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Preview: #2 Villanova Wildcats vs. #15 Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens

The ‘Cats kick off their NCAA Tournament campaign against Dylan Painter and the Blue Hens

The #2 Villanova Wildcats will take on the #15 Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens in Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon (2:45pm) in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Hens, who finished 10-8 in the CAA, ripped off three straight wins as the 5-seed in the CAA Tournament - including a 13-point win over #1 Towson - to steal the auto-bid.

The Blue Hens’ last tournament appearance was in 2014 when they were bounced in the first round by the Michigan State Spartans. Weird fact: Delaware has appeared in the NIT once (2000) and lost to...Villanova. Villanova leads the head-to-head series 11-0.

Syndication: Wilmington News Journal William Bretzger / Delaware News Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The immediate storylines of this match-up are already well documented. First, the Blue Hens count Villanova transfer Dylan Painter among their flock. Second, head coach Martin Ingelsby is the son of Villanova legend - and Jay Wright favorite - Tom Ingelsby. Finally, though not a Villanova connection, Jameer Nelson Jr. - son of St. Joe’s star Jameer Nelson - is the leading scorer for the Blue Hens.

I guess I will have to dig up some more obscure (read: less interesting) storylines for this preview.

As always, let’s start with the basics.

The University of Delaware is located in Newark, Delaware and, for being located in such a tiny state, boasts over 18,000 undergraduate students. Here are some fun facts about the University of Delaware:

  • It was the first school to offer a study abroad program.
  • The Blue Hen is the Delaware state bird but, interestingly, is not native to the United States.
  • Three members of the school’s original class (10 total students) signed the Declaration of Independence.

Can you believe this website is free?

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are obviously the school’s most recognizable alumni but let me hit you with some random ones:

  • Former Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy
  • Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir
  • Taylor Swift’s dad Scott Swift

The gang is ALL here.

So, we know Delaware. But Delawho? Delawhat? Delawhy? Let’s dive in.

Let’s start with the Blue Hens’ strength: their offense. While Delaware is not the most athletic team, it is a disciplined and methodical squad - sort of like Villanova. The Blue Hens are incredibly balanced with six players averaging 9+ points per game. They are efficient inside the arc and can get to the line. Like Villanova, they play slow and drag out possessions. While they do not turn the ball over, they generate few second chance opportunities. Villanova should be able to win the battle on the boards and keep Delaware one-and-done on the offensive end.

Syndication: Wilmington News Journal William Bretzger / Delaware News Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

As with any early tournament match-up, the concern is three-point shooting. Nothing frightens a single digit seed like a mid-major that can shoot. Well, Delaware is about middle of the road in that regard. The Blue Hens rank 92nd in 3P% and three players (Jameer Nelson, Kevin Anderson, and Ryan Allen) put up at least 4 attempts a game. For reference, Justin Moore averages about 6 three-point attempts a game. While the Blue Hens have not traditionally relied on the three, I expect that, by necessity, they’ll take the shots if they’re available. Jameer Nelson, Jr. is shooting a hair over 36% from deep while Ryan Allen is sitting at just over 34%. If Villanova is able to shut down Delaware’s Plan A - to score in the paint - I do not expect the Blue Hens to be hesitant in testing their luck from deep.

On the defensive end, the Blue Hens struggle mightily to defend the perimeter - something the Wildcats should be able to exploit. The Blue Hens lack the athleticism to stretch their defense and Villanova should have no issue generating open shots from deep. Delaware ranks 256th in 3P% defense but top-100 inside the arc - like the Blue Hens’ offense, the defense is relatively one-dimensional.

Syndication: Wilmington News Journal William Bretzger / Delaware News Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Delaware backcourt consists of Jameer Nelson, Jr. (6’1), Ryan Allen (6’2) and Ryan Anderson (6’5). Villanova’s stronger and thicker (#thicc) guards should be able to create off the dribble, especially in the post. Dylan Painter (6’10) and, to a lesser extent, Andrew Carr (6’9) represent the entirety of Delaware’s size and post presence. This game should be a great opportunity for the Wildcats to get Eric Dixon back on track after a difficult Big East Tournament.

One player to watch on Delaware is freshman forward Jyare Davis (6’7). Davis, a transfer from Providence, was injured in practice during the pandemic-shortened season and did not see any action for the Friars. He later elected to transfer to Delaware where he was expected to slowly be worked into the rotation. When Dylan Painter suffered an ankle injury in January, Davis began seeing heavy minutes. Since then, he’s tallied double-digit points in 13 straight games and averaged 16 points per game in the conference tournament.

Overall, while Delaware is balanced, the ‘Cats have solid defenders at every position. If Villanova can force Delaware into taking poor shots - and splash a few of their own on the other end - the ‘Cats should be able to escape this match-up without incident.

The game tips off at 2:45 pm on CBS.

Syndication: Wilmington News Journal William Bretzger / Delaware News Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK