Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Talented Foes Wait in Wings

Last year, it would have been billed as a classic Big East battle. This year it is anointed a showdown between two of the nation’s best conferences, the Big East and the ACC. But tonight, once the players take the floor, it will just be Villanova and Boston College battling each other for a berth in the Elite Eight.

First-seeded Villanova (27-4) enters Friday’s matchup just five days removed from one of its toughest games of the year, an 82-78 win over No. 8-seed Arizona. The outcome was not secure until senior guard Allen Ray hit two clutch free throws with 10 seconds remaining. Ray led all scorers with 25, and his partner in the backcourt, senior Randy Foye, added 24. In the first round, ‘Nova downed No. 16-seed Monmouth in a surprisingly close game, 58-45.

Boston College (28-7), the four seed, is coming off wins against No. 13-seed Pacific and No. 12-seed Montana. The Eagles needed two overtimes to beat Pacific – though they did end up winning by 12 – then went on to beat the Grizzlies by 13, 69-56. BC’s senior forward Craig Smith has 47 points and 29 boards over the course of the two games.

For Villanova, guard play is the name of the game. The Wildcats typically start four guards – and at the very least three – and have guards as their top four scorers.

Foye, the Big East player of the year, leads the squad in scoring at 20.1 points per game. At 6-foot-4 he is the tallest of their guards, and is second on the team with 5.7 rebounds per game.

Ray (19.0 points per game), sophomore Kyle Lowery (11.4 points) and junior Mike Nardi (10.8 points) rounds out ‘Nova’s stable of guards. All four average over 28 minutes per game, and on the year, the guards account for 82 percent of the team’s scoring. Though smaller than most teams, the Wildcats tend to make up for their height with speed.

The Wildcats’ front court presence – one that many regard as underrated – is anchored by Will Sheridan, senior forward Jason Fraser, and freshman forward Dante Cunningham. Sheridan, who at 6-foot-8 is an inch shorter than the other two forwards, is the only one of the three to start – he has started all but one of Villanova’s 31 games – but while he leads the team in rebounding at 6.3 per contest, he only averages 5.6 points. Fraser is second among the forwards in scoring at 3.4 per game.

Despite the relative lack of frontcourt fire power, Villanova still manages to outrebound most opponents, albeit barely. On the season, the Cats average 35.2 rebounds per game, while their opponents grab 34.7. If BC wishes to be successful against these Wildcats, it can ill afford to take for granted an advantage on the glass.

Villanova does not win games because of any one particular strength – its 42.6 percent shooting from the field ranks 13th in the Big East, its rebounding margin is seventh in the league, and its scoring defense is fifth. Instead, its victories hinge on the versatility and unconventionality of its offense scheme.

The four-man backcourt either forces opponents to play smaller, quicker guards that are unaccustomed to getting big minutes or to clog the lane with big men to keep the Villanova guards from the getting to the basket.

Against the bigger teams, the Wildcats have shot the ball well from three, best evidenced by their Feb. 13 win over UConn.

With smaller opponents, Villanova tends to use its quickness to either beat its opponents to the basket, or to free itself for better perimeter shots. Against DePaul, one of the Big East’s weakest and shortest teams, on Feb. 11, Villanova struggled from three but drove to the basket at will.

On Jan. 21 against then-No. 20 Syracuse, in an 80-65 win, the Wildcats used their quickness to get to the line 35 times, and they made 32 of those attempts.

Boston College, to contrast, is a team that focuses on its strong, powerful forwards. Smith – a true big body who checks in at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds – leads the team in both points and rebounds, averaging 17.7 and 9.3, respectively. Jared Dudley, also a 6-foot-7 junior forward, is second in both categories, chipping in 16.7 points and 6.7 boards nightly.

Junior guard/forward Sean Marshall gives the Eagles a unique advantage, in that he can operate both inside and outside. He is third on the team in points and rebounds, but is also second in made three-pointers. Sophomore forward John Oates, at 6-foot-10, is Boston College’s fourth starter, though he plays only 15.1 minutes a game and averages just 3.5 points.

The only true guard in the starting lineup is senior Louis Hinnant, the Eagles’ primary ball-handler, who nets 7.6 points and 4.7 assists nightly. His 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio – best in the Atlantic Coast Conference – speaks to just how valuable he is to the Eagles.

Boston College has the ability to bring both instant offense and dominant defense off of the bench. Freshman guard Tyrese Rice has not started a game this year, but is fourth on the team with 9.4 points a game. On the other hand, Sean Williams, a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward, plays just 17 minutes per night, but still manages to block two shots per game. His interior defense could be critical in keeping the Villanova guards from getting to the rim.

The Eagles, with their interior-oriented offense, are most adept at simply putting the ball in the basket. They are second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 48.5 field goal percentage, many of those shots from in the paint, but they are also fifth in three-point percentage at 36.4.

Surprisingly, they do not rebound quite as well as one would expect of such a large team, as they only average 3.8 more boards than their opponents. Still, in the tournament, they have outrebounded opponents by an average of 11.5 boards per game.

Tonight’s contest will be one that pits contrasting styles. Villanova brings to the table four stellar guards capable of both shooting from the perimeter and getting to the hoop. Boston College has a cabal of veteran forwards that receive the ball from a remarkably reliable point guard. The Wildcats would be perfectly happy winning the game on the perimeter, while the Eagles will look to dominate the paint.

Villanova’s Feb. 19 win against Georgetown is a good indication of how the Wildcats can be successful against a team with height. Though the Hoyas were able to find their chief inside threats fairly often as sophomore Center Roy Hibbert scored 20 and sophomore forward Jeff Green had 15, the Wildcats pressured the perimeter enough to hold Georgetown’s less physical players (senior guard Ashanti Cook, sophomore Guard Jon Wallace, fifth-year swingman Darrel Owens, freshman guard Jesse Sapp and senior Brandon Bowman) to just 30 points total.

Villanova also won the battle of the turnovers, forcing 10 and committing just three. If Villanova can play the same pressure defense and demonstrate the same meticulous ball control that it did against Georgetown, it has an excellent chance of moving on.

While Boston College and Georgetown are hardly carbon copies of another – the Eagles do not run the Princeton offense – the teams are comparable in size.

For Boston College to be successful, it needs to get production not just from Smith and Dudley, but also from Hinnant and Rice. If it can play a balanced game offensively, it should be able to score on Villanova.

Defensively, the Eagles must keep the Wildcats cold from three-point land – Villanova has struggled from long distance in three of their four losses – and then, if the ‘Cats start to drive, play tight defense inside, avoiding foul trouble. Stopping the Villanova guards is a tall order, but if the Eagles can do it, they can certainly look forward to a trip to the Elite Eight.

Whichever team emerges victorious – and it is anyone’s ball game – will then move on to face No. 3-seed Florida or No. 7-seed Georgetown, where perhaps an even more difficult challenge awaits. Boston College, against either Florida or Georgetown, would be facing a team with a front line even more imposing than their own. Villanova would be up against yet another team with a contrasting style of play.

Some may be calling it Big East past vs. Big East present. Others may consider it a chance to see which conference, Big East or ACC, is best. But to the players, it is just the Eagles and the Wildcats battling to keep their season alive.

Tip-off is set for 7:10 p.m. EST at the Hubert Humphrey etrodome in Minneapolis.

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