March Madness Round 64 Preview
Radford vs. Villanova
Top-seeded Villanova starts the quest for a second NCAA Tournament championship in three years when it when takes on No. 16 seed Radford in the first round of the East Region on Thursday in Pittsburgh. The Wildcats take a five-game winning streak into the Big Dance after outlasting Providence 76-66 in overtime in the Big East title game and set their sights on the Highlanders, who advanced out of the First Four on Tuesday.
“The biggest challenge is always this first game,” Villanova coach Jay Wright told ESPN. “One game at a time.” Wildcats junior guard Jalen Brunson, the Big East Player of the Year, matched his career high with 31 points in the conference title game and leads the nation’s most productive offense that boasts six players averaging in double figures, 87.1 points per contest and 388 made 3-pointers – second-most in the country. Villanova, which is the top seed in the East for the third time in four seasons, will face a Radford team that has won a program record 23 games and lost to Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech earlier in the season. Ed Polite Jr. and Carlik Jones each notched double-doubles as the Highlanders won their first NCAA Tournament game by knocking off LIU Brooklyn 71-61 in Dayton on Tuesday.
TV: 6:50 p.m. ET, TNT
ABOUT RADFORD (23-12): Polite, a junior forward, leads the team in scoring (13.5), rebounds (7.9) and steals (1.9) while going over 1,100 points for his career after scoring 13 on Tuesday. Jones, a freshman who drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer in the Big South Tournament final to send the Highlanders to the NCAA Tournament for the third time, averages 11.8 points (13.5 in the last four) and 3.1 assists. Sophomore guard Travis Fields Jr. is averaging 12 points in the last three games (12-for-18 from the field) to push his season mark to 6.3.
ABOUT VILLANOVA (30-4): Brunson averages team highs of 19.4 points and 4.7 assists while draining 53.1 percent from the field and fellow junior guard Mikal Bridges (18.0 points, 52.1 from the field) is scoring 23 per game over the last five. Junior guard Phil Booth, who missed seven games with a hand injury earlier this season, is also a major threat but must recover from an 0-for-5 shooting effort in the Big East final. The Wildcats will also need a big tournament from sophomore guard Donte DiVicenzo (13.1 points), but he has scored only 6.3 per game in his last three outings.
1. Villanova junior F Eric Paschall is averaging 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds – both above his season marks – over the last four games.
2. It’s the first meeting between the schools and the winner plays Virginia Tech or Alabama in Saturday’s second round.
3. The Wildcats are making their 13th NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 seasons and are 21-11 in that stretch.