By Sean Kennedy
9:40 PM: #2 Villanova (29-4, 16-2 Big East) vs. #7 Connecticut (27-8, 12-6 AAC) – TBS
Former Big East rivals collide Saturday night when the Wildcats look to enact revenge on behalf of their Philadelphia brethren St. Joe’s and knock Connecticut out of the tournament. With this being just the first year the Huskies have moved to the new American conference, these teams still know each other extremely well from their recent intra-conference battles. Last season, Villanova defeated UConn by 9 in Connecticut, holding the Huskies’ dynamic guard tandem of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright to a combined 6 points on 3-15 shooting. If the Wildcats defense can even come close to approximating that sort of effort, Villanova will win in a rout.
Both teams advanced Thursday night despite off shooting nights from their respective leading scorers. The Hawks held Napier to 7-22 shooting, but he still went off during a key stretch in overtime to help put the game away for the Huskies. He’s the type of player with a short-term memory, and can hurt you at any time, no matter how his game has been going up to that point. Villanova will need James Bell to shake out of his recent slump; the senior is 0-13 from three over the previous two games, and with these two teams both relying heavily on the long ball, the Cats will need their most dangerous perimeter weapon locked and loaded.
With Napier off the mark in the St. Joe’s game, the Huskies supporting cast stepped up in a big way, with Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, and Niels Giffey combining to shoot 9-15 from behind the arc. All four of these guys are above-average three-point shooters and the Wildcats have struggled to defend the perimeter shot all season long (35.0% opposing 3PT%). I’m sure Jay Wright has beaten into the ground the last two days the importance of locating open Huskies around the outside. Nevertheless, what’s carried Villanova all season has been their depth, and I think that should carry the day again tonight. The Wildcats are legitimately 9 players deep, and when a guy like James Bell isn’t feeling it, there’s always someone like Kris Jenkins to step up and fill the void. Villanova can beat you with spot-up shooters, slashers to the hoop, or in the post with JayVaughn Pinkston. Ultimately, I don’t believe the Huskies will be able to stop everything and Jay Wright’s squad will advance to the Sweet 16.