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Preview: #6 Villanova Wildcats vs. #3 Purdue Boilermakers

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Can Villanova make it out of Hartford alive?

Old Dominion v Purdue Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Villanova Wildcats will take on the Purdue Boilermakers for a ticket to the Sweet 16 on Saturday night in Hartford.

The ‘Cats are coming off a close victory over former nemesis St. Mary’s (all debts have been paid) while the Boilermakers bounced still-current-nemesis Old Dominion (your day is coming, Monarchs).

Villanova and Purdue last faced off in November 2016, when the Wildcats went into West Lafayette and squeaked out a 3 point victory.

Here are a couple highlights that have no impact on this game:

That was an excuse to watch Josh Hart.

Back to the present.

Purdue is :::checks notes::: Still Good

Purdue comes into the match-up as a #3 seed boasting wins over Maryland, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. As for baffling losses, there really aren’t any beyond a neutral court loss to Notre Dame, a team that struggled this year. That’s about it.

In years past, we’ve enjoyed making fun of the Big Ten. We like to pretend they use a square basketball and act like we can’t tell the difference between a Big Ten basketball and football score. However, this year the conference was a beast. Eight of the fourteen teams rank in the Top 40 in KenPom (with Nebraska coming in at #41) and the Big Ten is KenPom’s top ranked conference. In sum, Purdue has been tested.

So, let’s take a closer look at what we can expect from the Boilermakers.

To start, Purdue comes in with KenPom’s 5th ranked offense. They shoot a lot of threes, ranking in the Top 40 in 3PA/FGA, and connect at a 36% clip. They rarely turn the ball over and are extremely aggressive on the boards, ranking 20th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. And they have a big boi. Purdue plays slowly, with a sub-270 tempo, and considering Villanova just played in a game that is likely still going on, the speed of this game should not be an issue.

The Boilermakers rank 26th in AdjD and their average possession length on defense is just nine spots above Virginia. They are much better defending inside (the big boi) and are about middle of the pack as regards 3P defense. Villanova will likely be able to get shots up from the outside but, if they are not falling, will have their work cut out for them inside.

On the Back of Carsen Edwards

The Boilermakers are led by Junior guard Carsen Edwards (6’1), one of the best players in the country. Edwards is averaging 23 points in just under 35 minutes a game. He takes a staggering amount of Purdue’s shots (37%, ranking him 6th in the country) and has a hand in nearly every one of their possessions. He’s not incredibly efficient, connecting at a 38% clip, and his shot selection has often come under fire, but he’s an absolute dynamo. Although he’s small, he’s very quick and polished around the rim. He’s incredibly difficult to guard off the dribble and can hit from anywhere on the floor. When he’s hot, he’s hot. When he’s not, it doesn’t matter because he will just keep shooting.

Old Dominion v Purdue Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The elephant in the room is that Edwards has been dealing with a nagging back issue for about a month now, presumably caused by the weight of Boilermaker expectations, amirite? In all seriousness, he’s in the midst of a shooting slump that has spans back to mid-February. It remains to be seen whether his shooting woes continue, he shot 38% against Old Dominion, but regardless, he has the tools to absolutely destroy Villanova if they do not contain him.

Edwards is assisted by Senior guard Ryan Cline (6’6) and Sophomore Guard Nojel Eastern (6’6). Cline, averaging 11.7 points per game, is a strong three point shooter (40%) while Eastern makes his money inside, shooting nearly 50% from 2-point range.

Now to the big boi: Matt Haarms. No, not Isaac Haas. He’s gone. Matt Haarms. Maatt Haarms. Maarch Maadness.

Old Dominion v Purdue Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Matt Haarms is 7’3 Sophomore center from the Netherlands. He averages 9 points and 5 rebounds a game. He is a strong shot blocker, ranking 12th in the country in Blk%, and is incredibly efficient under the basket. This is not a great match-up for Villanova. However, Haarms fouls a lot, averaging 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes. If going inside begins to prove more and more necessary, Villanova should look to get Haarms in foul trouble as early as possible.

Purdue vs. Old Dominion Highlights

Here are some highlights from the Boilermakers’ round one victory over #14 Old Dominion.

The game tips off at 8:40 p.m. EST on TNT.