The NCAA Tournament has its first Elite Eight team. The Villanova Wildcats wrecked the Miami Hurricances Thursday night, 92-69, to punch their tickets to Saturday's regional finals in Louisville. The Wildcats' win sends them to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009, finally quieting the doubters who've watched them flunk out of the opening weekend five times since 2010.
Miami fought off an initial first-half shellacking from Villanova to pull back within six at halftime, but the Wildcats and Ryan Arcidiacono soon pulled out to a 12-point advantage early in the second period. Villanova's relentless defense through the midcourt contributed to 12 'Canes turnovers, which set them at a severe disadvantage early on. The beating continued through the last 20 minutes, with 'Nova steadily hitting shots and disrupting Miami's attack until the final buzzer.
Here are three things we learned from the Wildcats' first Sweet 16 win since 2009.
1. Villanova has exorcised its March Madness demons.
The Wildcats' last trip to the Final Four in 2009 ended at the hands of North Carolina, an 83-69 loss that sure still stings for a program that's earned not unfounded "flop" name calling from without. In the 2015 Big Dance, Villanova was the first No. 1 seed bounced from the field in a close 71-68 loss to NC State in the second round.
With dominating wins over UNC-Asheville (86-56), Iowa (87-68), and now Miami, Jay Wright's club is playing some lights-out basketball right when they need to, and a Saturday matchup against No. 1 Kansas or No. 5 Maryland now stands between then and a trip to Houston.
2. The Wildcats' balanced scoring overwhelmed Miami all over the court.
Villanova doesn't enjoy the standout services of a Buddy Hield or Denzel Valentine, but they're by no means less dangerous on the offensive side of the court. In Thursday's win, a full four Wildcat scorers finished with double-digit points, and as a team they shot 62.7 percent in the game. Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins led all Villanova scorers with 21 points apiece, and Daniel Ochefu racked up 17 of his own.
Also, Jenkins pulled up from 40 feet and buried one in the first half.
3. Miami just couldn't handle Villanova's stifling defense.
Twelve turnovers by Miami prevented any sort of offensive rhythm, especially when many of those turnovers occurred right at halfcourt. The Wildcats just refused to allow Miami to pass themselves out of the Wildcat press. With their attack tentative through the build-up phase, then, whatever shots the 'Canes did manage to pull needed to be accurate, and they were. Miami shot a respectable 53.2 percent from the field and 58.8 percent from three land Thursday night, but Villanova was just more accurate more consistently.
Miami thus remains without a tournament appearance lasting beyond the Sweet 16, but this year's squad showed a lot of promise and an equal amount of fight. Jim Larranaga's guys are pointed in the right direction for next season, and a three seed and Sweet 16 appearance is nothing to sneer at.