#2 Villanova Wildcats (29-4) vs. #7 Connecticut Huskies (26-8)
When: Saturday, March 22, 9:40 p.m.
Where: First Niagara Center, Buffalo, NY
How They Got In: At-Large Bid
Key Players for UConn: #13 Shabazz Napier (6-1, 180) Sr., G; #11 Ryan Boatright (6-0, 168) Jr., G; #2 DeAndre Daniels (6-9, 195) Jr., F
Scouting Report:UConn got into a close game against St. Joe’s that went into overtime. St. Joe’s was close to pulling the upset, does that mean Villanova shouldn’t be so worried? Not if the tandem of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright can help it. They have been partners in crime at UConn. Two skilled guards that can go off at anytime. Boatwright’s production may have dropped a little bit this season, but he is still pretty good. Napier has picked up the slack and has been a leader for this Huskie squad. Napier had 24 points in the game against St. Joe’s and came up big in overtime. The media gives him most of the attention, but it’s Batman and Robin. Napier will do most of the damage, but that doesn’t mean you can sag off from Boatright. Boatright’s numbers took a small decline, but he still averages 12 points per game. He can do a little of everything, offensively he has a skill set that is similar to Napier’s. Napier is the top scorer and rebounder for UConn, averaging 17.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He is a great at creating space for himself. He is quick, shifty, has excellent handles and loves to attack the basket. Napier is primarily a slasher-type guard, but that does not mean opposing teams should sleep on him when he is around the perimeter. If he gets a nice look from long range, he will take the shot and he can knock it down. He is shooting 38.3% from beyond the arc. He will take a high number of shots, some will be questionable and forced. Another flaw for Napier is that he can turn the ball over quite a bit. He averages 2.8 turnovers per game. Defensively, Napier and Boatright are talented defenders around the perimeter. They close down on shots effectively. Combined, they average 3.2 steals per game. However, there’s more to the team than just the Napier-Boatright combination. DeAndre Daniels has played very well throughout the season, and has turned it up recently. Daniels makes it more of a trifecta of him, Napier, and Boatright. Daniels provides a lot of matchup problems, he is a 6’9″ forward that can do everything. He’s the second highest scorer, averaging 12.7 points per game. He prefers to take it inside, but he can take and make the three. He is shooting 46.7% overall and 43.9% from long range. He is a solid rebounder, and is aggressive on defense. Also keep an eye out for Niels Giffey and Amida Brimah. Giffey is a guard that can also play forward. He is a three point threat. Over half of his shot attempts come from long range. Giffey has sunk 52.4% of his three point shots. He can be overlooked, but once the threes start falling for UConn, he cannot be ignored. Brimah contributes productive minutes off the bench. At 7’0″, he adds a lot of size inside. He can grab boards and cause problems for opposing teams in the paint.
Outlook: UConn has a lot of talent. They have a number of players who can score. In the game against St. Joe’s, four different players scored in the double digits. Villanova may be the higher rated team, but UConn is tougher than what the rating suggests. The American Conference was undervalued and underrated in this tournament. UConn is only one of two teams to defeat top-ranked Florida. The Wildcats need to start with containing Napier. He is the catalyst for the Huskies; he scores, he passes, and he rebounds. The Wildcats cannot afford another slow start. They can get away with that against Milwaukee, but UConn simply has more talent that it just will not fly. If the Wildcats want to win this, they will have to continue the good defensive effort and the free throw shooting from the previous game. Their offense also needs to hit the ground running from the opening tip-off. Whether it be from long range or by taking it inside, anything will do, just as long as the shots fall. It was good to see that Villanova can win a game in the paint, not just with the three. I think UConn will give Villanova a hard time, it should be an interesting matchup.