Let’s do this…
Dan: Villanova has been an elite squad in pretty much all areas of their game this season. If there are any weaknesses with the team, they are hard to find. Is there anything that this team does not do well on the court?
Joe: Their weakness earlier in the season was rebounding. In their first four Big East games, they were a combined minus-41 on the boards even though they won three of the four. But they have gotten better in that area. They held the rebounding advantage in each of their last six games before going minus-3 in their win over West Virginia.
Dan: This Wildcat team is stacked with a roster that has multiple players with high scoring averages. Mainly, the stars Bridges and Brunson. Can you let us know who we need to be aware of on the roster, and if there are going to be any potential mismatches on the floor?
Joe: I don’t know enough about Texas Tech’s personnel to comment on mismatches. Bridges is 6-7 and can play the 2 if needed, DiVincenzo is 6-5 and can play the 1 or the 2, but the Red Raiders have guards of the same size. The secret weapon might be Spellman. If he can hit the three-pointers like he did against West Virginia and can take his defender out on the perimeter with him, that opens up driving lanes and rebounding for Villanova. I don’t know a combination of anyone in the country who is in the top three in his conference in both three-point shooting and blocked shots, which Spellman is. On defense, the Wildcats switch everything so there will be mismatches inside, but they play a good brand of team defense.
Dan: Is there a reason why Villanova does not get to the free throw line as much as other teams?
Joe: Villanova’s production from the free-throw line has declined over the last five years. The fact that they take so many threes is definitely a contributing factor to lower output from the line this season. You can say that sometimes it looks as if they’re settling for the three-point shot but with the success they have from the arc, it seems like no one is complaining. There was a game in the Big East tournament where Villanova was just firing up threes and missing, and Wright told them during a timeout to drive the ball more. That got them going and they won the game easily. If the Texas Tech defense overplays the three-point line, I can see Villanova trying to get to the hoop more.
Dan: We all know that the Wildcats have had their eye on the National Championship all year long… does anything scare Villanova on the basketball court at this point?
Joe: I don’t want to sound like a homer here but the simple answer is: No. They state constantly they have no fear of failure. They have no problem losing a game if they think they’ve left it all out there on the court. Jay Wright has a saying that the only goal at the start of the season is for his team to be playing their best basketball by the end of the season. Their second-round loss to Wisconsin in last year’s NCAA tournament was heartbreaking for the seniors – Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds – who had so much to do with the 2016 national championship team, but everyone got over it, and here they are again.
Dan: What are the Wildcats impression of the Texas Tech Red Raider’s squad?
Joe: I’ll just send along Jay Wright’s opening statement about Texas Tech:
These guys, man, we watched film of Texas Tech and West Virginia playing each other, man, it was more physical than our game, but a very well-coached team, very disciplined on both ends of the floor. Can really grind you. Their motion screening action is unique, reminiscent of Bobby Knight’s teams, that you don’t really see that as much anymore.
We worked against it today. It’s kind of tough, you know. There’s not a lot of teams that screen that much. Obviously, a lot of great players — Keenan Evans. When you’re in this tournament, you’re just going to play against great players, and they’ve got a lot of them.
Dan: What is your prediction for the outcome of this game?
Joe: I really thought the Villanova-West Virginia game was a tossup and I was a little surprised how they grabbed control of the game. I’m thinking this is going to be close, too. It seems to be that Texas Tech feels it has nothing to lose, that they seem to be loose and ready to make some history. It should be a terrific game but I’m thinking Villanova’s tournament experience will eke out a narrow victory, maybe a two- or three-point win.
This was some awesome stuff. Thanks to Joe Juliano for taking the time with us today! To follow his work go over and check out Philly.com for more great sports info.