Thursday gave us two blowouts, as both Kansas and Villanova won big to set up tonight's matchup for a trip to the Final Four. To help us prepare, I reached out to Robert O’Neill over at Big East Coast Bias, the SB Nation site covering all of the Big East conference. He was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions for us about the Villanova Wildcats.
RCT: Villanova hasn't made it out of the first weekend of the tournament since their last run to the Final Four in 2009. There have been some rumblings nationally that Jay Wright might have lost a step. Are those same thoughts echoed in the fan base, and if so, have these last 3 games done anything to assuage those concerns?
BECB: I'm not sure the same thoughts were prevalent in the fanbase, but Villanova definitely needed this Elite Eight appearance, especially after bowing out in the Round of 32 as a 1-seed last season. People are still down on the "New Big East", simply because it doesn't have the sparkle of the old conference. Had Villanova suffered another early exit, those thoughts would have only intensified.
RCT: Thursday night did not really go as most people were expecting, with Miami absolutely floundering against the Wildcats. What was the key to that win, and is it something that they can repeat/will against the Jayhawks?
BECB: It's been tough to pinpoint a single key for the Wildcats so far, given that they've won their three games by an average margin of 24 points and have led or been tied for 118:32 of their 120 NCAA Tournament minutes played this season. They're firing on all cylinders right now, but the biggest thing is probably their three point shooting.
Many probably remember when Villanova played Oklahoma on Pearl Harbor in December and the Wildcats went 4-32 from deep. After the game, Ken Pomeroy wrote a great piece about how Villanova has been bad at three-point shooting (they were, up to that point of the season), but it was unlikely to continue. He was right. While it didn't even out right away, Villanova ended up shooting 35.6% from beyond the arc this season, which is above the national average of 34.7%. In the NCAA Tournament so far, they've shot 56.2%, including 66.7% against Miami. It's tough to beat a team when they're that good from deep, but on the flip side, it's hard to have sustained success from out there for too long.
RCT: After their Sweet 16 performances, Kansas and Villanova were ranked 1 and 2 respectively on KenPom. Looking closer at the Villanova profile, it seems that the ball is shared pretty evenly between 6 guys. Is that a result of a specific philosophy of this team or just happenstance due to the fact that this team jacks up so many 3s?
BECB: Ball movement has really been a key philosophy for Jay Wright's teams during his entire tenure at Nova, mainly because they're usually very guard heavy. This team is no different. It helps that every player on the court for Villanova (at least the starters), has a good amount of scoring ability.
RCT: Which matchups most concern you in facing the Jayhawks? Which look to be the most promising for the Wildcats?
BECB: I think it's too obvious to say Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, so I'll go off the board with Landen Lucas. I didn't notice, until looking at KenPom, that Lucas is actually one of the country's best rebounders in terms of OR and DR%. If Villanova center Daniel Ochefu's ankle injury, that he appeared to suffer in the second half against Miami, acts up again in this game, Lucas might have a monster game on the boards.
In terms of promising matchups, it's tough to find too many that I love against a really good Kansas team, but I think Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins, who combined for 42 points on 9-13 shooting from deep against Miami, both need to keep their hot shooting going.
RCT: Prediction Time! The last time these two teams faced in the tournament, Kansas dispatched Villanova in the second round en route to the national title in 2008. Which team gets to push forward into next weekend?
BECB: It's so tough to predict this, because I think the winner of this game will probably go on to be national champion, based on what we've seen so far. As a Big East guy (and Mizzou alum, sorry everyone.), I think I have to pick Villanova. But I expect it to be a tight game throughout, and it wouldn't surprise me if we look back on this as being the best game of the NCAA Tournament.
RCT: Bonus - Last year we went on a postseason potluck picnic, and it was so great that I decided to do it again. What food item would you bring to represent your school or the region where it is located?
BECB: Given that Villanova is right outside Philadelphia, I think the only logical answer here is cheesesteaks.
A big thanks to Robert for helping us out today. Don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for him over on Big East Coast Bias as well.