Nobody is playing better basketball right now than the Villanova Wildcats - though you could reasonably argue that Miami's Angel Rogriguez is the single hottest player in the tournament as well. It makes for a great matchup to kick off the Sweet 16 on Thursday night and it gives us a matchup of two teams that have a lot in common.
Regular Season: 27-7, 3rd place in ACC
Conference Tournament: Lost in semifinals to Virginia, 73-68
Best Win: Virginia (#3 RPI)
Worst Loss: Northeastern (#109 RPI)
Coach: Jim Larranaga took over the job in 2011 after rising to fame by bringing George Mason to the Final 4. Larranaga quickly turned the program around after NCAA violations after Frank Haith left for Missouri. Larranaga won the ACC regular season in 2012 and won the ACC Tournament in 2013, and was also named National Coach of the Year. He's highly regarded for good reason.
By The Numbers
KenPom: #12 offense, #36 defense, #11 overall
Four Factors on Offense: 54% eFG% (#33), 16.4% TO% (#63), 30.2% OR% (#160), 44.1% FTRate (#68)
Miami has shot-makers all over in Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, Davon Reed and Ja'Quan Newton. With a plethora of guards they're not going to turn it over much, but that makes them overly reliant on their frontcourt to collect misses. The guards have the freedom in this offense, so they'll look to drive and create, and hopefully get fouled. They'll shoot a fair amount of three's too, and they have the shooters to be successful.
Four Factors on Defense: 47.7% eFG% (#71), 17.5% TO% (#213), 29.2 OR% (#139), 28.9%, FTRate (#35)
Much has been made of the offense and for good reason, but the defense is respectable. McClellan and Reed are tough guys who can defend multiple positions, and Tonye Jekiri is a very similar anchor to Daniel Ochefu. He allows the guards to take risks, but he can get left on an island exposed too often.
Players to Watch
Senior G Angel Rodriguez (5'11" 180 lbs.) - 12.6 ppg | 2.6 rpg | 4.4 apg
Senior G Sheldon McClellan (6'5" 205 lbs.) - 16.0 ppg | 3.2 rpg | 1.6 apg
The Hurricanes two star players are both transfers - Rodriguez from Kansas State and McClellan from Texas - and like the Villanova seniors will be looking to go out on a high note. If you haven't heard for 'Good Angel Rodriguez' and 'Bad Angel Rodriguez' you will soon. It refers to the senior's propensity to make insane plays whether productive or not. He was on a hot streak in the opening weekend. Villanova will need to bring out the bad.
Style of Play
Jim Larranaga is very similar to Jay Wright in coaching style. He gives his guards a ton of offensive freedom to make plays and trusts his upper-classmen on the court. Rodriguez, McClellan and Ja'Quan Newon will run a lot of ball-screen action and either go themselves or find an open shooter.
On defense, it's a predominantly man-to-man setup and the Canes rely heavily on Senior Tonye Jekiri to bail them out. He's a good shot-blocker and rebounder, but Miami can be susceptible to getting beaten on the glass.
When the Canes are on, they're good. But they've put up several stinkers on both ends of the floor this year, and have struggled mightily on the road (though they fixed that late in the year).
Is it really an upset at this point? Both teams are borderline Top 10 teams with excellent coaches who have made it to a Final 4. The roster makeup is similar and there's plenty of one-on-one matchups to salivate over. Villanova is the favorite per Vegas, and their best is probably a bit better than Miami's best. But expect a good game on Thurday given how evenly these two squads are matched.