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NCAA Tournament First Round Preview: #1 Villanova Wildcats vs. #16 Radford Highlanders

The Wildcats Kick Off March Madness Against the Big South Champs

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-LIU Brooklyn vs. Radford Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The #1 Villanova Wildcats will face off against the #16 Radford Highlanders on Thursday night from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Highlanders are coming off a 71-61 win against the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds in Dayton on Tuesday night.

If you were able to watch that game, apologies. However, that is how Radford likes to play: slow, ugly, and low-scoring.

As I mentioned in my initial preview, the Highlanders likely fancy themselves as a tiny Virginia. They play extremely slow (346th in AdjTempo) and pride themselves on playing tough defense. Against LIU Brooklyn, the Highlanders gave up just 61 points, 17 less than LIU’s season average.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-LIU Brooklyn vs. Radford Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

On offense, Radford is slow and deliberate. They strive for long possessions, work the ball until they have a shot, and are decently balanced between 2 point shots and the long ball. Against an LIU Brooklyn team with little to no interest in playing defense, the Highlanders shot 46% from the field and 37% from deep. However, the reality is that this team is not equipped, regardless of defense, to keep up with Villanova’s offense.

“When you play a mid-major like this, and I coached there, they play different when they play against each other than when they play against you. So you have to figure out, how did they play when they played bigger-time teams and how did they play in their league? It’s a challenge, but, hey, it’s a good challenge to have.” - Jay Wright

Against Villanova, it’s unlikely Radford will able to do what they rely on in league play. In the Big South, Radford is known to press and, at a minimum, extend the defense to half court. As alluded to by Jay Wright’s quote above, this could spell disaster for the Highlanders against Villanova.

To start, should Radford try to press, Villanova has the horses to just pass right over the top and turn the corner on basically anyone. Accordingly, assuming Villanova is not running out in transition, Radford will likely try to fall back into a make shift pack-line defense to try and group-defend against easy two’s. That being said, the Highlanders are small, with the tallest rotation player coming in at 6’7. Villanova should be able to get the ball inside to Omari Spellman or Eric Paschall for high percentage shots and kick-outs.

I went to ESPN late last night to see if a line had been posted. It had not. But this comment had been:

Since then, KenPom has predicted a 79-59 win for Villanova, which should more or less mimic the line once it is released.

In general, beyond the fact that Villanova should obviously be able to take care of business here, Radford is a better game for Villanova in advance of a Round of 32 match-up than say, Mount St. Mary’s. The Highlanders play good defense, they are disciplined, and they are balanced on offense (albeit not extremely impressive or exciting). At a minimum, this game should at least keep Villanova honest, which is better than the chuck-and-duck YMCA game we saw last year.


Here are the details on the Radford Highlanders:

Conference: Big South

Record: 22-11 (12-6)

KenPom: 170 (AdjO: 203, AdjD: 133)

First Four Box Score

Roster and Statistics

Schedule and Results


The game tips off tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:50pm on TNT.