For anyone who has watched Villanova play this year, it's clear that hey are not the most conventional of teams. First, they are a small team. Their starting lineup isn't overly small, but it is deceiving. Nova starts guys at 6'2'', 6'5'', 6'6'', 6'7'' and 6'8''. That's not imposing, but it isn't a lineup that you'd call small. Take into account what they have down the bench and their substitution pattern and you can see why they're considered a small team though. The two subs they use most often are 6'1'' and 6'5''. Those two often come in for their 6'7'' and 6'8'' guy, leaving them with a very small lineup. The Wildcats really only have one big body off the bench, a 6'8'' big man, but he plays sparingly. He saw his minutes decline as the year progressed, culminating in a DNP, coach's decision in Nova's first round win over American. When they announce the Villanova starting lineup tomorrow you won't think much of their size one way or another, but be advised, they're a small team.
Now how does that size translate into their style of play? Well, they employ a full court press rather often and even when they drop into the half court, will sometimes go to a half court trap that extends all the way to the midway line. Villanova likes to play with a lot of spacing, but they don't jack up a lot of three pointers like you'd expect from a smaller squad. The Wildcats aren't even in the top 100 in the country in three pointers attempted, but when they do shoot them, they do so at a solid 36.9% clip. What Villanova does do with their small guys is take defenders off the dribble. Villanova is 18th in the nation in free throws attempted and makes 74.2% of those free throws. This team isn't your average small team and plays with an aggressiveness we rarely see.
Delving into the more complex stats courtesy of KenPom.com, we find a team that doesn't play at a frantic pace, but one that is far quicker than we play. Villanova plays at the 74th fastest pace in the nation and just a bit faster than the season average for the nation. Compared to UCLA's pace, which ranks 163rd in the nation though, VIllanova plays like roadrunners. The Wildcats don't have the world's best offense, but it is awfully efficient. They have the nation's 24th most efficient offense and average 1.35 points per possession. That's compared to the Bruins' 3rd most efficient offense in the country and 1.34 points per possession.
Where Villanova is most surprising is on the defensive end, where their lack of size doesn't stop them from having a formidable defense. The Wildcats have the nation's 27th most efficient defense and have held opponents to 40.5% shooting. Villanova excels defensively because they don't let opponents get inside, but if oppoents get there, they find little to deter them. Villanova blocks only three shots a game and get move than that blocked themselves. If the Bruins can find a way into the interior of the Villanova defense, they shouldn't have issues finishing. Well they won't have any issues coming from Villanova. Whether they can figure out their own issues and finish their open layups is another issue.
So what kind of team that UCLA has played does Villanova compare to? Well there really isn't a team. They attempt roughly the same amount of threes that Oregon St. does, but they attack the rim and get to the line at a rate only Washington can match. In terms of their style and plays they'll run, they'll be very similar to Stanford. They run a lot of the same sets and have similar sized personnel, but the scouting report from Stanford won't be applicable because of the talent difference between the two. Unfortunately for the Bruins, there isn't really any scouting report from this year that they can apply to this Villanova team. They truly are unique.
My biggest offensive key for the Bruins will be to attack the rim as soon as they break the press. When other teams have pressed the Bruins this year, UCLA was content to break the press then wait to set up their halfcourt offense. That won't cut it against Villanova. When they break the press and have numbers, usually three on two, the Bruins need to attack the rim and look to get easy buckets because they won't be able to get to the paint easily at any other time.
Defensively, the key for the Bruins will be at the top where DC will have to lock down on the junior Scottie Reynolds. This could be problematic for DC though because Reynolds is stronger than DC and we know the troubles he has had with stronger guards. Reynolds has had streaks where he had issues holding onto the ball though so DC may be able to disrupt the Villanova offense at the top and get some easy buckets for himself.
If the Bruins are behind late, they'll be in trouble because Villanova has some excellent free throw shooters. Of the five guys likely to be in late in a game, three shoot over 80% from the stripe and another shoots 78%. If UCLA can keep the game close though in the first half they should have a good chance and moving onto Boston. Against quality opponents, Villanova had some issues in the second half and were beaten badly in the second frame on more than one occasion.
Obviously, this is not an easy game for the Bruins. Villanova is a good team and UCLA is coming off a less than sharp performance. One thing to keep in mind though is that VIllanova is coming off an equally, or arguably worse first round performance so neither team is firing on all cylinders. Another thing is that UCLA got PAA, ND and JH experience in a close tournament game, while JA got into his first tournament game. Don't forget that PAA and ND weren't guys regularly on the court late in a tight game in the last three years. This was their first such experience and he handled it like a pros so in addition to getting a couple freshmen experience, PAA and ND got some too.
Above all though, enjoy the tournament everyone. By the time UCLA and Villanova tip off tomorrow, only 32 of the over 300 D-1 teams will still have a chance at a national title. This season hasn't been perfect and there are some things that drive us crazy, but in a down year we're in the top 10% of the nation regardless of the outcome with high hopes for a national title next year and the year after and the year after. Compare that to where we were a decade ago. Try being Illinois and having to head home after only one game. As I said last night, no one is entitled to wins in March. Yesterday wasn't pretty and there's no telling what tomorrow will bring, but enjoy this while it lasts. Remember that at the end of the day we have CBH at the helm, some very classy players and we're all Bruins. Not such a bad worst case scenario, is it?