There's a lot to like about Villanova's path in the NCAA Tournament in 2016, but the 'Cats still need to go out and win the games. First up is the #15 seed and Big South champion UNC-Asheville Bulldogs on Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. As far as mid-majors go, the Bulldogs don't appear to have much bite (#116 KenPom/#137 RPI) but March is the time for Cinderellas.
Here's what to watch for on Friday:
UNC-Asheville's small-ball lineup
Asheville is going to try and give Villanova a dose of their own medicine. The Bulldogs don't start anybody over 6'5" and the tallest player in their 7-man rotation is 6'6" forward Will Weeks. Typically these smaller lineups have more success on the offensive end, but Asheville has seen great returns on D by playing pressure and forcing turnovers.
Given Villanova's versatility to play that as well, it makes for an interesting matchup. The Bulldogs want to drive, and it would seem that funneling their slashers to the back-line anchors of Daniel Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds would make a lot of sense. But if the frontline gets extended, it could create havoc and foul trouble for 'Nova.
Given the difference it talent level and experience, this should be a battle Villanova should remain the kings of small-ball on the day.
Villanova's offensive strategy
A game like this would seem to be begging to dump the ball in to Ochefu and Reynolds and let them go to work until somebody can stop them. But I wouldn't expect Villanova to deviate too much from the norm. A win means a quick turnaround and a tough game with a much different opponent on Sunday.
Finding a good rhythm and balance between the long-ball, slashing, and low-post offense is going to be key for a sustained tournament run. Getting shooters comfortable in the Barclays Center is just as important as getting Ochefu and Reynolds on a roll. Balance is what we're seeking.
Josh Hart back?
Listen, Josh Hart averaged 18 points per game in New York City so it's not like he played poorly. But there's no denying he's looked a bit tentative and generally 'off' recently. He needs to get his mojo back, and this would appear to be the game to do it. Hart has carried this team all season and his motor is a big part of the team's identity.
An extended layoff to recharge the batteries may be just what the doctor ordered for him, and I'd expect Hart to come out and dominate on both sides of the ball against an overmatched opponent. He can take 'Nova to a good place this year, and he knows it.