Remember when we questioned whether or not No. 2 seed Villanova would be able to win in March given how much they shot from beyond the arc?
Remember when we were saying that the Wildcats wouldn’t be able to shed the label of being a good regular season team in an overrated Big East if they kept firing up nearly 44 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc?
Because I remember saying all of that.
And I now feel foolish for doing so, as the Wildcats landed their third straight blowout win to advance to the Elite 8, smacking around No. 3 seed Miami, 92-69, to get to the South Region final in Louisville. They will play the winner of tonight’s game between No. 1 Kansas and No. 5 Maryland.
The criticisms that were lobbed at Villanova earlier in the season were totally justified. After the Wildcats were embarrassed by Oklahoma in Hawai’i in December, it was fair to wonder whether or not this was a team that needed to change who they were. At the time, they were shooting nearly half of their field goal attempts from beyond the three-point line and hitting them at a less-than 31 percent clip. That’s not good, and while it slowly improved throughout the season — that’s what happens when shot selection becomes a larger focus of the offense — this was a Villanova team whose question marks this season were a major storyline because of the way the Wildcats had exited the tournament the last two seasons.
They exorcised those demons on Sunday when they got to the second weekend of the event. That came after they smacked around an Iowa team that no one in their right mind trusted after the way the Hawkeyes collapsed.
But Thursday night’s win was different.
Because No. 3 Miami had the look of a real Final Four contender. They had as much size and athleticism as any team left in the tournament, and when you combine that with the talent they had in the back court — Angel Rodriguez, Sheldon McClellan, JaQuan Newton, Davon Reed — and Tonye Jekiri’s ability to own the paint defensively, it wasn’t a surprise that Miami had made it this far. That was a good basketball team with a good coach that was playing as well as they had all season long.
Then Villanova showed up.
And the Wildcats won by 23 points despite the fact that Miami shot 53.2 percent from the floor and 10-for-17 (58.8%) from three. Do you realize how hard it is to shoot that well and lose by that much?
Villanova shot 62.7 percent from the floor, they shot 10-for-15 (66.7%) from three and they forced 12 turnovers, many of which were of the live-ball, pick-six variety. And it wasn’t like the Wildcats were getting great looks, either. Ryan Arcidiacono, who finished with 21 points and four assists, hit some ridiculously tough shots in the first half that got Villanova going, and while Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart both got it going a little bit, the difference-maker here was Kris Jenkins.
Jenkins has been playing absolutely out of his mind for the last month. He finished with 21 points, nine boards and four assists, hitting 8-for-10 from the floor and 5-for-6 from three, including the 30-foot bomb you see above. Jenkins has made at least two three-pointers in each of the last 11 games, scoring more than 15 points in 10 of the 11 and at least 20 points in six of those 10.
When Jenkins gets into a rhythm like this it makes Villanova a nightmare to try and defend. Both Jenkins and Hart skilled enough offensively that they’ll eat up any power forward that gets put on them, and Hart’s toughness and athleticism allows him to make up for the lack of size at the forward spot on both the offensive glass and defensively. They can switch, they can zone, they can play straight man-to-man, they can change on every possession.
All that has been in their repertoire before, the issue previously was that they weren’t consistent enough offensively.
That has not been the case in this tournament.
Villanova is now shooting 33-for-62 from three in the three games in this event. For those scoring at home, that’s 53.2 percent. And on Thursday, against a Miami team that has the size, the length and the athleticism to be a deterrent to Villanova’s forays into the lane, the Wildcats shot less than 30 percent of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc. In the tournament as a whole, only 38.2 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts are from beyond the arc.
It’s amazing what shot selection will do to a shooting percentage.
It’s amazing what seeing a few jumpers go in will do for a team’s confidence.
And if Villanova can find a way to shoot at this clip for one more game, Jay Wright will be on his way back to the Final Four for the first time since 2009.