The seeming theme of the regular season this year was that anyone could beat anyone. While I acknowledged the large number of upsets college basketball saw in the regular season, I still fully expected that at the end of the day the best teams would rise to the top. Turns out I was only half right.
Half of the #1 seeds, gone. Half of the #2 seeds, gone. Half of the #3 seeds, gone. Heck, more than half of the top 16 seeds in the tournament, gone.
Except, that’s not what happened in Villanova’s region. Yes, #4 seed Wichita State went down, but KenPom.com had West Virginia ranked higher than the Shockers. So the four best teams in the East Region all advanced to the second weekend while the rest of the bracket crumbled around them.
That said, the teams left in the East have changed a bit from last Thursday. Injuries and upsets have teams playing either way above their heads or hanging on for dear life. Villanova has gone from having the “easiest” path to the Final Four, to the only team that still has three Ken Pom Top 15 teams standing between them and San Antonio. Basically, it’s not the time to start taking any team for granted.
With that in mind, we’re going to revisit the remaining teams in the East Region to see how the Villanova Wildcats matchup. It’s never easy to win a championship, but having a good roadmap sure helps.
West Virginia Mountaineers
Matchup: Sweet 16 | Seed: #5 in East | KenPom: #11 | Adj. O: #11 | Adj. D: #40
What Villanova Should Prepare For: The worst kept secret about West Virginia is that (brace yourself) they press you every play for the full length of the court. I say it’s a secret because so many teams who face them seem like they didn’t know it was going to happen and are surprised. Of course that’s not true, it’s just very hard to prepare for that type of pressure.
On offense, West Virginia is the poor man’s Villanova. They’re in the Top 30 in attempted three pointers this season, despite only shooting 35.7% from behind the arc. This isn’t the most high powered offense in the world, and they rely on their defense giving them an advantage in possessions to beat their opponents.
Why Villanova Wins: West Virginia is 300th in the country in opponent three point percentage, which means they are awful at defending the perimeter. So if Villanova’s shots are falling, this one’s already over. And if the refs start calling it close, Villanova could put the game away at the foul line by halftime.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that the Wildcats don’t hit double digit threes and this becomes an old-school Big East brawl. West Virginia is exceptional at defending inside the arc, and Sagaba Konate is possibly the best rim protector in the country. Jevon Carter leads the country in steals, and the team creates the 2nd most turnovers per possession this season. That said, Villanova doesn’t turn the ball over a lot and they’re a matchup problem for West Virginia. The Wildcats should find themselves back in the Elite 8 when all is said and done.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Matchup: Elite 8 | Seed: #3 in East | KenPom: #13 | Adj. O: #48 | Adj. D: #4
What Villanova Should Prepare For: Texas Tech would be the best defense Villanova has faced all season. Their shut down man to man extends all the way to the three point line, and there’s no where on the court where you can get a good shot off against them. They become even harder to score on inside the arc, where they hold opponents to under 45% shooting.
On offense, they’re led by star senior guard Keenan Evans. Evans leads the team in points and assists, and half of the team’s losses came while he was suffering from turf toe towards the end of the season. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, he scored a combined 55 points in the first two rounds, so I think he’s fully recovered.
Why Villanova Wins: The Red Raider defense is truly elite, and this may be one of the rare games when Villanova’s defense will have to carry them to a victory. The one weakness Texas Tech has on defense is that their aggressive man to man can sometimes lead to early foul trouble. While they can run 10 guys out there and maintain a defensive presence, the foul trouble can severely limit their offensive production.
On offense, they’re only so-so when it comes to turning the ball over. They’re also collectively terrible at the free throw line with only four players shooting over 70%. This means that the Wildcats can get aggressive in trying to disrupt passing lanes and going for steals. As long as they’re not in foul trouble, I expect them to key in on trying to create turnovers. Elite 8 games are supposed to be tough, and this will be no exception. Still, Villanova is the better overall team, and their stars should carry them on to the Final Four.
Matchup: Elite 8 | Seed: #2 in East | KenPom: #4 | Adj. O: #2 | Adj. D: #32
What Villanova Should Prepare For: Purdue has been on Villanova’s radar since the brackets came out, and a big part of that was their senior 7’2” center Isaac Haas. But in the first round, Haas hit the ground hard and fractured his elbow. He made a few attempts to play with a brace, but it wasn’t cleared by the NCAA and he seemed to still be in a lot of pain anyway. Reports (and logic) indicate that he’s out for the rest of the tournament, which is a big blow to the Boilermakers on both ends of the court.
But for as good as the big man is, he’s no where close to the biggest threat Purdue presents. This team can flat out drop bombs from behind the arc, shooting a collective 42%. For perspective, Villanova has three rotation players shooting over 40%. Purdue has five, all of which have attempted at least 100 threes this season. This is one of the few teams left in the tournament that could beat the Wildcats in a shootout, so Villanova may have to find another way to win the game.
Why Villanova Wins: The loss of Haas really is a big deal, even if Purdue has another seven-footer in Matt Haarms to step in behind him. A lot of their production relied on Haas demanding attention down low, and now that dimension of their offense is gone. Carson Edwards and Vincent Edwards are still going to be a handful, and Dakota Mathis can be that third scorer that helps you win games. But Villanova’s defense matches up well with these guys. C. Edwards vs. Booth/Brunson, V. Edwards vs Bridges, and Mathis vs DiVincenzo will all be great matchups to watch.
Purdue’s biggest weakness is that they aren’t good at creating extra possessions for themselves, ranking in the 200s in both offensive rebound percentage and defensive turnover percentage. They also rank outside the Top 100 in opponent three-point percentage. Nova will have to play at their best to beat Purdue, but Nova’s best is better than anything the Boilermakers can throw at them.