Ahead of Saturday’s NCAA tournament Round of 32 matchup between the East Region’s No. 1 seed Villanova Wildcats and No. 8 seed Wisconsin Badgers, we asked Brian Ewart from VU Hoops, SB Nation’s ‘Nova site, to preview the game from the opposing side. Tipoff is approximately 1:40 p.m. CT Saturday on CBS; find the full Round of 32 TV schedule at the bottom of the article. Below is our conversation, edited only sightly for style and clarity.
1. What was the initial reaction to Villanova drawing a potential matchup with Wisconsin? Did it change at all after each team’s opening-round game?
The 8-9 winner is usually a much better team than the No. 16 seed, so I don’t think Villanova fans were too blown away by that reveal on Sunday. With that said, none of us thought that the committee was doing Villanova a favor by putting Wisconsin in the East. The Badgers are a program that has talent, competent coaching, and comes in through a Big Ten Conference that challenged them a lot this season.
Villanova’s opener was, uh, let’s say concerning, but they played like a No. 1 seed to close it out in the second half, which obviously has to raise some concerns about Saturday if they come out flat again. I don’t think Wisconsin’s opener really changed anything though—a hard-fought win for the Badgers in the 8-9 game is what you would expect.
(1) Villanova vs. (8) Wisconsin (NCAA March Madness/YouTube)
2. Can you summarize Villanova’s season for Wisconsin fans? What were the highs and lows, and most prevalent themes?
It has been a really impressive season, there have been a lot of good feelings carrying over from last season’s run. Their loss at Marquette and probably their second loss to Butler (at home) were probably the only real lows (the Butler loss ended the team’s unbeaten streak at the Pavilion). They battled and played well in most of their games and Josh Hart has been more Josh-Hart-ey than ever before this season, really finding ways to do a little bit of everything to push the team in the right direction. Jalen Brunson has really stepped up into the very (proverbially) big shoes that Ryan Arcidiacono left behind, and everyone has come together to find an extra gear to make up for the loss of Phil Booth (knees) and Omari Spellman (NCAA shenanigans).
3. How did Villanova’s regular season compare to preseason expectations?
Really well. They won more games than they did in last season’s regular season and really looked like a team that wasn’t going to miss a step. When Hart and Kris Jenkins came back for their senior years, the feeling around Villanova was that the team really had a great chance to contend again this season, and they’ve lived up to that so far.
4. How do you think Villanova matches up with Wisconsin?
This is a game between two really good defensive teams, and that could definitely produce a battle. These are both pretty tough teams that can attack in different ways, and Villanova will be challenged more in the paint tomorrow, with some height on the Wisconsin front line, but the ‘Cats have dealt with that throughout Jay Wright’s tenure, so they’ll need to rely on experience to take advantage of the mismatches, and there will be pressure on Darryl Reynolds to take care of his man on defense.
5. What’s your prediction for the game? Do you think most Wildcats fans have similar expectations?
I normally don’t make predictions, but I think my bracket is public, so I’ll go ahead and confirm that I picked the Wildcats to advance. I think that’s a pretty common pick among Villanova fans—as the overall No. 1 seed, it makes sense to send them through unless you feel like the team has a serious flaw that wasn’t exposed already.
2017 NCAA Tournament Round of 32
|Game||Date||Tip Time (ET)||Network||Site||Commentators|
|Game||Date||Tip Time (ET)||Network||Site||Commentators|
|(4) West Virginia Mountaineers vs. (5) Notre Dame Fighting Irish||March 18||12:10 p.m.||CBS||Buffalo||Verne Lundquist / Jim Spanarkel / Allie LaForce|
|(1) Villanova Wildcats vs. (8) Wisconsin Badgers||March 18||Approx. 2:40 p.m.||CBS||Buffalo||Verne Lundquist / Jim Spanarkel / Allie LaForce|
|(1) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. (8) Northwestern Wildcats||March 18||5:15 p.m.||CBS||Salt Lake City||Andrew Catalon / Steve Lappas / Jamie Erdahl|
|(3) Florida State Seminoles vs. (11) Xavier Musketeers||March 18||6:10 p.m.||TNT||Orlando||Ian Eagle / Steve Lavin / Evan Washburn|
|(4) Butler Bulldogs vs. (12) Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders||March 18||7:10 p.m.||TBS||Milwaukee||Carter Blackburn / Mike Gminski / Debbie Antonelli / Lisa Byington|
|(2) Arizona Wildcats vs. (7) St. Mary's Gaels||March 18||Approx. 7:45 p.m.||CBS||Salt Lake City||Andrew Catalon / Steve Lappas / Jamie Erdahl|
|(4) Florida Gators vs. (5) Virginia Cavaliers||March 18||Approx. 8:40 p.m.||TNT||Orlando||Ian Eagle / Steve Lavin / Evan Washburn|
|(4) Purdue Boilermakers vs. (5) Iowa State Cyclones||March 18||Approx. 9:40 p.m.||TBS||Milwaukee||Carter Blackburn / Mike Gminski / Debbie Antonelli / Lisa Byington|
|(2) Louisville Cardinals vs. (7) Michigan Wolverines||March 19||12:10 p.m.||CBS||Indianapolis||Jim Nantz / Grant Hill / Bill Raftery / Tracy Wolfson|
|(2) Kentucky Wildcats vs. (10) Wichita State Shockers||March 19||Approx. 2:40 p.m.||CBS||Indianapolis||Jim Nantz / Grant Hill / Bill Raftery / Tracy Wolfson|
|(1) Kansas Jayhawks vs. (9) Michigan St. Spartans||March 19||5:15 p.m.||CBS||Tulsa||Kevin Harlan / Reggie Miller / Dan Bonner / Dana Jacobson|
|(1) North Carolina Tar Heels vs. (8) Arkansas Razorbacks||March 19||6:10 p.m.||TNT||Greenville||Brian Anderson / Chris Webber / Lewis Johnson|
|(3) Oregon Ducks vs. (11) Rhode Island Rams||March 19||7:10 p.m.||TBS||Sacramento||Spero Dedes / Steve Smith / Len Elmore / Ros Gold-Onwude|
|(3) Baylor Bears vs. (11) USC Trojans||March 19||7:30 p.m.||truTV||Tulsa||Kevin Harlan / Reggie Miller / Dan Bonner / Dana Jacobson|
|(2) Duke Blue Devils vs. (7) South Carolina Gamecocks||March 19||Approx. 8:40 p.m.||TNT||Greenville||Brian Anderson / Chris Webber / Lewis Johnson|
|(3) UCLA Bruins vs. (6) Cincinnati Bearcats||March 19||Approx. 9:40 p.m.||TBS||Sacramento||Spero Dedes / Steve Smith / Len Elmore / Ros Gold-Onwude|