Elite Eight Preview: Villanova Prepares For Houston


Courtesy of Brett Coomer/San Antonio Express-News

The Cougars advanced to the Elite Eight by knocking off No.1 Arizona.

Colin Beazley, Co-Editor-in-Chief

SAN ANTONIO After knocking off No.11 Michigan, 63-55, No.2 Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight to take on No.5 Houston. Houston advanced by defeating the region’s top seed, No.1 Arizona, 72-60.

The Cougars’ victory in San Antonio came in front of an overwhelmingly pro-Houston crowd, and in the same venue on Saturday, the ‘Cats can expect more of the same. Houston was led by 21 points from sophomore guard Jamal Shead and 19 points from senior guard Kyler Edwards. The Cougars led wire to wire, holding Arizona to just 28% shooting in the game.

The Cougars took the same path to the Regional Final as Villanova, winning twice in Pittsburgh before winning Thursday in San Antonio. The Cougars won their first round matchup against No.12 UAB, 82-68, before beating No.4 Illinois, 68-53.

Houston had a 31-5 record in the regular season, winning the American Athletic Conference’s regular season and tournament crowns. Through 12 games, junior guard Marcus Sasser was the team’s leader, averaging 17.7 points per game. However, Sasser went down with a season-ending toe injury, and the Cougars replaced his scoring with a team effort. Edwards, forward Fabian White Jr., senior center Josh Carlton and senior guard Taze Moore all average double figures. 

The Cougars line up similarly to Villanova. Four players average 27 minutes or more per game, and Carlton is the tallest player, standing 6’11”. Both teams prefer slow paces, as Villanova ranks 345th in possessions per 40 minutes (out of 358), while Houston ranks 334th. Villanova ranks 8th in KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, with Houston just behind in 10th. Houston is also 10th on the defensive end, while Villanova sits in 24th.

Villanova is 3-3 all-time against Houston, although the two teams have not faced each other since 1991. The teams have history in the NCAA Tournament. No.8 Villanova knocked out No.9 Houston, 90-72,  in the 1981 NCAA Tournament in a first round matchup, but No.1 Houston beat No.3 Villanova, 89-71, in the 1983 Regional Final. 

Before Villanova learned who it would face in the Elite Eight, head coach Jay Wright was asked about what he could build off from Thursday’s matchup into Saturday’s.

“I think we’re beyond building,” Wright said. “We’re going to rest. We’re beat up. We’ve got to rest up. We can learn a little bit watching film. It’s about surviving now. We’ve got to rest up, learn a little bit by film, and then come out and be intelligent against whoever we’re playing against because we know we’ve got a great team, whoever it’s going to be.”

Meanwhile, Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson was energized, celebrating his team’s return to the Elite Eight for the second straight season.

“I’m really proud of this bunch,” Sampson said. “They bought into the game plan tonight, and they’re not afraid of anybody. Whether it’s UAB or Illinois, Arizona. Our next game is Villanova. We’ll just move on to that one, and we’ll do the best we can with that one.”

Saturday’s matchup will tip off at 6:09 p.m. Eastern Time, 5:09 local time.