Wildcats and Bears to meet at Hinkle Fieldhouse
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Villanova practiced Friday inside the Indiana Convention Center as it made final preparations for Saturday’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 matchup with No. 1 seed Baylor (24-2 overall).
The specter of this matchup actually loomed in the fall. Both the Wildcats (18-6 overall, 11-4 BIG EAST) and Bears were part of the original four team Empire Classic field originally slated for New York’s Madison Square Garden. The event was later moved to Mohegan Sun Arena but Baylor ultimately didn’t participate due to COVID-19 issues that cropped up prior to departing Waco.
Villanova went on to down Boston College and Arizona State to claim the Empire Classic title. Baylor bounced back to spend most of the season ranked in the Top Two of both the Associated Press and USA Today Top 25 polls.
Now, the two squads are set to reprise an entertaining matchup from 2019-20, when Baylor captured a spirited 87-78 victory over the Wildcats in the finals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Most of Baylor’s roster from that win returns intact, while Villanova is without its top two scorers from last season, Saddiq Bey (now with the Detroit Pistons) and Collin Gillespie (recovering from MCL surgery on his left knee earlier this month).
The Wildcats, of course, have undergone a retooling in the aftermath of Gillespie’s season-ending injury suffered on March 3 against fellow Sweet 16 participant Creighton at Finneran Pavilion. Sophomore guard Chris Arcidiacono moved into the starting lineup alongside classmate Justin Moore and junior Caleb Daniels in the backcourt. But the transformation didn’t come overnight, as Villanova suffered consecutive one-possession losses at Providence (54-52) and to Georgetown (72-71) in the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinal.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has been outstanding in the Wildcats’ three postseason games. He has connected on 24-of-42 field goal attempts (.571) while averaging 22.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. In the Wildcats’ two NCAA Tournament wins, he has averaged 6.0 assists and 1.0 turnover per contest. The native of Kansas City, Kan., was named a third team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and The Sporting News.
Jermaine Samuels, meanwhile, scored 15 points and grabbed a team-high nine caroms in the 84-61 victory over North Texas in the Round of 32.
The challenge Saturday will be formidable. Baylor’s backcourt trio of Jared Butler (16.9 ppg), MaCio Teague (16.1 ppg) and Davion Mitchell (14.1 ppg) combine to average 47 points per game. Butler is, along with Gillespie, a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award honoring the nation’s top point guard.
Baylor leads the nation in 3-point field goal percentage at .415. The Wildcats, who drained 15-of-30 from beyond the arc in the win over North Texas, have connected on .358 of their own attempts from deep.
The Bears toolbox is not limited to the offensive end either. Mitchell is a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Saturday game will air on CBS with Brian Anderson, Jim Jackson and Allie LaForce inside Hinkle Fieldhouse to describe the action. The Villanova radio broadcast can be heard on 95.7 Ben FM with Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby at the microphones. Tipoff is set for 5:15 p.m.
The winner of this matchup advances to Monday’s Elite Eight game.
COURTESY VILLANOVA ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS