As part of its preview of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. For more teams, click here.
Record: 28-4, 16-2 Big East
Adj. offense/adj. defense: 115.3 (17th)/94.1 (16th)
Seed: No. 2 in East
Impact player: James Bell, senior guard. 14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 38.4% three-point shooting
Final Four teams (and especially national champions) tend to be highly efficient on both ends of the floor; Villanova is one of just four teams -- along with Louisville, Florida, and Wichitan State -- to rank in the nation’s top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Much of their offensive success relies on their work beyond the three-point line, where -- brace yourself for percentages -- they take 44.6 percent of their shots and make 36.1 percent, accounting for 34.5 percent of their points. And it’s their work inside the three-point line, where opponents shoot just 43.4 percent, the 18th-lowest rate in the nation, that carries Villanova’s defense. (That they do so with 6-foot-11 center Daniel Ochefu playing just over half of their minutes at center, most often relieved by 6-7 JayVaughn Pinkston, makes their defensive success inside all the more impressive.) If teams are unable to connect from deep, they are unlikely to find refuge via what are normally higher-percentage shots -- and if they can’t defend the three themselves, the Wildcats are willing and capable to make them pay, whether it’s Bell, Darrun Hilliard (41.5% from three) or point guard Ryan Arcidiacono (34.6%).
As explained on this very blog by Luke Winn in the wake of Villanova’s surprising loss to Seton Hall in the Big East quarters, the Wildcats’ extreme reliance on the three ball leaves them vulnerable to an early exit. The chart at the bottom of that post, illustrating the weak performances of teams with that offensive profile in recent years, is particularly discouraging to Villanova’s hopes of a deep run (though it should be noted that only 2012 Michigan, a four seed, would have really been expected to reach the second weekend). Perhaps more concerning is Villanova’s relative weakness defending the three: Opponents have shot nearly as well as the Wildcats from the outside (35.4%), and in its three regular season losses (to Creighton twice and Syracuse once, all by 16 or more), Villanova was positively torched from outside, most notably when Ethan Wragge and the Bluejays hit 21-of-35 threes on Jan. 20. And while it has done an excellent job thus far, Villanova’s undersized interior defense when Ochefu is off the floor (and especially if he is in foul trouble) could get picked on by an opponent with strong and productive bigs.
SI Prediction: Advance to the third round before falling to UConn. View complete bracket predictions from SI.com’s panel of experts