(2) Villanova WIldcats 29-4 (16-2)
KenPom: 7th (19th Offense, 12th Defense)
Survive and Advance, it's the name of the game. UConn epitomized the cliché on Thursday night against Saint Joseph's, doing everything it could to force overtime and eventually outlasting a well-coached, senior-laden Hawks team. The best part of that game was to see the Husky's role players not just step up, but ultimately carry UConn into an extra period where Shabazz Napier shook off some poor play in regulation to close the game.
In the 3rd round, a new challenge awaits in the 2 seeded Villanova Wildcats. In a battle between two of the best dressed coaches in the sport in Kevin Ollie and Jay Wright, UConn and Villanova look to rekindle the old Big East rivalry. On paper, the Wildcats aren't an overwhelmingly talented team by any means, but what this team does better than anything is win. Quite a deep team led by an array big guards, Nova can solidly score the basketball and shoot the 3. 6'6 Sophomore Darrun Hilliard, their leading scorer in a second round win over (15) UW Milwaukee is the most threatening player from deep, shooting about 41% on the year.
Two players on Villanova that offer some matchup problems for UConn are seniors James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston. Bell, a 6'6 guard, is their leading scorer at 14.5 points per game and will be a tough matchup for Lasan Kromah. He will presumebly be assigned to guard Shabazz Napier, who has only scored a total of 10 points in 3 career games against Villanova. Pinkston, who was a freshman during Scottie Reynolds' 40 point game at Gampel Pavilion in 2007 (probably) is a work horse power forward that will be a physical matchup for either DeAndre Daniels or Niels Giffey. He's a great rebounder that could be a pest on the Huskies' front court.
The Wildcats, however, are one of the worst teams in the country at defending the 3 point line. They allow teams to shoot 35% from long range, good for 217th in the country. UConn will most definitely get its fair share of open looks, so a key in this game will be for the Huskies to knock down open 3's. Ryan Boatright, Daniels, and Giffey were a combined 9-16 (56%) from 3 against St. Joseph's, and if this hot shooting continues from UConn's key role players, the Huskies will be in good shape.
When asked if this UConn team could make a run like the 2011 team, most experts have said it is highly unlikely. They have said Shabazz doesn't have a Jeremy Lamb, an Alex Oriakhi, a Roscoe Smith. They have said the supporting cast in 2011 gave Kemba Walker just enough to win a National Championship, and UConn in 2014 does not have enough around Shabazz Napier. After Thursday night, however, it is possible that what Shabazz does have in Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, Amida Brimah, Lasan Kromah, and Niels Giffey might just suffice. These players surrounding Shabazz might just give the team enough offensive rebounding, enough defensive stops, enough timely threes to complete a deep run in the tournament, or at least make it to the Garden.
UConn 80 Villanova 77