By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
#2 Villanova vs. #7 Iowa
Villanova handled its business against 15-seed UNC-Asheville, and now faces a Hawkeyes squad that just denied Philadelphia hoops fans a Big 5 contest in the NCAA tournament by knocking off Temple. While Wildcats fans may wish to underestimate Iowa for barely scraping past the Owls, after Villanova easily handled Temple on the road earlier this season, they should remember that this Hawkeyes club was a top-5 team for about a month this year. If Jay Wright’s squad is to throw that “getting out of the 2nd round” monkey off their back, they will have earned it.
The Wildcats may wish to crank up the pressure defense Sunday afternoon; the main reason Iowa was able to defeat Temple despite a poor shooting day was the fact they only committed a total of 3 turnovers in a 45-minute, overtime contest. Iowa averages 10 giveaways per game on the season, and those takeaways leading to transition offense are so often what propel big runs for the Wildcats.
As they did against Temple, the Hawkeyes will lean on the senior leadership of Jarrod Uthoff, who shot just 7-21 against the Owls, but still finished with 23 points. Fortunately for Villanova, they have plenty of rangy defenders to throw at the 6’9″ forward, such as Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Mikal Bridges; that’s key given that so many different guys will be on Uthoff as they drop back into their zone defense.
Ultimately, Villanova has the depth and versatility to deal with any team in the country and Iowa is certainly no exception. If the Wildcats are knocking down their shots at even a normal clip, they should have no problem moving on to next weekend. Look for Jay Wright and company to silence the critics and make their long-awaited return to the Sweet 16.
#8 Saint Joseph’s vs. #1 Oregon
After the Hawks made like Steve McQueen and had a great escape in the first round against Cincinnati, they’ll experience a huge step up in the level of competition against top seed Oregon. The 28-6 Ducks are basically kicking off their NCAA tournament today, after easily dispatching a below .500 Holy Cross team in the first round.
Oregon is a deep, well-balanced team with 4 players averaging double digits in scoring this year, led by a pair of 6’6″ wings in Dillon Brooks and Elgin Cook. Tyler Dorsey is the team’s top three-point threat at 42.5% on the season.
Defensively, the Ducks have not one, but two guys who have held the single-season school blocks record in 6’10” senior Chris Boucher and 6’8″ forward Jordan Bell. Boucher is 3rd in the nation in blocks per game this season (3.0 bpg). While the Hawks may have a hard time finishing around the paint, they may be best served with a long-distance attack. Opponents have shot 35.9% from three against the Ducks, a perimeter defense that’s among the bottom third in the nation.
DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles can go toe-to-toe in terms of size and athleticism against the Ducks, but the rest of the St. Joe’s roster does not present an even match for the depth Oregon brings to the table. The Hawks may wish to adopt the “David” strategy, and go early and often with the high-variance three-point attack, hoping they have a hot-shooting night. Phil Martelli’s squad has made a great run these past couple weeks, but shooting down the Ducks will be a tall task.