Villanova punches second Final Four ticket in three seasons

Villanova punches second Final Four ticket in three seasons
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In a city that was once starved for champions, its becoming routine.

But for the second time in three seasons, after a 71-59 victory over the No. 3 Texas Tech Red Raiders, Villanova is Final Four bound.

The Wildcats win the East Regional looking different than their usual best in the country offense makes them look. Tight defense and attacking (20 offensive rebounds on just 33.3 percent shooting) the boards created a scrappy game, but Villanova came out on top and will vie for a National title next week.

In the wire-to-wire victory, Eric Paschall was a beast on the boards, covering up 14 rebounds while adding points to help lead the Cats. Freshman Omari Spellman also made an impact, scoring 11 points and blocking three key shots. Jalen Brunson’s 15 points led all scorers.

A 16.7 percent clip from long range didn’t help things, but the Wildcats found a way to score when they needed to, fending off several comeback efforts from Texas Tech (which chipped a double-digit lead to just five at the 5:35 mark).

But by the time things came down to free throws, Nova was in the drivers seat building their lead back to double digits and hanging on for the ‘W’ by missing just one second half shot from the charity stripe.

Back in the first half after a slow start, Nova jumped to a six-point lead after the eight minute time out — with the Red Raiders already in foul trouble as the Wildcats hustled for early loose balls and fast break opportunities. 

Suffocating defense held Texas Tech field goal-less toward the end of the first half, as 19 free throws in the first 20 minutes certainly helped Villanova.

The 17th came on a fast break sprint, layup and one by Donte DiVincenzo (who led the Nova bench with 12 points) to solidify the 36-23 lead after the first horn.

There is no hard and fast rule that veteran experience beats freshman talent. There have been great one-and-done teams in the NCAA Tournament, most recently and notably he 2015 Duke Blue Devils, led by Jahlil Okafor, Justice Winslow and others. But there does seem to be an extreme advantage for teams that know what they’re doing under college basketball’s biggest spotlight.

Resembling a very similar squad to their 2016 National Championship regime, the 2018 Wildcats have the perfect make up for a title run — with All-American talent in Brunson and Mikal Bridges leading the way. But both are juniors, and both have been emersed in a winning culture for a relatively long time. 

They will lead Villanova next week, when the Final Four tips off in San Antonio on Friday, March 31. Their opponent will be the winner of the Duke-Kansas match up held later Sunday afternoon.

On the other side of things, Cinderella No. 11 Loyola-Chicago and No. 3 Michigan will duel to become Villanova’s potential opponent in the National Championship game, held a week from Monday.