Questions from the Purdue Exponent for The Villanovan
Rebecca Schneider(Purdue Exponent): Does being the defending national champions give the team an edge despite losing so many players from last year’s team?
Greg Welsh(The Villanovan): As much as I'd like to think last year's National Championship is an advantage in this year's tournament, I really do not think it plays that big of a factor. The fact of the matter is, the only players on this year's team who played significant minutes in last year's tournament are Eric Paschall and Phil Booth. It definitely is nice to have these two senior leaders who have so much tournament experience, but I do not think it gives this year's team, as a whole, a significant edge. It is just a much different team this season.
RS:What does it say to be the lone Big East team still in the tournament?
GW:Going into this season, people were well aware that it was going to be a down year for the Big East. The conference lost so much talent from a year ago and a lot of teams in the league were very young and inexperienced. It does not come as a surprise to me that Villanova is the last Big East team standing because, while the Big East was more equal this year, the 'Cats were still the class of the conference, winning both the regular season and Big East Tournament titles.
RS:How has Jay Wright kept the program so successful over the past several years?
GW:Jay has really built a culture within the program and he is doing things his way. Villanova basketball is based on playing for your team above everything else. Wright wants his players to move the ball on offense and lay their bodies on the line defensively. If a player is not willing to play the game Jay's way, they will not be a part of the rotation, no matter how much outside criticism such a decision results in. I think Wright's commitment to his methods is what has brought the program to new heights in recent years.
RS:Has Villanova ever faced a 7-foot-3 player and what could be the plan of attack with the size mismatch?
GW:Earlier this season, Villanova did face Florida St.'s Christ Koumadj, who is 7'4" and Michigan’s Jon Teske, who stands at 7'1". However, neither of these bigs are quite as skilled as Haarms. I think Haarms is definitely a concern for Villanova in this matchup simply because the tallest player the 'Cats will put out there is the 6'9" Dhamir Cosby Roundtree. Limiting Haarms, especially on the offensive glass, will be key for Villanova if they hope to earn a victory. I would expect to see 'Nova's guards crashing the glass to help with rebounding, as it will certainly need to be a team effort on the boards.
RS:Who is the biggest difference-maker for Villanova that Purdue fans should be aware of?
GW:Villanova runs through their two leaders, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall. Combined, these two All-Big East First Team members average over 35 points per game. While 'Nova will turn first to Booth and Paschall, Jermaine Samuels has emerged as a bit of an "x-factor" late in the season. Samuels was quiet for much of the year, but has emerged as of late as a more confident and assertive player. The sophomore possesses remarkable athleticism and is a high quality defender whose offense is finally starting to come around. How much Samuels is able to contribute could prove the deciding factor on Saturday.
RS:Game prediction: Score and rationale?
GW:I think it will be a very close game on Saturday, and one which is relatively low scoring as both teams are pretty solid defensively. As much as I hate to say it, I'm taking Purdue in this one, 67-62. Villanova's offense is simply not where it needs to be in order to beat a team that is as battle-tested as Boilermakers.
Questions from The Villanovan for the Purdue Exponent
Greg Welsh (The Villanovan):
The Big Ten has shown through the first round of the NCAA Tournament that it is a strong conference this season. How much do you think playing in this league helps Purdue in a game like this?
Rebecca Schneider(Purdue Exponent):
I think playing in the Big Ten helps prepare teams for the intensity and craziness of the tournament. With little time to scout opponents before games, the team is more likely to have a closer game. Also, there isn’t as much separation between the great teams and the good teams. Indiana beat MSU twice, Penn State almost beat Purdue. The gap is closing as each team gets better, and I think that is proven by having 8 conference teams in the tournament.
GW:What is the greatest weakness of this Purdue team?
RS:The greatest weakness of this Purdue team is three-point scoring defense. Purdue allows opponents to shoot an average of 36.1% from deep, which isn’t a good look against a Villanova team that shoots a lot of threes. If Wright can find a way to draw weak defenders out and capitalize with buckets, the Boilers will have a long night in Hartford.
GW:What is the best way to go about stopping Carsen Edwards?
RS:The best way to shut Edwards down is to either double team him, constantly pressure him in the lane, or have a defender contend his shots from deep. There has only been one instance this season where he has scored in the single digits, at Indiana. A rivalry game on the road in a hostile environment can shut down even the best of players, as it happened to Romeo Langford when Indiana visited Purdue. Carsen will always find a way to score, but if you can limit him in one aspect of the game and force other players to take contested shots, then the Wildcats have a chance.
GW:Purdue is likely to ask for more minutes from their bench than Villanova, do you think being able to play the reserves more is an advantage for Purdue?
RS:I do believe that it is more of an advantage. After starting the season 6-5, the bench players quickly learned that although they may be only playing 8-12 minutes a game, those minutes matter a lot over the course of 40 minutes. Not only that, but Eric Hunter proved in the first round that a freshman can start a game at the last minute and have the most impact on the court.
GW:Who is the "X-Factor" that will decide the outcome of this game for Purdue?
RS:I think the X-Factor in this game will be Nojel Eastern. After rolling his ankle in warmups before the Old Dominion game, he returned in the second half and was cleared to play against Villanova. He was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team, and not having him on the court would pose a challenge against a Villanova team that seems to stretch the floor well. Not only is he strong on defense, leading the team in rebounds per game with 5.6, he contributes on offense as well. If he can return to even 80% of his normal form, his presence on the court can be a game changer if he guards Booth or Paschall.
GW:What is your prediction and reason for it?
RS:I too think it will be a low scoring, defense heavy game. Purdue scored 61 points and allowed 48 against Old Dominion. With the amount of offensive options Purdue has, combined with defense, I think the Boilermakers will advance to the Sweet 16, 62-58.