Milwaukee (21-13) vs. Villanova (28-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 20, 9:25 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: First Niagara Center (18,690) -- Buffalo, New York. Television: TBS. NCAA Record: Milwaukee 3-3, Villanova 49-32. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Out to prove they are deserving of their No. 2 seed, the Villanova Wildcats will begin work in the NCAA Tournament's East Region when they take on the 15th-seeded Milwaukee Panthers at the First Niagara Center.
Entering the Big East Conference Tournament, Villanova was thought to have a real shot at a No. 1 seed. However, things changed when the Wildcats were unceremoniously dumped from the event in their first bout, losing to Seton Hall on a buzzer beater in the quarterfinals, 64-63. They have still enjoyed a stellar season (28-4), but doubts still linger as they try to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2009.
Despite a 21-13 overall record, Milwaukee is a surprise competitor in the tourney, having finished at just 7-9 in Horizon League action. However, the Panthers navigated their way through the conference tournament, culminating in a title-clinching victory over Wright State. They are making their fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament and hoping to recapture the magic of 2005, when they made it to the Sweet 16.
This is the first-ever meeting between these two programs, with the winner advancing to the Round of 32 to face either seventh-seeded Connecticut or 10th-seeded Saint Joseph's.
Powered by 20 points and nine rebounds from Kyle Kelm, Milwaukee was able to pull out a 69-63 triumph over Wright State to claim the Horizon League Tournament crown. The Panthers only connected on 38.6 percent from the field in the contest, but they knocked down 9-of-18 shots from beyond the arc and outscored the Raiders 11-6 in second-chance points.
There are four double-digit scorers on the roster for Milwaukee, which is still not an overly impressive offensive unit. The Panthers are netting 71 ppg and shooting 43.3 percent from the floor, led by Jordan Aaron (15 ppg), who is only connecting on 38.7 percent of his field goal tries. Kelm (12.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg) is a more efficient scorer, netting 52 percent from the field. Matt Tiby (12.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Austin Arians (10.9 ppg) give the Panthers some depth and Steve McWhorter (8 ppg, 4 apg) runs the point. However, there is not another player on the team scoring more than four ppg.
Seton Hall's Sterling Gibbs hit a step-back jumper as time expired and suddenly Villanova, which won the regular-season title in the Big East, was sent home from the league tournament. The Wildcats missed far too many shots in the contest, hitting only 37.9 percent from the floor, while being outscored 24-12 from 3-point range.
Such a dismal shooting performance was certainly not expected, especially against a Seton Hall team that had six league wins all season. Normally the Wildcats are a more productive offensive team, ranking second in the Big East in scoring (78.5 ppg) and third in field goal percentage (.459). James Bell (14.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Darrun Hilliard (14.3 ppg) are the scoring leaders for the team, providing plenty of production in the backcourt. Ryan Arcidiacono (9.9 ppg, 3.4 apg) is a shooter who needs to be monitored, as he can heat up from 3-point range at any time. Meanwhile, JayVaughn Pinkston (14.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is the anchor down low.
The jury is still out on whether or not Villanova is a serious national title contender, but the Wildcats are too good to fall flat in this matchup.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Villanova 81, Milwaukee 64
03/20 10:24:59 ET