Let's move past the bracket drama and focus on what's in front of us - it's what the team itself is doing after all. Villanova still has to take the court and put in a good performance on Friday, or they risk becoming the last #2 seed to flame out early. No thanks!
The UNC-Asheville Bulldogs await 'Nova in Brookyn, and while they aren't going to be a sexy pick for an upset, they do something really well, and sometimes that's all you need to steal a win in the NCAA Tournament.
Regular Season: 22-11, 3rd place in Big South
Conference Tournament: Champions
Best Win: Georgetown (#106 RPI)
Worst Loss: Radford (#191 RPI, twice)
Coach: Nick McDevitt is a Bulldog lifer. He played for the school from 1997-2001 and then was an assistant coach upon graduation until he got the head coaching job in 2013. Coming off a losing season last year, this is his first NCAA Tournament appearance.
By The Numbers
KenPom: #190 offense, #60 defense, #116 overall
Four Factors on Offense: 49.9% eFG% (#179), 18.5% TO% (#208), 31.6% OR% (#112), 42.4% FTRate (#43)
A lineup devoid of size would have you think that Asheville shoots a lot of three-pointers, but it isn't the case. The Bulldog guards prefer to drive and finish or get fouled. They're scoring just 22.3% of their points from beyond the arc, 331st in the country. They're the anti-Villanova, to an extent.
Four Factors on Defense: 48.7% eFG% (#109), 22.4% TO% (#9), 29.4 OR% (#155), 33.4% FTRate (#93)
The headline there is the TO% - digging even deeper they have a steal percentage of 13% which is 3rd nationally. The Bulldogs play mostly man-to-man defense and will pressure as much as they can to generate turnovers and run. That has worked to great success this year against lower-level competition, but in their one game against elite competition (Texas A&M) they were beaten by 28 and forced just 9 turnovers. A couple more examples against high-majors: just 11 turnovers forced in a win at Georgetown and 11 in a loss at Tennessee.
Players to Watch
Freshman G Dylan Smith (6'5" 170 lbs.) - 13.5 ppg | 2.7 rpg | 1.8 apg
Freshman G Dwayne Sutton (6'5" 195 lbs.) - 12.0 ppg | 7.8 rpg | 1.3 apg
The Bulldogs are a young team with just two upperclassmen (Sam Hughes, Will Weeks) in their rotation. Asheville doesn't start anybody over 6'5" - you're reading that correctly. They play mostly a 7-man rotation, with 6'6" forward Will Weeks coming off the bench to provide the most size. Because of that, Sutton and Ahmad Thomas do most of the work on the glass, and they've been pretty successful battling bigger opponents. Sophomore Kevin Vannatta and senior Sam Hughes are the best deep-ball threats at 38% and 39%, respectively.
Style of Play
Despite a lack of size, Asheville won't settle for three-pointers and will instead look to drive to the bucket. They draw fouls at a decent rate so Villanova will need to be wary on defense. This may be a game where Villanova's help defense thrives, given the lack of shooters on the roster for Asheville (and the low volume of threes that they take).
On defense, Asheville tries to use their lack of size to their advantage. They'll extend well out to the three-point line and try to pressure their opponents in to mistakes and/or bad shots. They want to get out and run as much as possible and create easy transition points.
Never say never, but the Bulldogs wouldn't appear to have a formula that can beat Villanova. Their ability to play pressure defense may be a cause for concern given Villanova's struggles against Seton Hall's pressure on Saturday night, but they don't have nearly the caliber of athlete at their disposal. Instead they will try to over-extend and force teams into tough shots. Villanova might take that bait early, but their superior ball movement will likely gash the defense eventually.
The Wildcats have struggled against teams with athletic guards that can penetrate and finds open shooters, but Asheville doesn't have the shooters to make them pay. Their lack of size presents a big problem defensively as well, and Daniel Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds could be in for a field day if Villanova can stay disciplined with their shot selection.