By Joseph Santoliquito
BROOKLYN, NY (CBS) — The buttons were pushed. They had been for some time. What was gnawing at Villanova was a seven-year itch that they had to dispose of on Sunday, and that’s exactly what the No. 2-seeded Wildcats did with a thoroughly dominating 87-68 victory over No. 7 Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It marks the first time Villanova will reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament since 2009, when the Cats reached the Final Four.
With a senior core led by guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who had 16 points against Iowa, and center Daniel Ochefu, who grabbed 11 rebounds, it looks like Villanova could be primed to reach the Final Four again this year. Standing in the Wildcats’ way is No. 3 Miami, which Villanova (31-5) will face on Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky.
But it’s the way Villanova plays defense that says it can play another two weekends. Against Iowa, the Wildcats held the Hawkeyes to 45% shooting and 7-for-24 from three-point range (29.2%). The Hawkeyes’ last lead was, 6-5, with 18:42 left in the first half on a Peter Jok three-pointer. Then Villanova took over. The Wildcats shot 59.3% overall (32-of-54) and were 10-19 from three-point range (52.6%).
When Villanova is shooting like that, no team in the country can beat the Wildcats.
But the stress has been on the defensive side of the ball.
Seton Hall’s upset victory over the Wildcats in the Big East Tournament semifinals appears to be aberration now.
The Wildcats have beaten their first two NCAA opponents by a combined 49 points, for the largest average amount of victory of any of the 16 teams left in the tournament, winning by an average of 24.5 points a game. Villanova’s 54 points at halftime against Iowa presented the most ever scored by Villanova in a half of an NCAA Tournament game.
It all fits in with how scary good Villanova is playing.
Villanova knows what it has on the defensive side. If the Wildcats can continue playing with this rhythm on offense, and hit at least 40% from three-point range, Miami and whoever team the Wildcats face after that, even if it’s Kansas, will have a tough time winning.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery put it best when he said afterward that top-caliber offensive teams play defense in spurts. Villanova doesn’t. At one point in the first half against Iowa, when the game was still competitive, the Wildcats held Iowa without a point for almost five minutes.