Most fans believe that to determine the relative success of a season, you first look at a team's performance in March. All the regular season glory can be easily diminished with a quick exit in March. Villanova hasn't won an NCAA game since 2010, and hasn't made it to the Sweet 16 since their Final 4 run in 2009. Without a deep run in March, fans might easily forget the Battle 4 Atlantis, Big 5 and Big East championships this team has already collected.
While this writer thinks that an Elite 8 run is the bare minimum for Jay Wright's group, failure to reach the Sweet 16 would validate all the skepticism currently surrounding this year's Villanova team, and the Big East conference as a whole.
Villanova earned the #2 seed in the East region, and was placed in the Buffalo, NY pod for the first two rounds. Joining the 'Cats are the #15 seed Wis.-Milwaukee Panthers, while the Connecticut Huskies and St. Joseph's (PA) Hawks will square off in the other first round game. The winners will meet on Saturday.
Below is a team-by-team breakdown of who Villanova will need to beat in order to reach the Sweet 16, which will be held in Madison Square Garden.
#15 Milwaukee Panthers
Record: 21-13, 7-9 Horizon League
How they earned their bid: Horizon League Tournament champion
Picked to finish 7th in the Horizon League, the Panthers finished in 5th before going on a tear through the tournament, winning 4 games in 7 days, including a massive overtime upset of top-seed Green Bay in the semifinals.
The main option is diminutive guard Jordan Aaron, who is averaging a nice line of 15.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg and 2.4 apg on the season. Aaron needs his fair share of shots to get his points, shooting just 38.7% from the field, but he can get hot from deep, boasting a 35.6% hit rate over the season.
Milwaukee leans heavily on their starting five, with big men Kyle Kelm (12.6/5.2/1.6) and Matt Tiby (12.1/6.6/2.0) sporting good but not great size, while wing Austin Arians (10.9/3.4/1.4) has the size to match up with James Bell and Darrun Hilliard. Steve McWhorter (8.0/4.2/4.0) is the primary distributor in the backcourt.
In many ways, Milwaukee is similar to Villanova. Several players can hurt you, but there isn't that one guy that they heavily rely on to do their damage. Talent should win out in this game if Villanova doesn't fall into a lull of chucking from beyond the arc.
#7 UConn Huskies
Record: 26-8, 12-6 AAC
How they earned their bid: At-large selection
The Huskies had their ups and downs throughout the season, and some might feel they were a tiny bit under-seeded due to the relative weak nature of the AAC this year. Shabazz Napier (17.4/5.9/4.9) was rightfully awarded the AAC's Player of the Year, and there aren't many senior guards in the country you can count on in the clutch more than him.
Ryan Boatwright (11.8/3.5/3.5) joins Napier in the backcourt as a similar guard with a high-motor and instant-offense capability, but he's a tad more prone to forcing some bad shots and putting in the proverbial stinker every now and then. DeAndre Daniels (12.5/5.8/0.5) oozes talent but prefers playing on the perimeter (43.5% 3P FG) rather than mixing it up down low. Niels Giffey (8.5/3.4/0.8) is another 'big' for UConn that likes to hang on the perimeter, and with good reason. He's hitting at an absurd 52.5% clip on the year from behind the arc.
Amida Brimah (2.5 bpg) is the next in the long line of foreign imports that specialize in shot blocking for the Huskies. Lasan Kromah and Omar Calhoun provide decent support to the leading cast. They are slightly favored against St. Joseph's, but are likely to be a popular pick to be upset.
#10 St. Joseph's (PA) Hawks
Record: 24-9, 11-5 Atlantic 10
How they earned their bid: Atlantic 10 Tournament champion
After losing two straight to end the regular season, St. Joseph's (PA) won the A-10 Tournament for the first time since 1997 to seal their bid. The Hawks are currently playing their best basketball of the season, which is a far cry from the 30-point drubbing they received from Villanova earlier this year, at home nonetheless.
Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic (this guy) are the main cogs for Phil Martelli. Galloway is having a great season, posting a 17.5/4.3/1.5 line while shooting nearly 44% from behind the arc. Kanacevic's numbers are even more impressive as he's boasting a 10.7/8.8/4.4 line while playing the point-forward spot for the Hawks. The offense runs through him.
Ronald Roberts Jr. is an athletic specimen who thrives playing above the rim and alongside Kanacevic. When teams focus on Halil, Roberts scorches them to the tune of 14.4/7.4/1.3. Freshmen DeAndre Bembry has been terrific as well, pouring in 12 ppg on the season.
The big issue with St. Joseph's (PA) is that they lack quality depth. Only Papa Ndao and Daryus Quarles are averaging over 10 mpg outside of the starting lineups. If they get into foul trouble, as they did against Villanova, they can be easily beaten.
Picks: Villanova over Milwaukee and UConn over St. Joseph's (PA) to set up an "Old Big East" rivalry game, with the Wildcats moving on to Madison Square Garden.