A loss in the Big East Tournament quarterfinal bumped Villanova down to a second seed, but nevertheless, Jay Wright should get some consideration for Coach of the Year. The Wildcats were thought to be a bubble team coming into the season, but instead have gone 28-4, a school record for regular-season wins. The Panthers went just 7-9 in conference play in the regular season, but got into the field thanks to a four-game run through the Horizon League Tournament. That included wins at top-seeded Green Bay and third-seeded Wright State in the championship game. During those four games, the Panthers trailed for just over 9 minutes, and led wire-to-wire in the championship game. The Wildcats are hoping to avoid a repeat of the only other time they were a No. 2 seed. In 2010, Villanova needed overtime to defeat No. 15 Robert Morris on opening weekend, then lost its next game to Saint Mary’s.
Villanova’s offense relies on connecting from three-point range. The Wildcats have taken 801 three-pointers this season. Only Creighton (812) has taken more among the 68-team field, and they’ve played one more game. Villanova averages nine three-pointers a game, with James Bell hitting the most (81) and Darrun Hilliard being the most accurate (41 percent). The Wildcats are averaging 78.5 points per game, which ranks 28th in Division I. If they get to 70 points, it’s almost a sure thing they’ll win — they are 24-1 this season when putting up at least that many. The Wildcats also have a scoring margin of plus-11.9, which is 13th in the nation. Freshman Josh Hart has picked up his offense, averaging 10.2 points over his last five games, pushing his field-goal percentage to .503 (82 of 163) for the season.
A neutral site shouldn’t take much getting used to for Milwaukee. The Panthers played just 12 of their 30 regular-season games at home. They picked up 10 true road wins and 14 victories outside Milwaukee. The Panthers have been a different team since Jordan Aaron returned from a four-game suspension in February for violating team rules. Since he’s been back, the Panthers have gone 4-0. Aaron, a native of the Bronx, leads the team in scoring at 15.0 points per game and was MVP at the Horizon League Tournament. He transitioned this season from point guard to shooting guard. He can score in bunches — as evidenced by his 33 points earlier this season against Missouri-Kansas City. The Horizon League schedule didn’t do Milwaukee any favors in regards to its RPI ranking – which is 131st.
Outlook: The Wildcats are fresh, having played only once in the last two weeks. Barring a complete collapse, they should have little trouble advancing to Saturday. Prediction: Villanova 80, Milwaukee 63.
Tipoff: 9:25 p.m. Thursday • First Niagara Center • TV: TBS • Radio: TBA