The Villanova Wildcats will welcome the #1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks to Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon for what has long been anticipated as the best game on the schedule. While we have debated ad nauseam whether the ‘Cats need a win to secure a Top-4 seed in the tournament, it’s indisputable that this is a prime chance for a young team looking for a signature win. Also, we are all terribly bored and want some action.
If you come at the King...
Let’s start with the basics. The last time the Wildcats hosted a #1 team was #1 Syracuse in the 2011-2012 season. Still in the “old” Big East, the ‘Cats lost this conference showdown 79-66. Prior to that, Villanova hosted #1 UConn, another conference foe, in 2006 and escaped with a narrow 69-64 victory.
I think we are due for another.
The Kansas Jayhawks
The Jayhawks, currently ranked #1 in the AP Poll, are 9-1 with wins over Dayton and Colorado as well as a narrow 2-point loss to Duke to open the season. Let’s take a look at what the Jayhawks will bring to South Philly this weekend.
Unsurprisingly, the Jayhawks are, well, good at mostly everything. The team, ranked 4th in KenPom, is Top-10 in both AdjO and AdjD (well, #11 in offense but its snappier to say top-10). Kansas is ruthlessly efficient on offense, ranked third in effective FG%, and plays at a blistering top-40 pace. The Jayhawks’ offense relies heavily on the 2-point shot and ranks sub-270 in 3P attempts despite making them at a decent clip.
The Jayhawks are led by sophomore Devon Dotson. The 6’2 guard is having a great season, averaging nearly 20 points a game on an efficient 50% from the field. Undersized, Dotson is explosive off the dribble and makes his money at the rim. Dotson is not a particularly strong shooter and will push Villanova to play at a frenetic pace. He can get to the rim at will and it is difficult to see the Wildcats having an answer for him on the defensive end.
Dotson is joined by senior Udoka Azubuike, who ‘Nova fans will remember from the 2018 Kansas Jayhawks (RIP). The 7’0 bruiser out of Nigeria is a menace inside, averaging 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks a game. He has great hands and is an elite shot blocker. However, he’s somewhat one dimensional inside (nothing beyond a jump hook, really) and cannot, under any circumstances, make a free throw.
On paper, it appears that Villanova likely has to completely neutralize one of these players to have a shot in this game. The obvious strategy appears to be running at Azubuike, at least early in the game, to see if the big guy gets in foul trouble. With Doke off the floor, the Wildcats, who lack a true center to counter on the defensive end, are at less of a mismatch. As for Dotson, a quicker pace of play is not the death-knell it used to be for prior ‘Nova teams. The current squad, though not accustomed to playing at a pace as fast as Kansas’, plays relatively well in the open floor and has the horses to keep up should Kansas turn the game into a track meet.
Overall, is this a must-win for the Wildcats? Of course not. But, chances to knock off a #1 seed at home rarely come along, especially when said #1 seed is a blue blood with which you have history. The makings are there for a season-defining victory for a Villanova team still trying to find its identity.
Also, I will be at the game on Saturday (as will Brendan, I believe) so please stop by and say “hello” should you see any of the VUhoops crew. The game tips off at noon so set your alarms to allow for a sufficient pregame. Tickets are still available on StubHub.