(11) Saint Mary’s v (6) Villanova
Time: 6:20 PM CT (TBS)
Spread: VIL -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
Last year’s defending champion Villanova finished the season 25-9 with a Big East-best 13-5 mark in the conference. Nova won its final three games over Providence, Xavier and Seton Hall to take the Big East title. It will collide against #11 seeded Saint Mary’s in the opening around and the Wildcats are 5-point favorites over it. Saint Mary’s finished the season 22-11 and it won the WCC crown over Gonzaga by a score of 60-47. Saint Mary’s won seven of its final eight games. The over/under is set at 130.5 points according to NCAA basketball oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes, and the game tips off Thursday evening at 6:20 CST on TBS.
Villanova seems awfully slept on as a No. 6 seed despite some key losses from last year’s championship team. Nova is now led by Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. The pair combined to average 35.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and six assists per game, while both shooting roughly 36 percent from three-point range. Paschall leads the team in rebounding at 6.2 per game, and Nova is a small team lacking major frontcourt players. Paschall is a 6’8” 255-pound senior forward who played a large role last season when he averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
This year he is averaging 16.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.3 blocks/steals per game while playing 36 minutes a game. Paschall is averaging 16.3 points and 7.6 rebounds over his past three, all Nova victories. He played 43 minutes in the overtime win over Xavier, recording 12 points and five rebounds despite fouling out in the game. A big minutes player, he is a massive factor for Nova in its quest to repeat a deep run this season.
Villanova held opponents to 67.1 points per game while scoring 74.5 itself, solid for a win differential of positive-7.4 points. The Wildcats fared 3-3 against its six AP ranked opponents this year, and it defeated Marquette, Florida State, and San Jose State University. The Cats were badly shocked by then-No. 18 Michigan early in the season when it lost 46-73, which it followed up with a costly loss to lowly Furman. So, to be sure, this is a team that can either show up in a big way to knock off ranked opponents or it could utterly fall flat on its face. The Wildcats are heavily reliant on the three, having attempted over 1,000 this season at a 35.3 percent clip.
The Wildcats are also solid at the line as a team, shooting 72.7 percent on the season. Booth brings senior experience to the guard position after playing behind Jalen Brunson for the first part of his Nova career. He averaged 27 minutes a game a season ago, but this year is seeing 35 minutes a night in averaging 18.6 points per game. Booth had 28 in the OT win over Xavier and 28 in a 75-54 win over Butler on Mar. 2. If gets his shot going, the Wildcats could easily win this game big, despite entering as just 5-point favorites.
Saint Mary’s already upset Villanova in 2010, and it eyes a repeat of that history. The Gaels are a strong defensive team that holds its opponents to just 64.4 per game while scoring 72.9 itself. Saint Mary’s is led by Jordan Ford and Malik Fitts. Ford averaged a team-best 21.3 points per game while shooting 42.3 percent from three-point range. Fitts led the team in rebounding (7.6 per) and was No. 2 in scoring at 15.3 per game. After that pair, there are only three others that average better than six points per game, but Saint Mary’s is a good shooting team at 47.4 percent and a 72.9 point per game average is not too bad. The Gaels attempted just 648 threes this season, and Ford led the team with 163 attempts (69 made).
The Gaels average just 10.6 turnovers per game while creating few itself as well (just six steals and 2.5 blocks per game defensively). Saint Mary’s finished the season 1-2 against ranked opponents, with two of those three games coming against Gonzaga—one, the WCC Final, resulting in victory. While the Gaels are a solid team, Nova’s experienced performers and momentum should prevent a repeat of 2010.