Villanova defeated UNC Asheville 86-56 yesterday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Daniel Ochefu stepped up to provide a dominant inside presence. The 6 –foot-11 senior finished with a double double of 17 points, 10 rebounds to go along with 4 assists and 3 blocks.
Last week in the Big East tournament, Ochefu was limited in tournament play due to a sprained ankle. Without his 6-foot-11 presence inside, the Wildcats had to rely on their perimeter game. Shooting only 8-of-23 from behind the arc in the final against Seton Hall, the Wildcats did not have much inside presence with Ochefu only able to play 19 minutes.
Ochefu helped relieve pressure for Villanova’s shooters by forcing UNC Asheville to defend the inside game too in their trapping 1-3-1 zone. The Wildcats knocked down a remarkable 13 3-pointers just in the game to finish 46.4% from beyond the arc and go 57.9% on field goal percentages.
Ryan Arcidiacono finished with 14 points as Kris Jenkins and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 12 apiece. Josh Hart and Arcidiacono each added four assists. Bridges also grabbed four boards. Jalen Brunson and Hart added 10 and 9 points, respectively.
The big question on many peoples’ minds is if this is the year Villanova breaks their March Madness bad luck. The last three seasons the Wildcats won three regular-season Big East titles, were seeded No. 2 twice and No.1 once in the NCAA tournament, and went 92-13. This year, just like past years Villanova has a Final Four caliber team. However, they have the potential to get upset like the past two years depending on which Villanova team shows up to play.
As we saw in the Big East final loss to Seton Hall, anything is still possible for Villanova. They rely heavily on their perimeter game and rank only No. 24 nationally beyond the arc for three-point attempts. The past two years, Villanova’s Achilles heels was their shooting, going 20-of-59 for a shocking 33% from three-point range.
Hopefully this year with junior forward Kris Jenkins stepping up to provide a forth shooting option with three elite guards in senior Ryan Arciadacono, freshman Jalen Brunson, and Big East first team player Josh Hart, Villanova will provide a threat hard to beat. The Wildcats are No. 6 nationally on two-point attempts, shooting 56.4% of their attempts this season.
Tomorrow is the real challenge as Villanova plays in the round of 32. Villanova has not made the Sweet Sixteen since 2009. Next the Wildcats play No. 7 seed Iowa tomorrow in the round of 32. The Hawkeyes have lost of five of their last seven NCAA tournament games and six of their last nine games this season. They defeated Philly foe Temple last night 72-70 in overtime on a last second finish behind a strong performance by four seniors. Villanova and Iowa tip off at 12:10pm tomorrow at the Barclays Center. The game will be shown on CBS too.