South Region First Round Prediction & Free Pick: #6 Villanova vs. #11 Saint Mary’s

Date | AuthorJonathan Willis

Last Updated: 2019-03-19

The No. 6 seed Villanova Wildcats have dominated March Madness recently. Villanova has won two of the last three national championships, and the Wildcats are the defending champions coming into the 2019 NCAA Tournament. They will face a tougher challenge in the first round than they did when they were a No. 1 seed last year though when they take on the No. 11 seed St. Mary’s Gaels.

Fortunately for Villanova, they will have a considerable home court advantage. This game will be held at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut on Thursday, March 21, at 7:20 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on TBS. Villanova is a five-point favorite over St. Mary’s in this South Region game, and the total has been set at 130. The winner will go on to face the winner of No. 3 Purdue and No. 14 Old Dominion on Saturday.

Tournament History

This will be St. Mary’s 10th trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Gaels have made it to the second week of the NCAA Tournament twice in their history, and they have won one game before exiting in each of their last two trips. St. Mary’s won their way in through the First Four in 2013 before losing to Memphis, and two years ago they beat VCU in the first round before losing to Arizona.

The Wildcats are no strangers to the NCAA Tournament. They have made it to March Madness in 14 of the last 15 years, with 2012 being the only exception, and they have three national titles. Nova shocked the world as a No. 8 seed under Rollie Massimino in 1985, and they beat North Carolina for the title in 2016 in arguably the best final ever. They weren’t even tested last year, winning all six games by at least 12 points en route to the championship.

How They Got Here

If St. Mary’s didn’t win the West Coast Conference tournament, there’s a good chance the Gaels wouldn’t have made it to March Madness. Even though the Gaels had a solid NET ranking, most bracketologists had them on the wrong side of the bubble. Their best non-conference win came against New Mexico State and losses to Harvard and UC Irvine hurt. However, they took the decision out of the Selection Committee’s hands by proving the third time is a charm in a 60-47 win over Gonzaga in the WCC Championship Game on March 12.

We all knew Villanova was going to get back to the NCAA Tournament, the only question is what seed they would earn. The Wildcats likely feel hard done by the committee after getting a No. 6 seed despite winning the Big East in the regular season and winning the Big East Conference Tournament, and non-conference wins over Florida State and Temple weren’t enough to lift them higher in the pecking order.

Preview

These teams both play at incredibly slow paces, so points will be at a premium. According to Ken Pomeroy, Villanova and St. Mary’s are two of the 20 slowest teams in the nation, and the Gaels play at the seventh-slowest pace in the country. Both teams are incredibly efficient as a whole though. The Gaels are 21st in the nation in offensive efficiency, while the Wildcats are 16th in the nation.

Villanova’s Jay Wright understands how the game has changed over the last decade. The Wildcats know how valuable the three-pointer can be, and this team takes more threes than almost anyone in the country. A whopping 53.3 percent of Nova’s field goal attempts are three-pointers, and they are an above average team from downtown, hitting 35.3 percent of their triples. Their top four scorers are all hitting better than that average with Collin Gillespie the best at 38.2 percent.

St. Mary’s is quite different in this area. The Gaels don’t take a lot of threes. Only 35 percent of their field goal attempts are from downtown, and they like to get the ball inside. Even though the Gaels have been quite efficient, this isn’t a team that sets each other up. St. Mary’s is averaging just 10.1 assists per game, and they are dead last in the nation in assists per made field goals.

Pick: Villanova Wildcats -5

Some early money has come in on St. Mary’s, but I like Villanova in this spot. The Gaels are incredibly dependent on Jordan Ford to create scoring for them, and he is pretty one-dimensional. He is a solid shooter and gets to the line a decent amount, but there isn’t much of a back-up plan on offense if he doesn’t produce.

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