Coming off of a huge upset with at Arkansas, you'd expect things to get a little easier. Unfortunately for the Akron Zips the difficulty level jumps another notch on Sunday, when Keith Dambrot's team takes on the #11 Villanova Wildcats at The Pavilion in Philly. We caught up with Ryan Saccoman of our Villanova blog VU Hoops to learn a little more about the Wildcats.
Hustle Belt: It seems like after a 33-3 season last year and a top 15 ranking this year, expectations are very high for Villanova this season. Is this the year that the Wildcats get back to the Final Four?
VU Hoops: Since I was a freshman, Villanova has lost in the Round of 64 as a 9-seed, and the Round of 32 as a 1- and 2- seed. The multiple early-round exits have tempered the expectations for this team for the casual fan, and even some supporters of `Nova Nation. Something big had to happen for this team for most to believe again, and that something was the commitment of Jalen Brunson. The 5-star point guard has a feel for the game that no player at Villanova has had in a while, and he's capable of pushing the team past that Sweet 16 threshold, and quite possibly into Houston for the Final Four.
HB: Jay Wright has to replace the leading scorer (Darrun Hilliard, 14 points per game) and the leading rebounder (JayVaughn Pinkston, 10 points & 5 rebounds per game) from last year's team. Who has to step up in their place this season to repeat last year's success?
VU: The player everyone looked at to really step it up this season was Josh Hart. Last year's Big East Sixth Man of the Year, everyone expected him to take one of the two vacant starting slots for this season. He brought energy off the bench, and people thought he could stay true to that style of play even with starter minutes. So far he has really stepped up his offensive game, and he still grabs boards like an actual power forward.
HB: What type of offense does Villanova run? It would seem to be perimeter-oriented with the all the talented guards Wright has at his disposal.
VU: Shooting from beyond the arc is absolutely the focus. The Wildcats shot the most threes in the Big East last season and 18th most in the country. While they had JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu as paint weapons, the `Cats relied on their outside shooting time and time again. The perimeter shooting opens up dribble-drive penetration, however 3-pointers reign supreme.
HB: Akron is an established mid-major program that doesn't get scared playing a Power 5 or ranked team. Do you see any way the Zips give Villanova any trouble on Sunday?
VU: Villanova has been known to shoot too many threes to begin a game, even when they aren't falling. Because of this, opposing teams have taken advantage of their missed opportunities and have built leads early in the game. A player I would worry about is Isaiah Johnson and Pat Forsythe. Daniel Ochefu stands as the team's most dominant paint defender, and getting him into early foul trouble could spell disaster for the Wildcats.
HB: Finally, give me a score prediction.
VU: I think Villanova gets the win by a score of 88-67. Akron stays close for the first part of the game, but a big second half puts the game away for the Wildcats.