As a 1-Seed in the NCAA tournament, the Villanova Wildcats are supposed to have an easier path to get through the early rounds of the bracket. That doesn't mean that they can take Thursday evening's meeting with the Lafayette Leopards lightly; the 16-Seed has never won a game in the NCAA Tournament, but there have been a couple close calls, and odds are that it will happen someday.
So, Jay Wright is spending his time preparing his team for the contest and talking up the Leopards in the process.
Coached by Jack Kraft-era Villanova alumnus Fran O'Hanlon, Lafayette went 20-12 this season and won the Patriot League title despite being seeded fourth in their conference tournament.
Here are three things to consider ahead of tomorrow's game:
Nick Linder can handle the pressure
Last year, when Lafayette came to the Pavilion for an early-season match-up, Linder was a green freshman who was on the court playing despite being sick. When the game got started, however, the Leopards point guard shook off his nerves and sniffles and settled in to score eight points, dish seven assists and grab four boards against the Wildcats. Since then, he has grown up into the MVP of the Patriot League tournament and one of the PL's top point guards.
He averaged 23.7 points per game in the league's tournament, and will be one of the hotter hands in the field when he takes the court tomorrow. Villanova will need to knock him out of his comfort zone and pressure the lead guard to make mistakes or sloppy plays with the ball.
The Leopards can shoot the three
Lafayette has connected on around 41% of its shots from beyond the arc this season as a team. That is a massive percentage for any team, and it places them second in the nation in that category. They have six players who have made over 40% of their shots from deep this season and a seventh who is awfully close. While the defenses they have faced in the Patriot League don't really compare to the Wildcats', widespread distance shooting ability is a factor that even great defenses can struggle with.
Villanova will need to successfully challenge shooters early in possessions to try and force turnovers or bad shot selection. If you allow the Leopards to work to find their shot, they have the talent to take advantage and score.
Their top-scorer shoots 0% from deep
Only five of those seven sharp-shooters average more than the equivalent of one made shot per game. The Leopards' top scorer is actually 6'9" senior forward Dan Trist, who averages 17.3 points per game. Tryst has a mid-range game, but won't be seen scoring from the perimeter -- he hasn't attempted a triple at all this season.
Trist ( who hails from Sydney, Australia) will mostly be Daniel Ochefu's problem on both ends of the court. The Villanova big man will likely get the call to guard the Aussie, and to battle him on the glass.
6'8" Seth Hinrichs, however, will be a tough mismatch for JayVaughn Pinkston or one of the Wildcats' guards, trying to stop the 39.2% sharpshooter from getting a clean look. Hinrichs is the Leopards second top-scorer at 13.1 points per game, and he does like to take his chances from downtown, just like Linder, who checks in at third on the team with 12.8 ppg and a 40% mark from deep.