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NCAA Tournament 2016, Miami vs. Villanova Sweet 16: The X-Factors

Here's who should you keep an eye on Thursday night.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats will meet the Miami Hurricanes in a Sweet 16 matchup in Louisville, Kentucky on Thursday night. The KFC Yum! Center will play host to a matchup between two teams with loaded backcourts and terrific players on both ends.

We've already discussed two high-profile players to watch for in Thursday night's matchup on the side of the Hurricanes. Who are some other players you'll want to know about? Here's just a handful:


Very quietly, Villanova's prized recruit from the 2015 class is starting to emerge. Jalen Brunson is going to be hard to handle in the coming years for any team facing the Wildcats, but you might want to start paying very close attention to him right now.

Although he was taken out of the equation against Seton Hall and Providence in the Big East Tournament, the Lincolnshire, Illinois native has been dynamic for the last month. Since dropping 25 points against Temple, the other Philly squad that was heavily recruiting him, the Stevenson High School alum has averaged 8.0 points per games while playing roughly 23-25 minutes a night. He has been huge for the Wildcats in this NCAA Tournament, averaging 11 points through the first two games, including 12 in the 'Cats' romp over Iowa on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn.

What's been impressing me about Brunson while watching him is that he seems to be willing to take a lot of open opportunities. Since that Temple game, he seems to be getting more comfortable with shooting the basketball. That has not necessarily meant that he's been pulling the trigger a lot lately, though. In the last 11 games, Brunson has averaged 6.72 field goal attempts, down from 7.52 through the first 25. But, Brunson's shots have been falling at a markedly improving rate. Through the first 25 games of the season, Villanova's freshman point guard's field goal percentage was merely at 42.5 percent. Now, in his last 11 games, Brunson has shot 52.7 percent from the field, going up a full 10 percent in the category.

It's fair to say that Brunson's improved play down the stretch has made Villanova even more dangerous than they may already appear.

Big East fans know that "Big Smooth" has been on a tour de force for much of the latter portion of the 2015-16 season. The rest of the country, meanwhile, may be about to learn all about him.

Jenkins is a 6-foot-6, 240-pound versatile hooper who has showcased an ability to shoot inside and outside with relative ease. He's arguably been one of the most impactful players for Villanova this season and should be an All-Big East contender when next season rolls around. It's kind of amazing how out of nowhere this all was, as Jenkins was someone who Villanova could rely on to score, oh, maybe more than 10 points every now and then in his first two years on campus.

Then his junior year rolled around, and a minutes increase led to a renaissance. This year, Jenkins barnstormed through Big East play, putting up some of the best numbers in the conference. He was the third-best 3-point shooter during conference play, eighth-best free throw shooter, kept good care of the basketball and perhaps more impressively, finished 2nd and 3rd in TS% and eFG% amongst his peers. His marks of 63.1 percent and 59.8 percent in those categories are staggering, especially when you consider two years ago he was at just 47.1 and 44.9, and 60.2 and 54.2 percent last season.

He's taken "the leap," if you would, and who knows what could be coming next year? What's true though is that Jenkins has been effective this season and the last time he posted single figures was a whole entire month ago. What else is true is that Miami will have its hands full in defending the Upper Marlboro, Maryland native, too.


The focus in the Miami backcourt is rightfully shined on Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan. A name you ought to know though is Ja'Quan Newton, who Philadelphia citizens may already be familiar with.

That's because the former Neumann-Goretti High School was the most prolific scorer in Catholic League history while he was spending his time hooping in The City of Brotherly Love. Newton racked up 1,972 points during his stint at Neumann-Goretti High School, a former No.1 recruit in the state of Pennsylvania, Catholic League MVP and an All-Catholic League First Teamer.

Since arriving in South Beach, Newton has made a big-time impact off the bench. In his freshman season, while playing 13.5 minutes per game, Newton averaged 4.0 points and 1.4 assists per game with a season-high mark of 16 in a loss to eventual Elite Eight rep Notre Dame on January 17, 2015. From the jump in 2015, Newton exploded onto the scene, becoming one of the best sixth men in the ACC and the nation, to boot. Newton racked up double figures 18 times during the regular season, hitting a season-high total of 20 back on December 19, 2015 in a victory over the College of Charleston.

Newton makes most of his impact inside and not out. He's only taken 36 career 3-point field goals, which pales in comparison to the 298 2-point attempts he's racked up in his two years as a 'Cane. A closer look over at indicates that Newton makes a living off of 2-point jumpers and shots at the rim. The former especially, as 54 percent of all of Newton's field goal attempts this season have come off of jumpers, while 34.4 percent have been at the rim.

When accounting for Newton, the 'Nova defense will have to protect the rim and defend him around the mid-range area. newton's been pretty divisive on 2-point jumpers, holding the best mark of any Hurricane on the team at 43.0 percent. The Wildcats were able to handle Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff and keep him tentative, a player whose 2-point jumpers were a big part of his game as well with 43.2 percent of his field goals coming on 2-point jumpers. So, one should expect a similar gameplan to be implemented when Newtons' on the floor, though it's likely now that the guards will be locked in on him as opposed to Villanova's forwards, given the stark height contrast between Uthoff and Newton.

Lastly, Miami's Davon Reed is under our microscope. Reed has been a very productive player for the Hurricanes in his junior season while playing on the wing. Much like Rodriguez and McClellan, the thing that jumps out most when looking at Reed is his efficiency. The Princeton Day School (N.J.) alum posted the second-highest marks in eFG% and TS% on the team, trailing only senior guard McClellan whose numbers were quite a bit ahead of Reed's 55.6 and 60.3 percent totals in the categories. Reed excels in virtually all areas on the floor, with a .534/.390/.816 slash line on 2-point FG%, 3-point FG% and FT%, showcasing that the New Jersey native is nothing if not versatile.

Reed, like Rodriguez, makes most of his living at the 3-point line. He, though, has made good on his opportunities from there, totaling a percentage of 39.0 from beyond the arc. That's a team-high amongst qualified scorers, just edging out McClellan's 38.9 percent mark from deep. In three meetings vs. Virginia, one of the best defenses in the country, Reed shot 7-for-11 from deep. But in an earlier matchup vs. Syracuse on January 2, Reed shot 0-for-4 against what would be the best 3-point defense in the conference. In fact, Reed shot just 8-for-28 against the top five 3-point defenses during conference play (Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke, and Wake Forest).

Trouble could be afoot for Reed against a stingy Villanova defense, so creating opportunities for him will be imperative for Miami.

Speaking of, defense has been something that Reed excels at. He's proven to be a pretty stout defender even if his DRtg - 102.0 - may not prove it. Defensive Win Shares and DBPM like him though, as he posted marks of 1.4 and 2.8 in those respective categories. We could see him on either Josh Hart or any of the guards that Villanova doles out, so whichever Wildcat finds himself agains tReed will have to be prepared for a battle and have their hands full.