Villanova Will Be an NCAA Underdog, But Shouldn’t Be Overlooked

Villanova Will Be an NCAA Underdog, But Shouldn’t Be Overlooked
Villanova will be heading to the NCAA basketball tournament for the seventh consecutive year, a feat that shouldn’t be taken for granted, even for a team that has won the national championship two of the last three years.
Even though the Wildcats are the defending national champion, they are looked as a darkhorse to repeat.
Of course, for a program to lose four players to the NBA and still end up as the Big East regular season champion, it’s been another great year for coach Jay Wright.
Villanova has been up and down, but the Wildcats were able to ride seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall and both have extensive postseason experience. Booth and Paschall were first-team all-Big East selections.
The Wildcats went 22-9 during the regular season. After a first-round bye, they open the Big East tournament on Thursday. Villanova will open by playing the winner of the Butler-Providence game. Regardless of how Villanova fares in the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats have long ago cemented their place in the NCAA tourney.
Booth, a the 6-foot-3 senior has been part of many big games, none bigger than Villanova’s 77-74 victory in the 2016 NCAA title game. He scored 20 points in that game and was named to the NCAA all-tournament team.
Last year he was a big part of the championship team, averaging 10 points per game.
With all the losses to graduation, he had to take on an increased role and Booth has been up to the task. He is averaging 18.6 points and 3.8 assists while shooting 36.6 percent from three-point range.
The 6-8 Paschall, like Booth is a fifth-year senior. He didn’t play on the 2016 championship team after sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules after playing his freshman year at Fordham.
This year he is averaging 16.5 points and 6.1 rebounds. Paschall is also a threat from three-point range, shooting 36 percent.
The key for Villanova is whether the Wildcats can get strong support from the rest of the roster. According to most experts, Villanova is considered to be around a No. 6 NCAA seed.
So even getting past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and into the Sweet 16 will be a major challenge.
Guard Collin Gillespie is the other double-figure scorer, averaging 11.3 points. Gillespie can stretch the floor and is a 38.3 percent shooter from three-point range.
His outside shooting will be a major factor for Villanova.
After that, the Wildcats have several players who will have to play at or above their roles. One of those players is forward Saddiq Bey who is averaging 8.3 points and was named a first-team All-Big East Freshman selection.
One thing Villanova should savor is the underdog role, something that hasn’t happened much in recent seasons.
The Wildcats suffered a rare three-game losing streak late in the season, but ended up winning two of their final three.

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With the recent success and experience, the Wildcats should be highly competitive and a team nobody will relish facing in the NCAA’s.

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Author: Marc Narducci


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