#2 Villanova Wildcats (28-4) vs. #15 Milwaukee Panthers (21-13)
When: Thursday, March 20, 9:25 p.m.
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, NY
How They Got In: Won Horizon Conference Championship, defeated Wright State 69-63
Key Players for Milwaukee: #1 Jordan Aaron (5-10, 160) Sr., G; #31 Matt Tiby (6-8, 230) So., F; #34 Austin Arians (6-6, 200) So., F
Scouting Report: Milwaukee has had an interesting ride to the Big Dance. They’ve had their shares of ups and downs this season. Winning streaks followed by losing streaks of similar length. However, they peaked at the right time, taking over the tournament by storm. They upset top seeded Green Bay, who was pretty much in control of the Horizon Conference for the season. From there they took down Wright State in the finals to solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament. Who helped them get there? Simple, Jordan Aaron. Aaron may be small and undersized, but he can play. Standing only 5’10”, he has come up with some big games. He has put the team on his back for numerous occasions throughout the season. In the game against Green Bay, he was there for every minute on the floor, leading his team to victory with a 28 point performance. His game is reminiscent of Nate Robinson, a small guard that gets the job done, despite his size. In the film and highlights I’ve seen of him, he is fearless. He has that toughness and grit to compensate for his size. He is not afraid to drive into the lane and finish with a hand or two in his face, but he can also beat you outside. He has a steady jumpshot and is comfortable scoring from anywhere. He is shifty and quick, defenders cannot afford to be pushed back on their heels or else he will make them pay. He is Milwaukee’s heart and soul, he gets the team going. Aaron averages 15.0 points per game and is shooting 35.6% from beyond the arc. He is also pretty good from the free throw line, completing 81.2% of his foul shots. Inside, Kyle Kelm and Matt Tiby are the main men in the paint. They both average approximately 12 points per gam each, and are a good tandem inside. Tiby is the top rebounder for the Panthers, averaging 6.6 rebounds per game. Kelm is a step behind with 5.2 rebounds per game. Kelm and Tiby are mainly assets on the offensive side, they are not imposing defensive threats inside. In fact, no one on the Panthers averages one block or more per game. Keep an eye on Tiby, he will actually shoot from the perimeter at times and make it. He has made 22 three pointers off of 71 attempts throughout the season (31%). Another perimeter threat is forward Austin Arians. Over half of Arians’ shot attempts come from beyond the arc. He is the next threat from long range after Aaron. Aaron takes many more shots but Arians boasts the higher percentage from long range. Arians has a team-high 36.5 three point shooting percentage. Also keep an eye out for Steve McWhorter. McWhorter is the point guard and facilitator of the offense. He gets his guys good looks, with a team high 4.0 assists per game. He does a little of everything, but is not a huge scoring threat. Outside of the starting lineup, the Panthers are not that deep. They also do not seem to really have a threat on the bench that could disrupt things.
Outlook: It’s finally here, the NCAA Tournament. All the hard work and time put in during the season culminates to the opportunity to make it to the exclusive club of 68. While Villanova has exceeded all expectations up to this point, Milwaukee has too. Milwaukee was selected to finish in dead last in the Horizon League’s preseason polls. Aaron was suspended late in the season for a number of games. Despite what expectations others have placed for them, the Panthers quieted critics down by not only defeating the top team in the conference, but also landing a spot in the Big Dance. They are also fighting to prove a point, so expect them to come out guns blazing. However, as my high school coach used to always say, “The emotion and that fired up feeling only lasts for the first ten minutes of the game. Once the adrenaline wears off, it’s time to really play ball.” Milwaukee simply does not have the talent to keep up with the Wildcats. Villanova has many different weapons, and I am sure they do not want a repeat of what happened in New York. The Panthers are not strong defensively as they are offensively. They are not that physical or tough defensively. If the shots are not falling down from long range, the Wildcats should have a field day when they drive into the lane or finishing around the basket. That should also translate defensively, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu should be just fine defending the paint. For the Wildcats, it is about shutting down Jordan Aaron. Milwaukee is 4-8 in games where Aaron logs 10 points or less. They need to test what the other guys can do.
Since it is now tournament time, it is imperative that the Wildcats make their free throws. It finally came back and bit the Wildcats in the Seton hall game. As everyone knows, teams that cannot close out games by knocking down the crucial free throws, are bound to be eliminated. On a much more positive, optimistic note, the Wildcats offer hope for going far this year. So far this season, every time the Wildcats lose to a Big East opponent, they follow it up with a six game winning streak. Six. Just some food for thought…