March 18, 2022
The entire Philadelphia area contingent in the NCAA tournament was confined to a single game in Pittsburgh Friday afternoon, as Villanova handled Delaware 80-60 in a game that showcased athleticism on both sides.
And while Delaware might have had what it took to pull off the upset on a different day, under different circumstances, they were outplayed by a better Villanova team has Final Four aspirations.
The Wildcats really did flash a bit of everything they do right in their big win, combining shooting excellence with smart decision-making, defensive opportunism and high basketball IQ. It was an emphatic way to begin March Madness and will certainly have those who have them going far on their bracket feeling confident.
Before we turn the page to Villanova's Round of 32 matchup against the Big 10's Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, let's take a look at what we saw in the first round:
• The Nova offensive attack, at least early in this one, really reminded me of when the Sixers are at their worst. With so many star athletic players to boast when they have the ball, the Wildcats' offense can be, surprisingly, very slow, deliberate and labored at times. Clearly they are at their best when they're draining threes, probing and using their spaced offense outside the three-point line to generate drives to the basket. But they were in a funk and made things easier on the Delaware defense by wasting early possessions.
• Collin Gillespie is one of those blue collar hustle guys that Villanova always seems to find, in the mold of Ryan Arcidiacono and Donte DiVincenzo. He's a leader on the floor and a fifth year senior. Usually you see in these NCAA Tournament games that the teams with lots of upperclassman leadership succeed.
With things potentially falling apart midway through the first, a Gillespie three after an offensive board got Nova some momentum back, cutting a Delaware lead to just three. He would make three more of them on the day.
• Give Nova open three-point looks, and you're toast. After going one for their first six, Nova drilled five 3's in a row to clinch a comfortable lead. In all, they would drain 13-of-28 (46.4%) from long range in the 'W'.
• Eric Davis is a big boy, and has a strong NBA body. He's a sophomore but was the centerpiece of the Nova defense Friday, bullying the more feeble Blue Hens in the paint. Perhaps another season under coach Jay Wright could have him signing an NBA contract next year.
• Jermaine Samuels is a freak athlete and was a huge contributor on the offensive glass, giving the Wildcats numerous second chances. He also followed this block with an uncontested slam seconds later on the other end.
Senior Brandon Slater added another highlight stop at the rim in the first half as well.
• One of the biggest things that stands out from Jay Wright's offense is that there is a real balance in scoring. Anyone on the floor can handle the ball, can drive to the hoop or can pull up from three. With such an even allocation of offense, it makes it even harder for the opposition to pinpoint a guy to focus on, and if the Wildcats make a deep run this spring it'll be in large part to the depth of scoring options they truly have.
Justin Moore had a big day with 21 points, while four other Wildcats netted double figures on the day. Five different players made at least one three-pointer.
• There is always a slight edge at least when it comes to enthusiasm and effort for the underdogs. The Blue Hens, with a 15 seed, are clearly just happy to be there, but the 14-point favored Wildcats definitely took them lightly on the defensive end for stretches Friday. Wright also sacrificed size, giving Delaware a bit of an edge against a roster of Nova players that are close to all the same size.
Sometimes the enthusiasm gap is enough to help a Cinderella hang on and pull off an upset. In the first few minutes you could see Delaware ready to leap though the ceiling. However, they were unable to sustain that kind of focus and energy and that's one of the reasons why they fell behind near the end of the first half.
• Delaware came out hot and did not turn the ball over for nine minutes while hitting nine of 16 shots to get things going. This was in large part due to smart shot selection. Delaware netted 18 of the first 25 points they posted near the basket. The problem for Delaware was, once Nova started draining shots from deep, its inside game was not suited for coming back. The Hens started chucking up threes and coming up empty, eventually falling behind by double digits.
• Delaware has gone 0-16 against Villanova and has never won an NCAA Tournament game. With a very young team (just one senior starter this year), the Blue Hens should look at this setback and experience as a building block. Coming back hungry and with tourney experience in 2022-23, the Blue Hens could be a dangerous upset-setting team next March.
• Jyare Davis can play some serious basketball. He was a high school legend in the First State, and decided to keep his talents there. The freshman forward led his team with 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting and was silky smooth around the basket. He could be a name to remember as he hones his skills in the CAA.
• Kudos to Jameer Nelson Jr. for overcoming an 0-7 start and scoreless first half to net eight points on the day. There was a lot of hype heading into this game and there were a lot of bad shot decisions he'll certainly want back. He was never really feeling it playing on the biggest stage of his career, but he will surely have more chances to come.
• Good luck coming back after allowing a 23-2 run, like the Wildcats did in the middle of Friday's pummeling.
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