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Meet Villanova’s Round of 64 opponent: The Radford Highlanders

The Highlanders will play Villanova on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. Here’s the 411 on the boys from Virginia.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-LIU Brooklyn vs. Radford Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As you well know by now, the Villanova Wildcats are set to enter the 2018 NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed. ‘Nova earned the right to be a 1 seed after another strong effort in the 2017-18 season, and capped it off by winning the Big East Tournament this past Saturday.

‘Nova had to wait until Tuesday night to find out who they would be playing in the Round of 64. After a tussle in Dayton, the Radford Highlanders emerged victorious in the First Four. The Highlanders defeated the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, and with the win, the Highlanders are the 16 seed the Wildcats will face Thursday night.

PPG Paints Arena will play host to this 1-16 matchup. But before we get there, let’s answer the question: Who are the Radford Highlanders?

Let’s take a closer look.

So, Radford went 22-12 prior to their First Four victory Tuesday night. The Highlanders, who were coached up by the Big South Conference Coach of the Year, Mike Jones, won the Big South Conference Tournament to get to the Big Dance. They defeated the Longwood Lancers first and then handled the Winthrop Eagles, who finished second in the regular season. They avoided the regular season champs, the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs, and played the Liberty Flames in the final. Radford won it all in dramatic fashion, as freshman Carlik Jones knocked down a 3-pointer to send them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

Radford’s profile has them around the country’s averages in Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiencies. They are not so great at 2-point shooting, and despite their average marks from the 3-point line, their eFG% suffers a bit. They rank 226th in the country in the category, and fall 1.5 percent below the D1 average of 51 percent.

Offensively they take a decent amount of 3-pointers. Their 3-point rate ranks 117th in the country, and is almost 2.0 percent higher than the nation’s average. 34 percent of their points come from 3-pointers, which ranks 105th in the country. In other words, they do like to shoot the 3-point ball a decent amount, but are mostly ordinary.

Defensively, this team does check out pretty well. Although teams have a 3-point rate of 38.9 percent against the Highlanders, they stand up pretty well against these tests. They rank 114th int he nation in 3-point defense, having allowed just 33.9 percent of 3-balls to land in the net this year. So they are being put to the test by the opposition, and have withstood the fury, so to speak. Teams average roughly ~21 3-pointers (the exact mark is 20.5) in games played against them. Villanova, a very 3-point happy team, will no doubt be throwing it up. Whether Radford’s defense is up to snuff? Well, they’ll get their best shot yet.

The team itself is not all that experienced. KenPom’s Experience statistic has them ranked 227th, with an average of 1.58 years among the members of the team. This team has three seniors who have accounted for at least 13.6 percent of possessions this year (which would be a limited role via KenPom). The Highlanders boast four juniors who have logged minutes this year, as well as three sophomores and two freshmen.

Playing the role of “Star of the Team” is Ed Polite Jr. Out of Lanham, Maryland, Polite, who made the All-Big South First Team this year is in his junior season. He ranked as one of the best shooters in Big South Conference play and is a threat to steal the ball. His Steal% of 3.9 percent on the year ranks 23rd in the entire country. His Steal% of 4.2 percent during Big South play had him ranked better than anybody in the entire conference. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Polite has a knack for being impolite when it comes to thieving the basketball. He rates as a hard-nosed defender, with a DRtg of 93.3 heading into Tuesday’s First Four game. That’s the team-best by a country mile.

He is not much of a threat from outside, although his mark of 42.6 percent in conference play (on 47 attempts) ranked him seventh in the league. On the season, he’s a 29.3 percent shooter from deep, so he’ll be one to watch inside. He is pretty aggressive in getting to the line. He has over 400 free throw attempts in his career and put up 166 this year, a personal-best. His FT% of 74.1 percent this year was also a personal best. And way up from his 66.7 percent mark from the free throw line a year ago.

Going down the line, ‘Nova guards will have to account for the aforementioned Carlik Jones. The Big South Freshman of the Year, All-Freshman selection (and an All-Big South Honorable Mention) selection checks in at 6-foot, 170 lbs. and packs a bit of a punch. He is the team’s second-leading scorer and not so coincidentally is also second in total field goal attempts. He averages 9.5 shots per game, so the Wildcats will certainly have to key in on him and on Polite, as they are the two big shot takers on the team.

Radford’s most proficient threats from deep are Caleb Tanner and Donald Hicks. Both Tanner and Hicks average at least four shots from beyond the arc per game, and shoot over 40 percent from long range. It’s Tanner who has the team-best mark from deep, as he’s averaged a crisp 43.1 percent from long range this season. Hicks isn’t too far behind him, though, as he checks in at 40.3 percent.

The Highlanders have a 4 percent chance of knocking off Villanova on Thursday night. The Steel City has seen a lot over the years. Could they see a 16 beating a 1? Eh, we’ll see. Villanova should be able to handle their business, but Radford has certainly proved themselves a worthy contender.