points per game. Against Saint Joes though, he was something else. Brimah played 30 minutes against the Hawks, and finished with nine points and six rebounds. Most importantly though, Brimah was extremely efficient on offense, as he shot 3/4 from the field and 3/3 from the line. If Brimah can keep up his current offensive efficiency, that'll just be one more cog in UCONN's multifaceted offense.
A key to stopping the Huskies is preventing them from getting hot from beyond the arc. On the season, UCONN has been one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the nation, clocking in at 39% for the year. Thursday was no different, as UCONN shot 11/24 (45.8%) from long range versus St. Joes, and ended up with a 12-point advantage in that department. Kevin Ollie's squad loves to shoot the long ball, so if Villanova can get them uncomfortable and cause them to miss a couple early, which would be a huge momentum swing in the Cats favor.
The strongest aspect of the Huskies team is without a doubt their backcourt, as they have one of the best guard combinations in the nation in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. They average a combined 29.2 ppg, and in any given game, either one can take over and single handily lead Connecticut to a victory. Against St. Joes, they combined for 41 points, and were really the difference in the game, especially with UCONN facing a deficit most of the contest. The two never panic, and it's extremely difficult to get under their skin. Therefore, it'll be important for ‘Nova to get out to a quick lead, because if Connecticut is able to work with a lead, its experienced backcourt is great enough to maintain any and all leads.
The Players That Must Perform:
Villanova: Sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono will be huge in this game, and it won't be as much on the offensive end as it will be on defense. When it comes to offense, he really just needs to be the game manager that he has been all season, but on defense he has one of his most difficult matchups all season. It will almost solely be on his shoulders tonight (unless ‘Nova runs a zone for some reason) to guard Napier, who is one of the best point guards in the nation. Napier is an offensive beast and if the Wildcats begin struggling on offense early, he can make them pay in a big way. Arcidiacono needs to be on a whole other level defensively and will need to trail Napier everywhere he goes, deny him the ball, and just overall frustrate him into nothingness. I feel confident about his abilities though, after Milwaukee's star point guard, Jordan Aaron, was held to six points on 1-15 shooting. If Arcidiacono can take Napier out of his rhythm, than Villanova will have a huge edge that can propel the team to the Sweet 16.
Connecticut: Villanova has two absolute terrors inside with JayVaugn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu manning the middle, so in order to have any success with scoring amongst big men, junior DeAndre Daniels will need to have one of his best games of the season. Daniels isn't very bulky (at only 195 lbs.), but he's crafty in the paint and has a multitude of ways to score and grab rebounds inside. Against St. Joes, he had one of his best games of the season, recording 18 points and four rebounds, while shooting over 50% from the field. The most dangerous part of Daniels game is his ability to hit the long ball (43.9% from 3-point range), and thus force big men, who aren't used to guarding the 3-point arc, play out of their comfort zone. It will be on his shoulders to pick up the slack if Napier and Boatwright struggle, so he needs to be ready to play above his abilities against ‘Nova
The Prediction: Now this is game trendy upset pick amongst many people's brackets and I can see why. UCONN is a household name that is in a lower seed than many people are used to, but they are still much more talented than the seed implies. Plus, it's a showdown of old Big East rivals, so this game will take many back to the days of Madison Square Garden and 6 OT thrillers. I believe that this game will ultimately come down to Villanova's shot selection throughout, especially if the 3-pointers aren't falling. Fortunately for them, I think Jay Wright has learned from the past two games, and that he will change his offensive philosophy to attack the hoop more, but hey, that's just me. Regardless, I believe that Nova does just enough against the Huskies to pull out a win (I'm not sure it will be a pretty one though) to advance to next weekend's Sweet 16.
Villanova 78 Connecticut 69