#2 Villanova Wildcats (31-5) vs. #3 Miami Hurricanes (29-7)
When: Thursday, March 24, 2016, at 7:10 p.m.
How They Got In: At Large Bid
Last Tournament Appearance: 2013, Lost to Marquette in Sweet 16
NCAA Tournament Journey So Far:
– Beat #14 Buffalo 79-72 in Opening Round
– Beat #11 Wichita State 65-57 in Round of 32
Key Players for Miami: #13 Angel Rodriguez (5-11, 180) Sr., G; #10 Sheldon McClellan (6-5, 205) Sr., G; #23 Tonye Jekiri (7-0, 245) Sr., C
Scouting Report: Miami has a lot in common with Villanova. Both teams have similar philosophies. In fact, Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga has known Villanova’s Jay Wright for many years, going back to their days at Bowling Green and Hofstra, respectively. Larrañaga gave Wright some drills and philosophies that Wright used with his teams. When both teams take the court, expect a number of things to look the same.
Since the NCAA Tournament began, point guard Angel Rodriguez has taken his play to new heights. Rodriguez was the team’s second-highest scorer this season, averaging 12.6 points per game. However, he has yet to have a game where he scores less than 20 points. He has never crossed the 20-point threshhold before this season, but in back-to-back games, he has put up at least 24 points. In the game against Wichita State, he had an amazing performance, where he was 9-of-11 on the floor en route to a 28 point game. Rodriguez is also a terrific perimeter defender and was amongst the top ten in the ACC when it came to steals, averaging 1.6 per game. He can turn the ball over at a high rate at times, and his aggressive defense sometimes goes a little too far, as he finds himself in foul trouble frequently. As for Miami’s leading scorer during the regular season, Sheldon McClellan, he still has an impact on this team. He may not be leading the charge, but he still is putting up respectable numbers in the tournament. In the last two games, he has put up 20 and 18 point performances. Like Miami’s other guards, McClellan is athletic and quick. He can pull up at the perimeter and drain his long range shots from time to time, but he prefers driving and attacking the basket inside. Davon Reed is the Hurricanes’ top outside shooting starter. He can also drive inside, but the 6-6 guard had the highest 3-point shooting percentage at 39.0%. Reed takes about half of his shots from long range and so far this tournament he is a combined 4-of-7 from deep.
Heading inside, Tonye Jekiri anchors a formidable front court. Jekiri might not be a top-notch scorer, but he is definitely a defensive stalwart. Standing in a seven feet tall and 245 pounds, he certainly has the size to give any opposing player a hard time whenever they enter the paint. Jekiri is a solid rebounder, averaging 8.7 rebounds per game. He has yet to have a single double-double this season. Helping him out inside is Kamari Murphy, who is another defensive specialist in the post. Murphy averaged 6.1 boards per game and in this tournament so far, has established himself to be more of a shot blocker. He has a total of six blocks from both games played. While they won’t light up the scoreboard, they were definitely give Villanova a hard time of doing so.
Outlook: Villanova has faced some tough front court tandems before, with the most recent experience coming from Iowa in the previous round. As daunting as the Hurricanes’ big men may be, the difference maker will be in their guards. Miami has a number of options, much like Villanova does. Iowa certainly boasted a big and formidable front court, but didn’t really have the depth at the guard positions. Now, Miami has both. The Wildcats have certainly shot well from the three-point line so far this tournament, in part because they have also been able to establish themselves inside. With a big front court and a much more athletic group of guards, Villanova might not have an easy of a time creating a balanced scoring effort. The ‘Cats have been burned by great guard play earlier in the season.
The Hurricanes need to make the Wildcats one-dimensional by taking away the inside the game, forcing them to have to win with their 3-point shooting. Villanova has shown that it can live and die by the three, but in situations where it has “lived” it was because it was able to score inside as well. As for the Wildcats, they can’t be intimidated by Miami’s front court and insist on attacking the basket to preserve the multi-faceted attack. The game should be a close one, but whichever team can impose this will win the game.