Ahead of Purdue's matchup with Villanova in the Round of 32, the Exponent Sports Desk chatted with Greg Walsh, co-Sports editor of the Villanovan, VU's student newspaper.
Does being the defending national champions give the team an edge despite losing so many players from last year’s team?
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.
What does it say to be the lone Big East team still in the tournament?
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.
How has Jay Wright kept the program so successful over the past several years?
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.
Has Villanova ever faced a 7-foot-3 player and what could be the plan of attack with the size mismatch?
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.
Who is the biggest difference-maker for Villanova that Purdue fans should be aware of?
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.
Game prediction: score and rationale?
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.