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Battle 4 Atlantis Championship: Villanova vs. Northern Iowa Preview

It’s not the opponent we expected, but a championship is on the line.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Northern Iowa vs North Carolina State Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Things certainly haven’t gone according to plan in the Bahamas this year. Nova has come out flat in both games, the difference in how the games have been called has been crazy, and both Purdue and Arizona were eliminated in the first round. But when you’re that close to the Bermuda triangle, what do you expect?

One thing that has gone as anticipated: Villanova is about to play for the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship. Their opponent will be the Northern Iowa Panthers, who eliminated NC State 64-60 earlier today. UNI is now 5-1, with their only loss coming at UNC in their season opener. The Panthers are ranked 98th by KenPom, so this is no pushover. Let’s take a deeper dive on the team that stands in the way of Villanova becoming the only team to win multiple B4A titles.

And you thought we played slow

Villanova has played at a faster pace this season than they have any year since 2010, and yet they still rank 277th nationally when it comes to tempo. Well get ready for a slow, methodical game because UNI ranks 343rd in tempo, which is the 8th slowest pace in the country. Both of these teams want to prod and probe on offense while playing stifling defense.

UNI has held it’s opponents to an eFG% of just 42.5%, and outside of UNC no team has scored more than 60 points against them. On offense, they run everything through their 6’10” Center Bennett Koch, who’s averaging 16 PPG and 7.8 rebounds on the season. But after that they have a number of guards who are all perimeter threats. While it will be important to contain Koch, Villanova’s guards will have to keep up the defensive intensity they showed in the second half against Tennessee.

Villanova can literally take this one

One of Nova’s struggles in the early season has been turning the ball over. However, that might be an area in which they have a huge advantage in this game. Not only has UNI been turning the ball over 14 times a game, they’ve been one of the worst teams at creating turnovers.

In a game that will likely see a low number of possessions, turnovers become that much more important. Villanova has turned their opponents over an average of 16 times per game, and I haven’t seen anything to think that’s going to change. If Villanova can decisively win the turnover battle, they’ll likely leave the Bahamas as Champions.

A lot of foul calls wasn’t such a bad thing

Villanova and UNI are 18th and 19th in the country in defensive free throw rate, meaning they don’t send their opponents to the line. Unless the refs decide that every play needs a whistle like they did in the Tennessee game (52 fouls called!?!?), it’s likely that this one will be decided on the floor instead of at the line.

That could actually be a problem for Nova. The Wildcats scored 33 points from the charity stripe, shooting over 89%, in what ended up being a nail biter against Tennessee. Villanova has shot just 45.7% from the floor so far this tournament, and they’ve shot even worse in the first half of each game. Considering how good Villanova has been at shooting free throws, a few extra trips to the charity stripe could be a good thing.

On the reverse side, UNI shoots under 70% from the line as a team. In fact, they only have two players in their rotation that are shooting over 70% on the season. However, UNI is shooting over 40% from beyond the arc, with three players shooting over 45%. Villanova is going to need to run those guards off the perimeter. While that aggressive strategy may lead to more fouls, that may not be a bad thing. Another foul fest could play right into Villanova’s hands.