#1 Villanova Wildcats (32-2) vs. #16 Lafayette Leopards (20-12)
When: Thursday, March 19, 2015, at 6:50 p.m.
Where: CONSOL Energy Center, Pittsburgh, PA
How They Got In: Won Patriot League Championship, Defeated American 65-63
Key Players for Lafayette: #20 Dan Trist (6-9, 234) Sr., F; #11 Nick Lindner (5-11, 166) So., G; #12 Seth Hinrichs (6-8, 223) Sr., F
Record vs. Common Opponents: 4-2
- Won vs. Penn 83-77 at home on November 22
- Won vs. N.J.I.T. 76-71 at home on December 28
- Won 2 of 3 games against Bucknell
- Lost at Bucknell 79-69 on January 7
- Won at home in OT 84-74 on February 4
- Won at Bucknell in Conf. Tournament 80-74 on March 8
- Split series with Lehigh
- Lost at home 75-71 on January 24
- Won at Lehigh 63-61 on February 23
Scouting Report: This is pretty much the same Lafayette team that Villanova faced a year ago in a close season opener. The Wildcats used a late surge to gut it out, but the small school from Easton, PA gave them a run for their money for a large portion of the game. The Leopards have retained all of the same core guys from last year. Now that they are a year older and more experienced, expect them to be much better this time around. Leading the way is the big man from Down Under, Dan Trist. Trist leads the Leopards in scoring and rebounding, with 17.3 points per game and 6.7 boards per game. He is a traditional post-up player who also has a decent mid-range jump shot. Although he was kept quiet in the conference championship game, he had two 20 point games and a double-double in the three games before that. He is capable of a big time performance due to his strength and technique in the paint when it comes to scoring and rebounding. He isn’t the best defender, but he can sure light you up on offense. He shouldered an immense load last season when Seth Hinrichs was out. When Hinrichs missed ten games last season due to injury, his team could not win a single game. That’s how important Hinrichs is. He plays the four, although he can play a number of other positions. He can play the guard or the wing as well. He’s a matchup nightmare waiting to happen. He has the speed and the shooting skills to burn slower big men, but also the size and strength to outplay smaller guards. Hinrichs can stretch out the floor with his sweet three point shot, he has drained 39.2% of his long range attempts. The senior forward averaged 13.1 points per game during the regular season and 5.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore Nick Lindner is a true point guard, who is adept at facilitating the offense. Last season, Lindner became the first starting freshman Lafayette point guard since 1997. Lindner entered this year coming off of a solid season that included All-Patriot League Rookie Team honors. He has certainly improved from last year. He averaged 12.8 points per game and a team-high 5.4 assists per game. Lindner also has a good three-point shot, shooting 40% beyond the arc. However, no long range shot compares to Joey Ptasinki‘s. Ptasinki is among Lafayette’s all-time greats as a three-point shooter. He is lights out from the perimeter and opposing teams are not going to want to give him space. Once he gets hot, he can change the face of the game dramatically. If you thought Hinrichs and Lindner were good, he leads the team with a three-point shooting percentage of 45.6%. Over 70% of his shots come from long range. Also keep an eye out for Bryce Scott. Scott is a combo guard that is the perfect last piece to the puzzle. He does a little of everything. He can run the point, score, rebound, and play defense. Scott is one of Lafayette’s better defenders. He is important in that regard, since he is on a team that can score but not play defense. The Leopards are ranked 312th in the NCAA in points allowed. In defensive categories such as steals and blocks, they are rated at least 249th or worse in either category. Offensively, they’re one of the best. Lafayette averages 74.2 points per game (34th best). However, it is their offensive efficency that grabs the most attention. As a team, they shoot 48.8% overall – eighth best in the NCAA. As for three-point shooting, their remarkable 41.3% from long range is tied for the second best in the nation.
Outlook: If we thought last year’s Creighton squad was great at shooting three pointers with Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge, this team is even better. Lafayette lives and rarely dies by the three. In past seasons, Villanova has shown instances where they struggle to contain three-point shooting teams. Last season, we saw the same Lafayette starting five drain 11 threes on a cold-shooting Villanova. Once James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston took over midway through the second half, it was over, but it was a bit scary. While Lafayette has gotten better since then, Villanova has evolved exponentially. The development of Daniel Ochefu has been huge for the Wildcats, adding an interior scoring presence. The Wildcats become less reliant on the long range ball. It’ll be up to JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu to make a difference inside. Lafayette isn’t the best rebounding team and they also do not have size. Dan Trist at 6’9″ is their tallest player. They have three guys who are all 6’10”, but they don’t get to play much. Pinkston and Ochefu will have to control the paint and in doing so, it’ll open up the perimeter. I’d like to see most of the workload go through them at the beginning. As for the guards, Dylan Ennis, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Darrun Hilliard are going to have to play lockdown defense on the perimeter. They’ve shown that they can take away the three ball effectively this season, they’ll need to do it again. I’m also excited to see what Josh Hart will bring after such a great Big East Tournament performance. Villanova will win, let’s get to the round of 32 already.