No. 12 Villanova Wildcats (3-1) are finally out of Bubbleville and heading down to Austin. After a win against the Hartford Hawks to recalibrate themselves after a tough loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies, they’ll prepare for a much tougher opponent.
The No 17-ranked Texas Longhorns (4-0) enter Sunday with tons of momentum following their Maui Invitational title, beating Davidson, Indiana, and a dramatic championship showdown with North Carolina in consecutive days.
Sunday’s game is scheduled to tip-off at 1 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPN.
Second choice ... for a reason?
Maybe he’s moved on, maybe not, but let’s play up the revenge narrative for Courtney Ramey, who will be facing Jay Wright and Co. for the first time since high school. Ramey, a consensus four-star and top 50 prospect coming out of basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy (Va.), was being recruited by Villanova — one of its key guard targets until the Wildcats were able to nab Jahvon Quinerly. Quinerly eventually found his way to Alabama, while Ramey donned the burnt orange and took his talents to Texas. He’s played a big role since his arrival and has only gotten better with each year. Through four games this season, the athletic Ramey is averaging 15.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.0 steals.
He’s part of a dangerous backcourt tandem alongside Matt Coleman III, the Longhorns’ top scorer from last season. An experienced guard, he’s started in every single Texas game since he first set foot on the court as a freshman in 2017. A solid scorer and facilitator, Coleman can score from nearly anywhere on the court and has improved from beyond the arc with each passing year. The senior guard was the hero in the Maui Invitational final against North Carolina, scoring a game-high 22 points, including the stepback game-winner at the buzzer. He enters Sunday averaging 16.3 points and 5.0 assists per game.
It’s not havoc, but pretty close
Head coach Shaka Smart retired the “Havoc” defense he was so well-known for during his time at VCU. While he chose to leave that suffocating, uptempo style of defense behind, his team still has the hard-nosed, bulldog mentality on that end of the court. The Longhorns don’t press 24/7/365, nor do they generate as many turnovers as Smart’s VCU teams once did, but they still stand tall and tough on defense.
Although it’s a small sample size, the early returns are phenomenal. According to KenPom, Texas is ranked the second-best team in Division I on adjusted defensive efficiency. The Longhorns have held opponents to an effective field goal percentage of just 38.8% (12th in the country). They have the athletic guards to clamp down on the perimeter, where opponents are shooting a meager 20.3% from deep (top 20 in the country). They also boast solid rim protectors, holding teams to just 41.9% inside the arc (top 40 in the country).
Youth and experience
While Coleman and Ramey stand out, this is far from a two-man show. Smart likes to roll nine-deep this season, and he’s got a nice blend of experienced players and talented young guys that are stepping into bigger roles.
Five-star prospect Greg Brown is making an immediate impact as a freshman, averaging 8.5 points and a team-best 7.0 rebounds to start. An Austin native, the 6-foot-9 big man excelled at shooting the three-ball in high school, on top of all the other traditional forward duties. So far, he’s 1-for-15 from deep, but he’s bound to break out of that slump eventually, right? Redshirt sophomore Brock Cunningham adds a bit of everything off the bench — shooting, rebounding, and a few points here and there.
Also keep an eye out for the Joneses. Both Kai Jones and Andrew Jones are averaging in double figures so far. Kai, a 6-foot-11 sophomore big man, is tough inside, averaging 10.8 points and 5.8 rebounds. Meanwhile, Andrew is a feel-good story. It’s his fifth year on the team, but he’s technically classified as a redshirt junior. He overcame leukemia which set him back in 2018 and 2019, but he’s bounced back since. Last year, he played his first full season and averaged 11.5 points per game. This year, he’s averaging 10.0 points and also adds a bit of everything to the court.
Last but not least, there’s also Jericho Sims, a 6-foot-10 senior that adds another imposing frontcourt presence. His best asset is his rebounding and defense, but he can chip in some points and can certainly throw down dunks.