Roob’s 10 Observations on another Villanova NCAA tourney win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
We’ve seen Villanova struggle against lower seeds in these Round of 32 games so often.
No. 2 seed in 2010 and lost to No. 10 St. Mary’s in Providence.
No. 2 seed in 2014 and lost to No. 7 UConn in Buffalo.
No. 1 seed in 2015 and lost to No. 8 North Carolina State in Pittsburgh.
No. 1 seed in 2017 and lost to No. 8 Wisconsin in Buffalo.
After 8 1/2 minutes Sunday night, I’m sure a lot of Villanova fans were wondering if it was happening again.
Upstart No. 13 seed North Texas, which shocked No. 4 seed Purdue on Friday night for its first-ever NCAA Tournament win, led the Wildcats by eight, and everything was going the Mean Green’s way.
Not this time.
The Wildcats, the No. 5 seed in the South, scored 29 of the next 33 points on their way to a 84-61 win over the champions of Conference USA at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Here’s our 10 Instant Observations off Villanova’s win:
1. With 11 1/2 minutes to go in the first half, North Texas led 21-13 and was shooting 8-for-12 from the field. Villanova wasn’t playing bad, they just missed some easy shots and North Texas made some tough ones. There was no panic from the Wildcats. They just ramped up the defensive intensity and really began working the ball around in the half-court, and the result was a ridiculous 29-4 run that turned that 21-13 deficit into a 42-25 lead. The run began with a Justin Moore layup at 11:05 and ended with a Jermaine Samuels layup at 2:24, turning an 8-point deficit into a 17-point lead. Ballgame. In all, the Wildcats finished the first half on a 34-6 run.
2. Defensively, ‘Nova could not have played any better during that 8 1/2-minute run. North Texas shot 2-for-12 from the field and committed two turnovers, and the Wildcats ran them off the court, making 11 of 15 shots, including 6 of 9 from 3. After opening up 8-for-12 from the field, North Texas shot 13-for-40 the rest of the game. That’s 8 baskets in 8 1/2 minutes, 13 in the next 31 1/2 minutes.
3. Villanova finally got going from 3 for the first time since Collin Gillespie was lost for the season. After shooting 35 percent or worse in four straight games, the Wildcats made 15 of 30 from 3 for 50 percent and tied an NCAA Tournament record with eight players making at least one 3-pointer (Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Jermaine Samuels, Justin Moore, Chris Arcidiacono, Caleb Daniels, Eric Dixon, Cole Swider, Bryan Antoine). Swider made 3 of 4 from 3, the first time in two months he’s made three 3’s. He’s now 5-for-7 from 3 in the tournament after going 7-for-23 in the seven previous games.
4. It seems like each game Villanova has been forced to play without Gillespie they’ve figured things out a little bit more on both ends of the court. That’s a lot of adjusting and re-defining of roles that has to go on when you lose the Big East co-Player of the Year two weeks before the NCAA Tournament, but Villanova has done it, and that’s a credit to both Jay Wright and his players. Arcidiacono and Bryan Antoine are both growing more comfortable in their roles in the backcourt, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has become more assertive on the offensive end. He scored 18 Sunday night and has 66 points on 57 percent shooting in the last four games (along with 23 rebounds, 14 assists and 4 steals).
5. Another thing that helped ‘Nova turn the game around was keeping the Mean Green off the offensive glass. North Texas had five offensive boards in the first 8 1/2 minutes and scored six follow points off them. The final 31 1/2 minutes? North Texas had three offensive rebounds leading to four points.
6. The Wildcats had terrific balance, with Robinson-Earl shooting 8-for-14 for 18 points (with 6 rebounds and 6 steals), Jermaine Samuels shooting 5-for-9 for 15 points (with 9 rebounds and 4 assists) and Justin Moore adding 15 points (5 assists and 4 rebounds). Caleb Daniels was 3-for-6 from deep for 11 points, and Swider had 9 points for the first time since mid-January.
7. Arcidiacono had made one basket in his college career – a 3-pointer against Middle Tennessee in November of 2019. He didn’t have a basket this year. He was 1-for-13 in his career from 3. So with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line, all Arch II does is bury two 3’s in the first half, including one that gave ‘Nova the lead for good. The kid had played 17 minutes all year before Collin Gillespie got hurt, and now he’s starting for a team in the Sweet 16. Arch II also has now played 84 minutes in the last four games and committed just two turnovers.
8. Eric Dixon, Arcidiacono and Antoine had made a combined two career 3’s entering the tournament. They’ve made five the last two games.
9. This is Villanova’s 12th trip to the West 16 and seventh under Jay Wright. It’s the first time they’ve reached the Sweet 16 without being a top-three seed since 2008, when they were seeded 12th. Since Wright became Villanova head coach for the 2001-2002 season, Villanova has 30 NCAA Tournament wins, tied for 8th-most by any school in the country. In school history, the Wildcats have 67 tourney wins, 9th-most of any school. Villanova has won the national title every time it’s won in the Round of 32 since 2010.
10. Villanova opens play in the Sweet 16 on Saturday in Indianapolis against Baylor, the No. 1 seed in the South Region. Villanova is 0-1 in its history vs. Baylor, losing 87-78 in Myrtle Beach in November of 2019. Baylor, 23-2 and ranked No. 3, opened the season 18-0 but lost at Kansas by 13 last month and then lost to Oklahoma State by 9 in the Big 12 quarterfinals. The venue and tip-off time hasn’t been announced yet.