#2 Villanova Wildcats (29-5) vs. #15 UNC Asheville Bulldogs (22-11)
When: Friday, March 18, 2016, at 12:40 p.m.
Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, N.Y.
How They Got In: Won Big South Conference Tournament
Last Tournament Appearance: 2012, Lost to Syracuse in Opening Round
Key Players for UNC Asheville: #22 Dwayne Sutton (6-5, 195) Fr., G; #24 Dylan Smith (6-5, 170) Fr., G; #14 Ahmad Thomas (6-3, 205) So., G
Scouting Report: UNC Asheville is a young team. The Bulldogs have six upperclassmen on their roster and only one is in the starting lineup – senior forward Sam Hughes. UNC Asheville’s top four scorers are comprised of freshmen and sophomores. Aside from leaning on its youth, UNC Asheville is also very small. The tallest person in the Bulldogs’ starting lineup is 6-5, while Will Weeks provides the most size in their usual rotation at 6-6. Upperclassmen John Cannon and Giacomo Zilli are the biggest on the roster at 6-10 and 6-9, respectively, but neither player averages more than seven minutes on the court.
Much like Villanova, UNC Asheville likes to spread the ball around. The Bulldogs have a diverse and deep balanced attack. Five different players average at least 10 points per game. Leading the way is freshman Dylan Smith, who averaged 13.5 points per game this season. While the other players on the team tend to lean towards a more slasher type of interior play, Smith takes most of his shots from long range. He is the only one on the Bulldog squad to attempt more than a hundred shots from beyond the arc. In fact, 225 of his 353 attempts have come from the 3-point line, but he has only made 34.2% of those tries. Right behind Smith in scoring is Dwayne Sutton, who is coming off of a monster performance in the Big South Championship Game. Sutton racked up 25 points and 18 rebounds in the win. He’s a force on the glass, averaging a team-high 7.8 boards per game. Then there’s Kevin Vannatta, who is the team’s best 3-point shooter. Although he takes a more balanced approach on offense, his 37.9% shooting from long range is the best that the Bulldogs have to offer. When he’s open, he’s a threat to knock them down from deep.
In order to compensate for its lack of size, UNC Asheville likes to use a hard-nosed press to disorient opponents. The Bulldogs have found success on defense by creating turnovers and getting stops with their players swarming across the floor. Ahmad Thomas has flourished in this system, averaging a conference-best 2.1 steals per game. As a team, they boast the one of the best 3-point shooting defenses in the country, holding opposing teams to just 28.4% from beyond the arc (best in Division I). With a number of stretch forwards playing at the four and five positions, any man on the floor can close down on the perimeter and move fluidly on the floor. It is what helps them achieve one of the best three-point defenses in the country and also with the press.
Outlook: With UNC Asheville’s tallest starter coming in at 6-foot-5, this should open the floor up for big men Daniel Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds. When Ochefu has a distinct size advantage, he has shown his ability to take over inside and be dominant. This was made apparent especially in the earlier parts of the out-of-conference schedule. He said that his ankle is all better now, after tweaking it in practice on the week of the Big East Tournament. With Ochefu back at 100 percent, he has to establish himself in the paint on both ends of the court. Overall, Jay Wright’s gameplan has to revolve around attacking the basket. The Bulldogs will certainly look to run Villanova off of the three-point line, let alone limit what it can do from long range. The Wildcats have to drive inside, whether it be with their big men, Josh Hart, or some other guard that likes to attack the basket.
The Bulldogs need to attack the basket and get to the free throw line if they want a chance to win. Both teams have shown competency on the defensive end of the court but getting the Wildcats’ big men in foul trouble early in the game would be detrimental for Villanova. UNC Asheville’s slasher-oriented attack would be able to get its way. As for the Wildcats, they will also want to focus on their play around the paint to pave the way victory and move them onto the Round of 32.