By Lewis Gould
Villanova is headed into Thursday night’s Sweet 16 match-up with Miami in Louisville on the wings of:
First round: Defeated UNC Asheville, 86-56
Second round: Defeated Iowa, 79-58
The Wildcats finally exorcised their March demons, dominating Iowa in the second round after handling UNC Asheville in the opener.
But the main thing that separates this version of the Wildcats from the past is not the style — Nova is still relatively undersized and guard-oriented — but the personnel. The Wildcats lost three starters from last season’s team, and while plenty of talent departed the program, the pieces might fit a little better in 2015-16.
Freshman Jalen Brunson was added to the fold, and he gives the Wildcats another pure point guard alongside Ryan Arcidiacono. Josh Hart (above) had a breakout year replacing Darrun Hilliard, and Kris Jenkins can stretch the defense while also scoring inside. Mikal Bridges brings length and size on the wing that Villanova simply hasn’t had in the past.
Villanova is still predicated on what has made Jay Wright so successful since coming to the Main Line 15 years ago: guards, experience, toughness. The Wildcats have two seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup; guys that have been in big games before, and guys that have won 93 games the past three seasons.
They finally got over the hump of not getting out of the first weekend since 2009, and Sunday’s win over Iowa showed that Villanova might be hitting its stride again at the right time. If the Wildcats are running and the 3-pointers are falling, they’re as good as anyone in the country.
Quotable: “We’re like a Cinderella in here! We’re a No. 2 seed, but we were the underdog. We came in, everyone doubted us, wondered if we were gonna get past the second round. We might as well have been a 16-seed. No one gave us credit, but that’s why we don’t worry about the outside world. We focus on the guys that we have in this locker room, and we just came with that approach: that we’re the underdogs.”
— Villanova junior wing Josh Hart