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
“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.
Not Your Average 12 Seed
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