Sunday, March 26, 2006

Villanova vs. Florida Preview

What's with all the rematches? Memphis played UCLA earlier this season, and now we have a rematch from last year's NCAA Tournament. That game was much different than today's game will be. Florida saw their three leading scorers go to the NBA, but are better without them, while Villanova had the now-injured Curtis Sumpter for that game. The only guarantee I have for this year's game is that it will be closer than last season's 11-point 'Nova win.

Villanova, like most of the other #1 seeds, has not rolled through the first three rounds by any stretch of the imagination. In the opening round, #16 seed Monmouth hung with the Wildcats for much of the game. The champs of the NEC had a chance to make it a one-possession game with under five minutes left, but they couldn't execute down the stretch. Playing in Philadelphia did not have the effect that most thought it might have. Arizona did not seem to be intimidated by the near-homecourt advantage in the second round. The athleticism of Arizona gave Villanova some problems, but 'Nova made some key plays in the final minutes to give them a four-point win. One of the most anticipated games of the Tournament came in the Sweet Sixteen. Boston College's inside play and physicality gave the Wildcats problems. But 'Nova's guards did the same to BC's perimeter players. With under five seconds left in overtime, BC had a miscommunication on an inbounds play and Will Sheridan ended up with a wide-open lay-up to give Villanova a one-point win.

Florida has been arguably the most impressive team in the entire NCAA Tournament so far. They blew out their first two opponents, South Alabama and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In the first round, the Gators shook off a poorly-played first half to outscore the Jaguars by twenty in the second half for an easy win. Annual upset pick Wisconsin-Milwaukee did not get the chance to play in the Sweet Sixteen after playing the Gators. Florida jumped out to an early lead and controlled the game throughout for their second dominant victory in a row. It surely was not the same against Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen. The slow-down style of the Hoyas gave the Gators some problems through the game, but their ability to play at any tempo helped them out down the stretch. Down one, Corey Brewer hit an acrobatic, falling-down three-point play with under thirty seconds left. Two free throws in the final seconds gave Florida a four-point win and a berth in the Elite Eight.

Villanova is one of the most confident teams in the country as demonstrated by their fearlessness when it comes to taking contested shots and going into the lane and finishing against bigger players. They have an outstanding four-guard backcourt. Randy Foye is an All-American as he can do anything on the court, from rebounding to defending to scoring. Allan Ray is an excellent scorer that can be unstoppable when he is hot. Kyle Lowry does not get the same type of publicity as the aforementioned two, but he is just as important to the team. Mike Nardi is a very good shooter. The frontcourt does not get the same type of recognition as the perimeter does, but they are just as important. Will Sheridan is a solid rebounder and defender who is the lone big man on the floor on most occasions. Dante Cunnigham has come on strong lately, and Jason Fraser is experienced and had a big game against Florid last season.

Florida might be the most balanced team in the country, as they have five guys that average double-figures and are capable of having big games. The Gators have depth and talent in the post that few teams in the country can match. Joakim Noah is a terrific athlete who can score, rebound, and block shots with the best of them. Fellow future pro Al Horford is a very good rebounder and defender who uses his athleticism to get putbacks. Off the bench is Chris Richard, who could start for most teams in the nation. Corey Brewer rounds out one of the best frontcourts in the country. He is very athletic and can do nearly everything on the court. Taurean Green is one of the most improved players in the country at the point guard position. He is a good scorer and a very solid distributor. Lee Humphrey is an outstanding three-point shooter.

This game is going to be an outstanding battle between two supremely talented teams that could easily win the National Title. As with most Villanova games, it is also going to be a contrast of styles. Florida has a terrific frontcourt, while 'Nova counters with the best backcourt in the country. Joakim Noah has been one of the top players in the NCAA Tournament and is going to give Will Sheridan fits inside. He is too athletic and quick for Sheridan. Moreover, Al Horford is an excellent rebounder and is very athletic. Randy Foye will not be able to defend him on the inside. Villanova has held their own against some of the best frontcourts in the country, but Noah and Horford are playing as well as any duo in America. Villanova's guard play is going to give Florida trouble, though. Randy Foye simply does not allow the Wildcats to lose, while Allan Ray is one of the best shooters in the country. Corey Brewer is going to draw the assignment of guarding one of the two, and I think he is going to play very good defense and force whoever he guards into a tough day. Kyle Lowry and Taurean Green are also going to do battle in the backcourt. Lowry is a tough and strong penetrator, and Green is going to have to prevent him from getting in the lane whenever he wants. If he sags off of Lowry, he could have more success as Lowry is not that great of a shooter. When it comes down to it, though, Florida will put out the win. Their balance is going to be too much for the Wildcats. Noah and Horford should dominate the interior, while Green and Brewer are very good perimeter players who are plenty good enough to match Villanova's guard production. Billy Donovan will be heading to his first Final Four since 2000.

Prediction: Florida 76, Villanova 73