The Villanova Wildcats enter the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as the No. 1 one seed in the East and the No. 2 team in the country. Their first game is Thursday, March 15, against No. 16 seed Radford. The Wildcats are coming off a huge Big East tournament win in overtime against Providence that gave them their third championship in four years.
With six Big East teams in the NCAA tournament, this strong conference gave Villanova a good warmup for their future postseason games. The Wildcats hope to repeat their 2016 year and win the whole NCAA tournament in 2018.
I watched Villanova beat Butler and Providence last weekend in the Big East tournament. Here are three things you should know about the Wildcats heading into the Big Dance.
Villanova has a balanced attack.
In the Big East tournament semifinals against Butler, all of the Wildcats’ starters scored in double digits. They went on a 19-0 run to start the game and ended up winning by 19. Butler coach LaVall Jordan said afterward, “If they play like that, they’ll be playing for a long time in March.” He went on to say that Villanova “has a shooter at every position.” If you see the Wildcats starters all scoring, you can expect them to dominate in the NCAA tournament the same way they did in the Big East.
Keep track of the Killer B’s: Bridges, Brunson, and Booth.
Mikal Bridges, a 6’7” junior who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament, is excellent on both sides of the ball. He averaged 17.6 points per game this season for Villanova and had 51 steals on defense. Butler coach Jordan said that Bridges is a “really, really good player, obviously a lottery pick,” and noted, “He presents a real challenge, just matching with him on one end but disrupting your flow offensively on the other. And he recovers so well defensively with his length.”
Jalen Brunson, a 6’3” junior who, like Bridges, was a first-team All–Big East player, is an amazing three-point shooter and is a big part of the leadership of the Wildcats. According to Providence coach Ed Cooley, Brunson is “the best player in college basketball. Added Cooley, “He's terrific. He guards. He makes big, big, big shots.” Brunson is extremely composed and stays calm in late-game situations.
Said Villanova coach Jay Wright, “[Xavier coach] Chris Mack had the greatest line. He said, If you pull down the skin on [Brunson’s] face, there would be wires behind it. He's so focused on the game. He's on another level. He really is. And it's what makes him great.”
Phil Booth, another 6’3” junior, is usually overlooked because of Bridges and Brunson, but is also a key leader on the team. He recently suffered a hand injury and just made it back for the Big East tournament. Look out for Booth, along with Bridges and Brunson, as Villanova makes a run in March Madness.
The Wildcats are unselfish and fundamentally sound.
The players continually rotate the ball around to all their teammates. In addition, unlike other teams, all their players can play in the post, so their big men do not have to stay near the basket. Other teams’ guards are forced to play defense in the post against Villanova’s guards.
Butler coach Jordan called Villanova “the most fundamentally sound team that we face.” If the Wildcats goes up by many points in a game, it will be very hard for any team to come back against them because of their talent in all the fundamental aspects of the game, like offensive rebounding, blocked shots, and ball movement.
Villanova takes on Radford in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday at 6:50 p.m. ET on TNT.
Photographs by (from top): Steven Ryan/Getty Images (Brunson); M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images (Bridges)