By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
The Villanova Wildcats have done everything possible to prove this team is as potent a unit as the squad that won the school’s second national championship last spring. A 31-3 record, Big East regular season and tournament championships, and the top overall seed are Exhibits A-D of why this year’s team is poised to make another magical run. Now, six more wins stand in between them and becoming the first school since Florida a decade ago to win it all in back-to-back seasons.
But in order for one lucky senior to receive Jim Nantz’s tie (to be clear, it would be Josh Hart), Jay Wright’s squad will have first have to go through a hellacious East bracket that includes Duke, Baylor, Florida, Virginia, SMU, and Wisconsin, all teams rated among the top-22 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s advanced ratings. Before they enter that gauntlet though, the Wildcats have to take care of business Thursday night against 16-seed Mount St. Mary’s.
The Mountaineers won their First Four game Tuesday night against New Orleans by the slimmest of margins, 67-66. 5’5″ point guard Junior Robinson led Mount St. Mary’s with 23 points, including hitting the go-ahead jumper with a minute and a half remaining. Averaging 14.3 ppg, Robinson is 2nd on the team in scoring behind 6-foot sophomore guard Elijah Long. Long averages team-highs in points (15.1), assists (4.4), and steals (1.6), but was neutralized by New Orleans on Tuesday with only 6 points and 4 assists.
Famously, no 16-seed has ever defeated a 1-seed in the tournament and with Villanova sitting as 27-point favorites, I don’t believe there’s any chance that run will be broken here. The Mountaineers are one of the worst offensive teams in the nation, shooting only 44.6% from the field; for comparison, Villanova has shot 49.7% on the season. The Wildcats’ weakness, if you even want to consider them having one, is a lack of depth in the frontcourt. However, Mount St. Mary’s only has two rotation players taller than 6’6″ and is the 11th-worst team in the entire country in terms of rebounding margin. There are teams out there who could hurt Villanova on the boards, but the Mountaineers are not one of them.
You never want to overlook an opponent, but let’s be honest, Thursday’s night game is little more than a tune-up for Jay Wright and company. Barring a catastrophically poor shooting performance, Villanova should have no trouble winning, and winning big. Then, they’ll move on to face the winner of Wisconsin and Virginia Tech Saturday, and the madness will really get underway.