CONNECTICUT HUSKIES (27-8)
vs. VILLANOVA WILDCATS (29-4)
NCAA Tournament - Round of 32
First Niagara Center - Buffalo, NY
Tip-off: Saturday, 9:40 p.m. ET
Line: Villanova -3.5, Total: 132.5
No. 7 seed Connecticut survived a scare from Saint Joseph’s in the Round of 64, but prevailed in overtime for a chance to try and upset a familiar foe on Saturday in second-seeded Villanova.
The Wildcats blew past Milwaukee in the second half of their tourney opener to earn their berth into the Round of 32, holding the Panthers to 28.6% shooting with a +9 rebounding margin. They covered a lofty 16.5-point spread in the 73-53 victory, improving to an impressive 22-9 ATS on the season. Villanova is now 4-1 (SU and ATS) in neutral-site games and 10-2 ATS (13-1 SU) against non-conference opponents. The Huskies entered halftime down five to Saint Joseph’s, but tied it up and then won in OT, covering a 5.5-point spread. Connecticut is 18-15 ATS overall on the season, including 6-6 ATS (13-1 SU) against non-conferences foes. The club is 7-1 SU, but just 3-5 ATS, at neutral sites. Formerly in the Big East together, these two programs used to face each other every year, but did not play this season with the Huskies now in the American Athletic Conference. Connecticut won four of the past five meetings between these two schools, but went 1-3-1 ATS in the process, with the SU loss coming in the most recent matchup on Feb. 16, 2013.
Which team will prevail between these former conference rivals? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts opened the NCAA Tournament with a perfect 7-0 ATS mark in First Four games, making them a stellar 60% ATS (278-185-16) in college basketball Best Bets this season. StatFox Brian is on an amazing Best Bets run of 23-3-2 (89% ATS) since Feb. 6, 32-6-3 (84% ATS) since Jan. 17, and 74% ATS (57-20-3) since Nov. 26 to give him a robust 70% ATS (64-27-4) record in Best Bets for the season. StatFox Dave is 65% ATS (41-22-1) since in Best Bets Dec. 18 and 61% ATS (58-37-2) this season, while StatFox Scott is 70% ATS (14-6-2) since Feb. 16 and 59% ATS (54-38-4) for the season. StatFox Gary is 61% ATS (50-32) on Best Bets since Nov. 22 and 57% ATS (54-40-2) for the season, while StatFox Zach 64% ATS (7-4) since March 2.
Connecticut’s offense averages a pedestrian 71.9 PPG (144th in Div. I) on 44.8% shooting (142nd in nation), but knocks down 39.9% threes (27th in Div. I), including 11-of-24 in Thursday's victory. The strength of this team is a stingy defense that holds opponents to 63.6 PPG (37th in nation) on 39.0% shooting (11th in Div. I), thanks in part to 6.2 BPG (8th in nation). They won their first game of the Big Dance despite letting the Hawks shoot 50% from the field. Per usual, PG Shabazz Napier (17.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.0 APG) led the way for the Huskies, tallying 24 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals to help make up for a 7-of-22 shooting night, which was his fifth straight game of shooting under 45% FG. Napier struggled mightily in Connecticut's loss last year to Villanova, scoring a season-low two points on 1-of-8 shooting. He did have 10 assists, however. Napier joined in the backcourt by SG Ryan Boatright (12.0 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.4 RPG), who shoots 39% from three, but just 38% from inside the arc this season. He drained 4-of-6 threes for 17 points in Thursday's victory. Down low, versatile SF DeAndre Daniels (12.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG) is their primary weapon, though he’s also a threat from the perimeter, knocking down 44% of his threes. He scored 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting last year against Villanova, and opened the tournament with 18 points on 6-of-11 FG (3-of-6 threes). He can go outside because 7-foot freshman C Amida Brimah (4.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG) is such a good post defender, blocking 2.5 shots per game in only 16.4 MPG. He had nine points and six boards in Thursday's victory.
Villanova’s offense averages 78.5 PPG (30th in Div. I) on 45.9% shooting (86th in nation) with an unselfish 15.6 APG (20th in Div. I). The Wildcats defense isn’t bad either, yielding only 66.2 PPG (73rd in nation) on 40.3% shooting. Their hero last year against Connecticut was PG Ryan Arcidiacono (9.7 PPG, 3.4 APG), who scored 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-8 threes. But the sophomore has struggled shooting this season at 39.5% FG. The Wildcats offense is led by senior SG James Bell (14.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG), who has struggled lately with a putrid 28% FG clip, including 2-of-23 threes, in his past five games. He is 0-for-13 from long range in his past two contests, including an 0-for-8 performance against Milwaukee. SG Darrun Hilliard II (14.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG) rounds out the backcourt as a deft three-point shooter, making 41% of his treys. Bell, PF JayVaughn Pinkston (14.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG) and SF Daniel Ochefu (5.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG) pace the team’s rebounding efforts. Pinkston recorded his fifth straight game of 11+ points on Thursday (13 points, eight boards), while Ochefu is the team’s top post defender with 1.5 BPG.