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March 19, 2016

Villanova rewind: Second-round blues, Daniel Ochefu’s health, and piccolos

Unlike some of the other two seeds in the NCAA Tournament (cough, Sparty, cough), the Villanova Wildcats made fairly easy work of their first-round opponent. Here are some takeaways from the Wildcats’ 86-56 victory over UNC Asheville on Friday afternoon in Brooklyn:

•    After another year of waiting, we have finally made it back to the Villanova’s annual stumbling block. The Wildcats have heard the SECOND ROUND questions all year long (pretty much after every game), but only now can they finally face them head on.

“All season, if we would have answered those questions and lost this game, we’re idiots,” Wright told reporters at Barclays Center. “To talk about that and know how hard it is to get there would really be unintelligent.”

So Wright and his staff steered their players away from answering those questions. Now, they finally can.

“Now, everyone is going to ask the question,” Wright said. “We got to go do it, it’s the bottom line. And if we don’t do it, it’s failure. But there’s nothing wrong with failure in sports if you give your best effort.”

Wright has a nice perspective on this stuff. He could really use this one, though.

•    I laughed when the CBS cameras cut to the piccolo section of the band. The crying girl has already given her bandmates more face time than usual.

•    Wright said this on the broadcast, but the first half of this game actually was pretty competitive. ‘Nova took a 14-point lead into the locker room in part because they did what many college teams maddeningly won’t even try: execute a 2-for-1 at the end of the half. A Jalen Brunson three with 41 seconds left led to a Ryan Arcidiacono buzzer beater:

As it turns out, two is greater than one. Shocking, I know.

•    Daniel Ochefu, still dealing with an ankle injury, stepped up when the matchups were in his favor: 17 points (7-9 FG), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks. Especially after halftime, Ochefu scored easily over defenders five inches smaller than him.

“Coach got on me in the locker room and huddles, and I responded and made the adjustments that we needed to,” Ochefu said. “Kicking the ball out to shooters like Ryan and Josh [Hart], guys cutting, and scoring when I could.”

If Ochefu can play to today’s level consistently, ‘Nova at least has the ability to beat anyone. He’s a legit big guy that allows them to punish smaller matchups.

•    Just like with the rest of the loaded South Region, ‘Nova didn’t get any favors with Iowa as the 7 seed. KenPom gives the Wildcats a 69 percent chance (nice) to win the game, but I think those odds should be a tad higher after watching the Hawkeyes earlier today. Truth be told, the level of play in the Iowa-Temple game wasn’t all that impressive.

That doesn’t mean Iowa can’t get hot on Sunday and knock off Villanova. Jarod Uthoff and Peter Jok need to shoot better than they did today (which is very plausible), but the Hawkeyes are absolutely capable of beating the Wildcats. That is what makes Sunday’s game so interesting.

Still, Wright has the better team and they need to forget all of this second-round stuff and just play their game. Prediction: Villanova 83, Iowa 75

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann