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Villanova women’s basketball NCAA Tournament preview: Wildcats vs. No. 13 Cleveland State

The Wildcats will face off against the Vikings in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Semifinals-Creighton vs Villanova David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats (28-6) will face off against the Cleveland State Vikings (30-4) on Saturday.

The game will be held on campus at the Finneran Pavilion at 5 p.m., and you can tune in on ESPNU, or the ESPN App. This is the first ever meeting between the teams in the NCAA Tournament.

The Cleveland State Vikings will be coming into this meeting with the Villanova Wildcats winners of 13 of their last 14 games, including a Horizon League championship.

The Vikings are led by dynamic junior Destiny Leo, who averages 17.7 points per game on an efficient 43.2% from the field. Brittni Moore, a 5-foot-10 forward from Memphis, Tenn., is another nice boost to the offense, chipping in 12.1 points and 6.3 rebounds to boot.

This is a deep team as well. The Vikings have nine players that average over 14 minutes per game. In addition to being deep, this is also a very lengthy team. The Vikings boast 10 different players that stand in at 5-10 and taller. A combination of size and depth tends to be a recipe for success in March, as it has been all year for the 30-win Vikings.

Cleveland State is ranked No. 69 in the NCAA NET Rankings, and are outscoring opponents by 17.1 points per game. Their best win came just a week ago, Mar. 7, when they took down the NET’s 61st ranked team (at the time) Green Bay, to win their conference tournament.

As for the Villanova Wildcats, if you are a men’s basketball fan just tuning in to support a Villanova team in March, well you are in luck. Here is a quick rundown, unless you have been living under a literal rock, you already know the story of Maddy Siegrist.

As good as Maddy is, this team is not just “Siegrist and her sidekicks.” These ladies are good.

Let’s start with Lucy Olsen. The 5-foot-9 sophomore was a 2023 All-Big East second team selection after posting 12.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the regular season. Olsen and Penn State transfer Maddie Burke comprise one of the better back courts in the entire field.

Moving on, Christina Dalce is a force to be reckoned with in the paint. The 6-foot-2 sophomore broke the 44-year old single season record for blocks, notching her 66th swat of the year against DePaul. Dalce averages 7.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game and is the anchor of this team down low.

The Wildcats have good depth as well. The unsung heroes of this team are the players like Brooke Mullin, Bella Runyan and Kaitlyn Orihel, who are extremely efficient role players, and the reason Villanova’s record looks the way it does. The trio of guards have appeared in all 34 games this year for the Wildcats and any of them can fill up the stat sheet any night.

Oh yeah, they also have Maddy Siegrist, who is the best player in the country.

This game will be one that the Wildcats should handle fairly easily. Villanova ranks No. 12 in the NET and is 16-0 against quadrant two and three teams this year. The have been battle tested in a tough conference and came out the other side playing extremely good basketball through adversity. Cleveland State gives up 13.1 more points on the road than they do at home, so expect Maddy Siegrist and company to get a lot of easy looks. Predicting a lopsided final score but then again, anything can happen in March.

The winner of this game will go on to face the winner of the Florida Gulf Coast-Washington State on Monday, Mar. 20. Villanova has never played either team in the tournament.