Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Villanova Wildcats take their first step toward a possible national championship when they take on the Lafayette Leopards at Consol Energy Center on Thursday evening in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
The winner will advance to the round of 32 to face either No. 8 seed NC State or No. 9 seed LSU on Saturday.
Lafayette is the 16th seed in the East Region, the team having posted a 20-12 record and recently winning the Patriot League Tournament championship with a 65-63 triumph over American University on March 11. The Leopards are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000, where as a No. 15 seed they lost to second-seeded Temple, 73-47. Overall, this is Lafayette's fourth time participating in the Big Dance, and the team has yet to win a game.
The Leopards are coached by Villanova alum Fran O'Hanlon, who in addition to being a standout guard on the VU basketball team (1967-70), also served as an assistant coach at Philadelphia-based Penn (1989-95) prior to taking the job at Lafayette.
Villanova has had a season for the ages, the team logging a stellar 32-2 record, winning the Big East Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the first time ever, and earning its second No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The team, led by Big East Coach of the Year Jay Wright, his fourth award in the last nine years, is also hoping to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its stunning 1985 NCAA championship.
The Wildcats, who are 50-34 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and were also the top seed in the Minneapolis region in 2006, earned their first Big East Tournament crown in 20 years by beating Xavier in the title tilt last Saturday, 69-52. They bring a school-record 15-game winning streak into this contest.
This bout marks the ninth meeting all-time between these two schools from the Keystone State, with Villanova leading, 7-1. The last meeting took place on the Wildcats' home floor to start the 2013-14 campaign, and VU posted a 75-59 victory. The Leopards' lone win was a forfeit back on Dec. 14, 1922.
Lafayette isn't the biggest or most athletic team in the tourney, but the players there certainly know how to shoot the basketball. The Leopards rank in the top-10 nationally in all three shooting categories, including No. 2 in 3- point field goal percentage (.413), No. 8 in overall field goal percentage (.488), and No. 9 in free-throw percentage (.766). The team boasts a trio of double-digit scorers in Dan Trist (17.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Seth Hinrichs (13.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Nick Lindner (12.8 ppg, 5.4 apg), as it generates a healthy 74.2 ppg. Unfortunately, the Leopards have been rather lax at the defensive end at times, yielding 72.4 ppg with foes shooting 45.6 percent from the floor, which includes a 37.7 percent showing beyond the arc.
Villanova is every bit as potent offensively as its counterpart here, the team netting 76.3 ppg on 47 percent field goal efficiency with nearly 39 percent of its long-range launches finding the bottom of the net. When they have their backs to the basket, the Wildcats permit only 60.9 ppg, with foes converting 40.5 percent of their total shots and 30.8 percent of their 3-point tries. All this against considerably better competition. While the team has some major talent, it relies more on a balanced attack to get the job done as behind leading scorer Darrun Hilliard (14.0 ppg), are five players who average between 9.2 and 10.4 ppg. Josh Hart (10.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) was named the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year, while Ryan Arcidiacono (10.2 ppg, 3.5 apg) shared the league's Player of the Year honor with Providence's Kris Dunn.