When: Thursday, 7:20 p.m.
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.
TV: TBS, WTEL-AM (610)
Line: Villanova by 5
Seed: Villanova, No. 6 in South Region; Saint Mary’s, No. 11
How they got here: Villanova, Big East Tournament champion; Saint Mary’s, West Coast Conference Tournament champion.
Coaches (NCAA record): Villanova, Jay Wright (27-13); Saint Mary’s, Randy Bennett (4-6).
Head-to-head: Saint Mary’s leads, 2-1; won last meeting, 75-68, in second round of 2010 NCAA East Region.
What to look for
The scorers: Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have shouldered the scoring load all season for Villanova, combining to average slightly more than 35 points per game. The Wildcats have had a number of players — Collin Gillespie, Saddiq Bey, Jermaine Samuels — act as a third scorer over the last month but could use two or all of them to do it in the same game consistently. … Saint Mary’s also has a 1-2 scoring punch in junior guard Jordan Ford (21.3 ppg) and redshirt sophomore forward Malik Fitts (15.3). Counting Tanner Krebs (8.9), the Gaels’ top three scorers all have hit more than 50 three-point baskets and shoot better than 49 percent from the arc.
The defenders: Paschall has shown an ability to guard all five positions on the floor in the Cats’ switching defense. Gillespie probably will see the most time guarding Ford. Samuels is emerging into an important defensive player, as his four steals in the Big East Tournament would attest. … Jordan Hunter, a 6-foot-10 senior center, leads the Gaels with 45 blocked shots and established his career high in rebounds, 15, in his team’s upset of Gonzaga in the WCC championship game. Ford has a team-high 43 steals.
Intangibles: Yes, Villanova is the defending national champion, but this is a much different team. It will be up to Booth and Paschall, again, to lead their team through the hoopla and distractions that is the NCAA Tournament. … Bennett, who coached Saint Mary’s in its 2010 upset of Villanova, can tell his players: “It can be done.”