Representing the # 2 and # 13 seeds of the East bracket, the 29-5 Villanova Wildcats and the 22-11 UNC Ashville Bulldogs will meet in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. Villanova had won 5 games in a row before losing to Seton Hall in the championship game of the Big East tournament. UNC Ashville beat Winthrop 77-68 in the Championship game of the Big South Conference to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament. While Villanova has been to the Big Dance the last 3 years, the Bulldogs are making their third appearance in the school’s history.
UNC Ashville is a young team with 6 of their top 9 players being either freshmen or sophomores but they do play excellent defense. They are ranked 9th in the nation in defensive turnover percentage and 3rd in steal percentage. They are a small team with only 1 player on the roster taller than 6 foot 5 inches and they turn the ball over a lot as they are ranked 208th in turnover percentage. Offensively, they are led by freshman guard Dylan Smith who averages 13.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Dwayne Sutton is another freshman guard who averages double digits with 12 points per game but he is capable of much more as he showed in the championship game against Winthrop when he scored 25 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
Despite 5 trips to the tournament since 2010, Villanova has failed to make it out of the second round each time and are hoping this year is different as they were ranked # 1 in the country as recently as January. They are led by Josh Hart who was a first team All-Big East selection. The junior guard averaged 15.5 points and 7 rebounds per game. Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono also average double digits in scoring. On the year the Wildcats went 13-5 against teams in the top 100 RPI. Jalen Brunson is a freshman guard who has stepped up this year averaging 10 points and 2.6 assists per game. Daniel Ochefu is a 6 foot 11 inch center who averaged 10 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. With UNC Ashville’s lack of size, Ochefu could have a big impact on both ends of the floor. The Wildcats rank in the top 20 in points allowed per game with 63.7.
UNC Ashville has gone 22-10 against the spread this season including 15-3 as the underdog. The Villanova Wildcats have gone 16-17-1 against the spread this year including 16-15-1 when they were the favorite. Villanova is an 18 point favorite in this game and the Bulldogs best chance at the upset is to try and force Villanova into a lot of outside shots as they only shoot 34.3 from three-point range. This game will be played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn where Villanova is 4-0 the last 2 seasons.
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