Preview: UH’s Elite Eight matchup against Villanova
SAN ANTONIO — For a second consecutive year, UH men’s basketball has surpassed expectations from those on the outside looking in and advanced to the Elite Eight after leading all 40 minutes in its 72-60 victory over Arizona in the Sweet 16.
The Cougars now turn their attention to the Wildcats once again — this time, Villanova.
Outlook on Villanova
Led by head coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats are riding an eight-game winning streak during the month of March.
Having won 22 of its last 25 games since Dec. 17, Villanova has quietly been one of the hottest teams in the country and its recent tournament success could spell trouble for UH.
Villanova holds the fifth-longest streak of current consecutive NCAA Tournament berths with nine, all the more impressive when you take into account its two National Titles in 2016 and 2018.
From a head-to-head standpoint, UH and Villanova are 3-3 in all-time matchups with the last game coming in the 1983 NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, where the Cougars took care of business with an 89-71 victory to head to the Final Four.
2022 is long far away from that 1983 matchup, as the Wildcats are the higher seed this time around as No. 2 in the South Region.
The Wildcats have three starters with senior status or higher, and in the NCAA Tournament, experience goes hand-in-hand with veteran leadership, a quality that matters significantly in big-time games down the stretch of the season.
Graduate guard Collin Gillespie is the star piece for the Big East Tournament Champions.
Having missed last year’s NCAA Tournament after suffering a torn MCL in a regular-season matchup against Creighton, Gillespie returned as a force for the Wildcats as he leads the team with 15.9 points per game and 3.3 assists per game.
Gillespie shoots a career-high 41.5 percent from 3-point range in 36 games played in 2021-22, the most he has played in a season through five years at Villanova.
His presence on the court is a game-changer for coach Wright’s side, and after sharing the Big East Player of the Year award last season before going down with an injury, he became the sole recipient of the award for the 2021-22 season.
The fifth-year senior’s return to the team has paved the way for another dangerous-looking run for Villanova, and with his skill set, talent and quickness, he poses a threat to any team in the country when healthy.
Graduate forward Jermaine Samuels Jr. is one of the hottest players in the tournament as he averages 18 points and eight rebounds through three games including a season-high 22 points against Michigan in the Sweet 16.
Samuels leads the team on the year in rebounds per game (6.4) and blocks per game (0.7) which should make for a highly-contested matchup against one of the nation’s top-rebounding teams with UH.
Coming off a 15-point performance against Michigan, junior guard Justin Moore poses a threat as contributing factor for the Wildcats. Averaging 15 points and 4.9 rebounds on the year, Moore’s size and two-way style set up for an interesting duel between the starting guards on both sides.
Sophomore forward Eric Dixon is the youngest of the starting five, however, his production on the court goes further than stats on a paper.
Dixon averages 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season, and despite his youth, he holds his position down and always holds potential for a high-scoring game with eight 15+ point games this season.
Milestone watch for Sampson
Aside from a second-consecutive Final Four berth, a UH victory over Villanova would be the 700th-career win for head coach Kelvin Sampson and his 200th win with UH.
Sampson is 699-339 overall in his 33 years as a college men’s basketball head coach and 199-69 at UH.