Not Your Average 12 Seed

Kansas, the top seed in the Midwest, takes on a Villanova team with another upset on its mind. Phog.net takes a look at an interesting matchup on Friday in Detroit.

You’ll have to excuse us if we don’t embrace Villanova as your average warm and fuzzy 12 seed. First of all, the Wildcats hail from one of the nation’s best conferences (Big East), and no other school has more wins as an underdog seed than Nova (13). There are plenty of reasons NOT to take the Wildcats lightly, but for now Jay Wright’s team will continue to play the underdog card. However, Kansas knows better. This is a Nova team that suffered some tough losses but played solid ball down the stretch in the Big East conference. Wright’s club might just be playing its best ball at the most important time of the year.

This is a Villanova team that has been a work in progress for much of the year. Wright has had to battle inconsistency from game to game and sometimes even half to half. That’s what happens when first or second year players are logging over 65 percent of the minutes. But much like Kansas a few years ago, this squad improved leaps and bounds as the year progressed. While Wright has been waiting for players like Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, and Dwayne Anderson, to hit their stride it hasn’t always been easy for Nova. The Wildcats might just lead the nation in heart-breaking losses (NC State, Georgetown to name two), and once again the Cats find themselves nursing a key injury. Leading rebounder Casiem Drummond is out for the remainder of the season after undergoing ankle surgery. Its not in this team’s nature to fret about the disappoints, Wright’s Cats worked to finish 9-9 in conference and one thing’s for sure – his team plays with exceptional passion.

On the defensive end of the floor Nova suffered some suspect performances during the season specifically during a five-game skid during the latter part of January, early part of February. In a stretch that began January 23, Nova gave up an average of 80.5 ppg. But things have turned around in Wildcat country. The Cats are 9-4 in their last 13 games and allowing just a stingy 65.6 ppg.  It gets even better during the last six games, a stretch where the Cats have gone 5-1, and have only given up more than 70 twice – once in a loss to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament, and once in their second round win vs. Siena (72).

“I think the thing that stands out first and foremost is how hard they play and how hard they compete,” said KU head coach Bill Self. “They take great pride in getting 78 or 80% of the 50/50 balls. They steal extra possessions for their team. I think they're not good defensively, I think they're great defensively and they're getting better. They have interchangeable parts defensively. So you could have a 6'8" guy guarding a point, you could have a 6' guy guarding a center. They're tough enough they can do that and be effective doing it.”

It is a versatile Nova team on defense and one that’s built on its perimeter players on offense. That offense is led by 6-2 Scottie Reynolds (16.0 ppg, 3.3 apg). Reynolds was set to go to Oklahoma but when Kelvin Sampson departed, Reynolds asked out of his letter-of-intent and ended up in Philadelphia. He’s been a star for the Wildcats for two years and the Nova offense operates at its optimal level when the 2007 Big East Rookie of the Year has the ball. Scottie has scored 20+ in all three NCAA tournament games and will be the focal point for Kansas.

“Scottie, from the outside looking in, he takes great pride in having the ball in his hands as much as possible,” said Self. “He wants to make the pass to finish the play. He wants to make the pass to start the play. He wants to shoot the ball to finish the play. He is a guy that wants the ball in his hands.”

“Scottie does remind me of D.J. (Augustin) a lot,” said Russell Robinson when asked if Reynolds reminds of the Texas Longhorn guard. “He has the ball in his hands a lot. He can get a shot any time. It's going to take concentrated effort from everybody to guard. You gotta come out with a lot of energy against him. We've been successful when we've done that in the past.”

But there is a danger in making Reynolds the sole defensive focus.

“When you put so much emphasis on stopping him, he's plenty good enough to make others better and look really good. And he's tough. You can't underestimate how tough he is. The way that defenses try to defend him, still yet he has great success,” Self added.

Most Kansas fans remember the last time these two teams met. KU made the trip to Philadelphia as the number two team in the nation and left with an embarrassing 83-62 loss.

“They were great at jab series, really being able to beat their man off the bounce and that kind of stuff,” Self said referring to the last time the two teams met. “This team is like that also. They're young. They're going to get better and better at it. I think they have great individual talent. They know their roles. They spread the floor offensively. They make it really hard to help from different positions. When they're making shots, they're awful hard to defend because they really spread you out.”

The magic number to keep an eye on if you’re a Kansas fan is eight. When the Wildcats make eight or more three-pointers, they are 16-1. Like it was against UNLV, defending the three-point line will be a priority for KU.

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