The 2015-16 Villanova Wildcats are not the 2013-14 Wildcats or the 2014-15 Wildcats, and they’re proving it… emphatically.
Those past teams were upset in the Round of 32 as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. Not only have the Wildcats avoided such a slipup, they’ve been the tournament’s best team through Thursday’s action.
You expect even the best teams to face adversity throughout the Big Dance. The Wildcats haven’t. They’ve been that dominant.
Average margin of victory for Villanova in this tournament: 24.0 points.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) March 25, 2016
Villanova drilled a 3-pointer on its first possession of the tournament and hasn’t looked back.
First thing's first: they easily took down No. 15 seed UNC Asheville by 30 in the first round.
And as convincing of a win as that was, the Wildcats were even more impressive in their next contest.
Villanova was throttling Iowa before the Hawkeyes could even settle into the game. The Wildcats jumped out to a 54-29 lead and ultimately took the game 87-68, setting themselves up for a date with an elite Miami team.
But, again, the Wildcats looked even better against the Hurricanes than they did in the prior round. Villanova jumped out to a 29-14 lead en route to a 92-69 beat down.
Villanova's 92 points were the most in a regional semifinal game since Kentucky beat Indiana 102-90 in 2012.— David Worlock (@DavidWorlock) March 25, 2016
It's worth noting that Miami didn’t shrink on the big stage or anything of the sort; this was Villanova playing its best basketball and taking the game. That should be demoralizing for the teams remaining in the tournament.
You can play a great game against Villanova and still get blown out. There aren’t many, if any, other teams in the country that can make the same claim.
Think about this: Miami shot 53.2 percent from the field and 58.8 percent from beyond the arc and lost… by 23.
That’s because Villanova was nearly flawless on the offensive end, shooting 62.7 percent from the field, 66.7 percent from 3 and 94.7 percent from the free-throw line.
That is flat-out absurd.
1.60 points per possession for Villanova. The best offensive game for any team the ENTIRE SEASON— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) March 25, 2016
Yet, remarkably enough, it was only a slight improvement on their offensive performances in the first two games. Villanova shot 57.9 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from 3 against UNC Asheville and shot 59.3 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from 3 against Iowa.
Simply put, the Wildcats offense is a riddle right now and it doesn’t appear as if anyone can solve it.
This isn’t just the case of one or even a few guys being hot, either. This is an entire team clicking on all cylinders, which makes them even scarier. Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson and Daniel Ochefu: Pick your poison with that group and good luck.
"I think it just makes teams have to deal with a lot of guys, and they can't key on one person," Arcidiacono said after Thursday's game. "We're honestly just reading the defense. We're not trying to have one person go off."
Villanova is moving the ball with precision, sharing the ball constantly and finding the best possible shot instead of settling for even a good shot.
"We're taking what the defense is giving us while being aggressive," Arcidiacono said. "We're trying to get the threes up. If they're not wide open, we'll try to get in the lane and make a play for someone else."
They're outworking their opponents, playing unselfishly and executing. What else could you ask for from an offense?
Still, as great as their offense has been, Villanova's defense can't be ignored, either.
While Miami certainly shot the ball well against the Wildcats on Thursday, Villanova has defended well in this tournament overall. They held UNC Asheville to 36.8 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from 3 and held Iowa to 45.0 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from 3. That defensive success should come as little surprise, though; the Wildcats entered Thursday’s action with the 8th most efficient defense in the country – one spot higher than its ninth ranked offense -- according to KenPom’s metrics.
This is one of the most balanced teams in the country, and they're peaking at the right time.
Next, the Wildcats will take on No. 1 overall seed Kansas in the Elite Eight on Saturday.
Kansas entered the tournament as the most popular pick among fans to win the championship, while many viewed Villanova as one of the high seeds most vulnerable to an early exit.
But throw all of that away. The mystique of Kansas’ program doesn’t matter, nor does Villanova’s previous tournament struggles.
What matters is that Villanova looks nearly unstoppable right now, and the Jayhawks better watch out.