Let the madness begin




Villanova is going dancing in the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight year, and the No. 2 seeded Wildcats will meet their first partner today in Providence, R.I., the No. 15 seeded Robert Morris. The Wildcats and the Colonials will take part in one of the day’s first games, tipping off at 12:30 p.m. as a part of the tournament’s South region.

Robert Morris is making its second consecutive tournament appearance and is a No. 15 seed for the second straight year. The Colonials were defeated by eventual national finalist Michigan State in the first round last season. 

This year’s RMU squad, which hails from Pittsburgh, earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by winning the Northeastern Conference championship for the second year in a row. The No. 2 seeded Colonials upset top-seeded Quinnipiac, 52-50, on Quinnipiac’s home court last Wednesday. 

The Wildcats, who obtained a No. 2 seed for the first time in school history, will not be the first Big East team Robert Morris has faced this season. The Colonials lost to city rival Pittsburgh by 24 points on Feb. 8 and also found themselves on the wrong end of a 100-60 rout at Syracuse in their first regular season game back in November. 

Despite dropping seven of their first 15 contests, RMU rebounded with 16 wins in its last 19 contests and finished with a 23-11 overall record and a 15-3 conference record. The Colonials boast their conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, senior guard Mezie Nwigwe, as well as the NEC Rookie of the Year, freshman guard Karon Abraham. Abraham leads the team in scoring this season with 13.4 points per game and provides the Colonials with a deadly 3-point shot. 

Robert Morris is a balanced team that features nine players who average more than 11 minutes per game. Abraham, a 5-foot-9-inch guard out of New Jersey, is the only member of the Colonials to average double digits in scoring, though five others contribute between seven and 10 points per contest. As a team, Robert Morris averages about 68 points per game.

While the Colonials have the depth to match Villanova in terms of energy, the Wildcats appear to gain the advantage in the frontcourt. Robert Morris lacks any real post threat offensively, which should allow Antonio Peña, Mouphtaou Yarou and the rest of Villanova’s big men to stay out of foul trouble.  Furthermore, RMU’s tallest players are just 6 feet 8 inches, which will allow Villanova’s bigs to exploit their lack of size on the defensive end. Expect Peña, who often flies under the radar, to have a great impact on both ends of the floor.

Another important aspect of the game in which Villanova seems to dominate is the guard battle between Scottie Reynolds and Karon Abraham, both of whom lead their teams in scoring. Reynolds is about as experienced a leader as the Wildcats could possibly ask for, guiding his team into the tournament one last time in his senior season. The experience will be entirely new for freshman Abraham, however, who will be asked to lead his team against a heavily favored opponent on the NCAA tournament’s big stage for the first time. It is unlikely that Reynolds’ cool demeanor will be rattled in this first round matchup, whereas Abraham may find the national spotlight more difficult to handle. 

The Colonials’ 68 points per game average also appears inadequate to hang with the Wildcats, who poured in an average of more than 82 points per contest this season. 

While Robert Morris managed to hold opponents to an average of only 65 points per game, the team’s defensive efforts against Big East opponents were not quite as successful: they surrendered 100 and 77 points to Syracuse and Pittsburgh, respectively. If Villanova can put up those kinds of numbers, as opposed to the lower scores RMU held its own conference opponents to, the Wildcats could run away with this first round game. 

While the No. 2 versus No. 15 matchup appears lopsided on paper, the Wildcats have surely not forgotten the scare American University, a No. 14 seed, gave them on their home court in first round play last year when the Wildcats trailed by as much as 14 early in the game before rallying to victory.

Neither Villanova nor Robert Morris figures to have much of an advantage playing in Providence, as both teams are from Pennsylvania, though RMU’s conference championship run certainly provides them with more momentum than Villanova’s one-and-done performance in the Big East tournament. 

Still, the Colonials do not appear to have any sort of answer for the potent Villanova offense, and the NEC simply does not provide the type of competition that Villanova sees on a regular basis in the Big East. Expect the Wildcats to have no problem taking care of business this afternoon.