Wildcats prepare for Sweet Sixteen matchup against Miami

Frank Sciccitano

For the first time since its Final Four run in 2009, Villanova is preparing for a matchup in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will travel to Louisville to take on the Miami Hurricanes on Thursday night with a spot in the Elite 8 on the line.


No. 3 Miami Hurricanes team profile:

Record: 27-7 (13-5 ACC)

Head Coach: Jim Larrañaga

Scoring: 75.4 ppg (121st)

Defense: 66.7 opp. ppg (51st)

NCAA 1st Round: def. No. 14 Buffalo, 79-72

NCAA 2nd Round: def. No. 11 Wichita State, 65-57


Meet the ’Canes

Point guard Angel Rodriguez has been Miami’s go-to player in the tournament so far. The 5-foot-11 redshirt senior averaged 26 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 3.5 steals in the team’s First and Second Round games. His aggressive defense can get him in foul trouble at times, but overall Rodriguez is an experienced leader and the Hurricanes’ hottest player entering Thursday night.

Redshirt senior guard Sheldon McClellan, 6-foot-5, is the team’s leading scorer with 16.0 points per game. Junior guard/forward Davon Reed, 6-foot-6, is the starting lineup’s top 3-point threat, connecting on 39 percent of his attempts.

Miami does not rely on forwards Kamari Murphy and Tonye Jekiri for much offensive production, but the pair are a strong anchor for the ’Canes interior defense. Murphy, a 6-foot-8 shot-blocking redshirt junior, has a total of six rejections in two tournament games and grabs 6.1 rebounds per game. Jekiri, a strong 7-foot senior, leads Miami with 8.7 rebounds per game and presents a major challenge for teams looking to score inside.

Murphy and Jekiri will gather points on offensive rebounds and open plays set up by their guards, but they are often spelled by Miami’s sixth man, sophomore guard Ja’Quan Newton.

Newton, a local product from Philadelphia basketball powerhouse Neumann-Goretti, is the team’s fourth leading scorer with 10.8 points per game. He may seem like a role player, but Newton is actually Miami’s most used offensive player. According to Kenpom statistics, the ’Canes look to him on 28 percent of their possessions, more than any player on the roster.


What’s the problem?

The Hurricanes present a familiar problem for Villanova – size and athleticism. Miami’s guards, McClellan, Rodriguez, Newton, and Reed (we’ll call him a “wing”), present an issue that the ’Cats have been dealing with all season.

Villanova was burned early in the season by Oklahoma guards Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins, both of whom had four 3-pointers in the Sooners’ victory over the ’Cats. Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon gave ’Nova trouble as well, finishing with 20 points and a perfect 12-for-12 mark from the free throw line. And, Seton Hall Guard Isaiah Whitehead scored more than 20 points in all three of his team’s meetings with Villanova this season, including 26 in the Big East Tournament Championship game.

Murphy and Jekiri add to Miami’s size advantage, but they will not be a major threat to Villanova’s defense. Instead, the Wildcats will have to worry about navigating around them in the paint.

Another concern for Villanova is Miami’s experience, which Head Coach Jay Wright says benefits the Hurricanes primarily on the defensive end.

“They are an intelligent and connected defensive team,” Wright said at the team’s media session on Monday. “Usually, when you play teams that have young guys they can be a little disconnected defensively. They have so many veterans that defensively they’re amazing.”

Miami’s starting lineup features three seniors and two juniors, but Villanova has a veteran lineup of its own that will be able to adjust and challenge the ’Canes on both ends of the floor.


What’s the solution?

It has not been all bad news for the Wildcats against elite guards. All-Big East First Teamer Trevon Bluiett of Xavier combined for just 21 points in two games against Villanova this season. The ’Cats also contained Providence guard and future NBA Lottery pick Kris Dunn in two of their three meetings this season.

Villanova counters its opponents’ athleticism with discipline. The key to slowing down Miami’s guards will be changing looks on defense and keeping pressure on the ’Canes.

Wright has the luxury of being able to move defenders around in his man-to-man defense, and Villanova has worked zone defense into its game plan on multiple occasions this season. Redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges and sophomore guard Phil Booth are two skilled defenders that give the Wildcats plenty of flexibility in their defensive strategy.

By changing looks on defense, Villanova will be able to catch Miami off guard, force them to make mistakes, and prevent them from finding a rhythm offensively.

Miami’s goal on defense will be simple – force Villanova to win the game from beyond the arc. The Wildcats have shot an outstanding 48.9 percent from 3-point range in the tournament so far, but it is no secret that ’Nova will fall if its shots are not. With that in mind, Murphy and Jekiri will have the task of discouraging Villanova from even considering driving into the paint.

Villanova can make that task difficult in a variety of ways. First, junior guard Josh Hart, the team’s most explosive driver, has the ability to challenge Miami’s interior defense by attacking the paint. Junior forward Kris Jenkins has enough patience in the post to force Miami’s forwards to over-extend and get caught out of position. Most importantly, Villanova’s offensive success will rely on senior forward Daniel Ochefu.

Ochefu is arguably Villanova’s most important offensive player, and it has nothing to do with his ability to score in the post. His value lies in his ability to find open players both on the perimeter and on cuts to the basket. If Ochefu can draw attention inside, there will always be an open option elsewhere on the floor.

With Ochefu, Jenkins, and Hart combatting Miami’s interior defense, guards Jalen Brunson and Ryan Arcidiacono will have a much easier time running point for the ’Cats.

It may seem obvious, but Villanova needs repeat the scorching offensive performance that it had in the first half of its Second Round victory over Iowa. The ’Cats hung 54 points on the Hawkeyes in the first half last Sunday and are 16-0 this season when carrying a double-digit lead into halftime.

A fast start on Thursday will put pressure on Miami and, despite their experience, force the Hurricanes to make mistakes. During Wichita State’s comeback attempt against the Hurricanes in the Second Round, the Shockers scored 11 points off of seven Miami turnovers in the second half.

Following Sunday’s victory, Ochefu said that the Wildcats are not satisfied with just making it to the Sweet 16. If Villanova plays the disciplined, fearless game that it is capable of playing, he and his teammates will find themselves with a spot in the Elite 8.