Iowa (7-0) vs. Villanova (6-0)
Date: November 30, 2013
Time: 8:30 p.m. CT
Location: Atlantis Resort, Bahamas
Television: NBC Sports Network
Line: Iowa -3
After Thursday's games, it looked like Iowa was destined for a Saturday matchup with the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks. But something strange happened on the way to that game: Kansas lost to Villanova Friday night, making the Wildcats Iowa's improbable opponent in the Battle 4 Atlantis Final Battle. Winner gets a mythical underwater continent.
We might have hoped for Kansas, but Villanova is plenty good. The Wildcats are undefeated and ranked No. 19 in Kenpom. In fact, Villanova's profile looks a lot like Iowa's: They're very good on the defensive end, and use high tempo, solid offensive rebounding, and a lack of turnovers as the basis of a quick-fire offense. Before the trip to the Bahamas, Villanova had three wins over pushovers and a surprisingly close game with Delaware. Nova throttled USC in its B4A opener, then beat Kansas late Friday night.
That win, and that timing, could be the most important factor for Saturday night's game. How will Villanova recover from an emotionally- and physically-exhausting win in less than 24 hours' time? Villanova built a lead, lost it, built another lead, lost it again, then got a last-minute game-winning shot. It could be more than a young Wildcats squad can handle, and the short layover combined with the inevitable letdown might give Iowa a slight advantage, especially given Iowa's low-stress blowout win over UTEP earlier Thursday night.
Villanova went small against Kansas to counteract the Jayhawks' taller, longer roster. It worked flawlessly, so flawlessly that Fran McCaffery praised it during a halftime interview on NBC Sports Network. Expect much of the same against Iowa, which is taller and longer (though less athletic) than Kansas. Junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston (17.7 ppg) and senior guard James Bell (16.5 ppg) are the most important players in the Wildcats' offense, but guard Darrun Hilliard (14.4 ppg) also contributes. Dylan Ennis, a transfer from Rice who sat out the team's first four games with a hand injury, has scored 14 points in both games in the Bahamas and has made six of his seven three-point attempts in those two games. All four players are under 6'8, but constitute the vast majority of Villanova's scoring threat.
For a team with so many guards, the Wildcats do not shoot particularly well from the perimeter: 29.9 percent, to be exact. Iowa's three-point defense has been so good this year that Villanova's lack of outside shooting could prove to be a detriment. With Villanova shooting an absurd 56.5 percent from inside the arc and distributing the ball well, the pick-and-roll game and interior slashing are key to its scoring. Defensively, Villanova likes to pack it in and make opponents shoot from the perimeter, a tactic that killed Kansas and could cause problems for Iowa. The Wildcats are allowing just 40.7 percent shooting inside the three-point line, and have strategically fouled to where just 59 percent of opponents' free throw attempts have been good.
Winning the tournament would be a big deal. Having a shot at the first 9-0 start since [REDACTED]'s third season would be a big deal. Getting the RPI bump of winning a game against a team that beat Kansas would be a big deal. But playing against a team that does many of the same things that Iowa does, only in a completely different manner, could be a learning experience that is far more a big deal than anything else.