#3 Villanova Wildcats (2-0) vs. Western Michigan Broncos (1-1)
When: Thursday, November 17th, 2016, at 11:30 a.m.
Where: TD Arena, Charleston, S.C.
KenPom Prediction: 84-64, Villanova (97%)
Western Michigan’s Previous Season Record: 13-19
Key Players for Western Michigan: #10 Thomas Wilder (6-3, 185) Jr., G; #1 Tucker Haymond (6-6, 220) Sr., G; #35 Brandon Johnson (6-8, 203) Fr., F
Scouting Report: Western Michigan is looking to make the tournament this spring for the first time since 2014, and Villanova is probably the exact type of team they would have to play early on. Leading the charge for the Broncos will be returning last season’s top scorer, Thomas Wilder, who was named Second Team All-MAC and is expected to do the same this season. Wilder is Western Michigan’s motor, known for acrobatic finishes around the rim. He prefers to attack the basket and slash his way inside, but he can also take and make 3-pointers if given an opportunity. Wilder is no slouch defensively either being a perimeter lockdown defender. He is averaging 1.3 steals per game for his career, and surely will be a thorn in Villanova’s side throughout the game. Wilder’s weakness is his tendency at times to turnover the ball. It’s tough to run the offense if you’re being careless with the ball. So far this season, he’s averaging 12.5 points over two games, but has been doing so at an inefficient rate. He is 9-of-27 (33.3 percent) through two games, far from the above-40 percent performances he’s dialed in over the last couple of years. Helping him in the backcourt is a fellow slashing guard, Tucker Haymond. He likes to use his athleticism to get to the basket. Unlike Wilder, he’s actually able to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. Haymond is doing worse than Wilder in terms of efficiency, shooting 7-of-22 (31.8 percent) so far this season. However, he’s taken the most trips to the charity stripe out of everyone, making 18-of-22 attempts. His three-point shooting is lackluster to say the least (26.0 percent last year). If he can improve that mark this season and return to his sophomore self that posted 36.1 percent from long range, the Broncos will be more well-rounded as a team. New to the team is freshman forward Brandon Johnson, who has been a dynamo for Western Michigan so far, nearly averaging a double-double (12.0 points and 9.5 rebounds) while shooting 57.9 percent from the field. Johnson is the epitome of “guard in a big man’s body”, creating tough defensive matchups for most opponents not prepared for a player of his versatility. Johnson’s lanky frame allows him to squeeze into tight spots and finish above and around the rim. He’s got the length of Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan but not the muscle to go with it. In the wake of Isaac Haas’ stellar performance against Villanova, it will be interesting to see how big man Drake Lamont performs against Villanova’s front line. Lamont is able to use his size to his advantage in the paint offensively, towering over most of his opponents in the MAC, but is a relatively weak shot blocker. Also keep an eye out for backup guard Jarrin Randall, a freshman that’s still adjusting to the game. He gets solid minutes, but has an issue with shot selection. So far, he’s averaging 6.0 points per game off the bench but his 31.3 percent is less than desired. Then there’s Seth Dugan, another big man in the middle. His towering 7-foot frame helps him be a dominant force on the boards. He’s coming off of a nine point, 15 rebound performance against Oakland.
Outlook: While the Broncos would pose problems with their athleticism for most teams, Villanova is certainly not most teams. Wilder’s stellar play is likely to be matched by Jalen Brunson, who has blossomed in the wake of Ryan Arcidiacono’s graduation. The most impactful player for Villanova is likely to be Josh Hart again, whose 23 points against Purdue cemented his reputation as one of the best players in the NCAA. Look for him to top 20 points again facing a much less talented team this time around. Phil Booth (seven points against Purdue) needs to have a better game, as the offensive-minded Haymond is likely to be one of the worst defenders he matches up against all year. Mikal Bridges has shown added maturity in his game this year, and a few more off nights by Booth could potentially mean his ouster from the starting lineup. Although Western Michigan is considerably more talented than Villanova’s other mid-major opponent so far, Lafayette, they still do not have nearly enough talent to hang with the Wildcats. The Broncos’ strength in their conference is their athleticism, which plays into Villanova’s desire to run the break. Expect Wilder and company to keep within striking distance in the first half, but for Villanova to pull away for an easy double digit victory in the first round of the Charleston Classic. Maybe the Broncos will even shoot themselves out of this one, who knows?