Villanova sticks to blueprint to beat Iowa, rid itself of March woes

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- No more second-round slipups for Villanova.

The Wildcats obliterated Iowa from the tip, opening up a 34-point lead in the second half en route to an 87-68 win and a Sweet 16 appearance.

More importantly, Sunday was Jay Wright’s team at its best. Peak Villanova.

When thinking about the Wildcats under Wright the past several years, it’s been all about the guards. Forcing turnovers at one end that lead to transition opportunities, plus penetration and kickouts on the offensive end. That was the blueprint against Iowa, and for good reason.

Iowa couldn’t keep the Wildcats’ perimeter players out of the lane, with Jalen Brunson and Ryan Arcidiacono getting by their defenders at will. Once in the paint, Villanova would kick it out to an open 3-point shooter or swing it around until Iowa ran out of players to cover everyone. Moreover, Villanova wasn’t as reliant on the 3-point shot on Sunday as it had been the past two seasons in the NCAA tournament -- but the Wildcats were knocking them down consistently. They hit 10-of-19 from behind the arc, but the shots came more as a result of dribble-drives moving the defense. In 2014, 60.7 percent of Villanova’s field goal attempts against UConn were from 3-point range; last season, 45.9 percent of the Wildcats’ shots against NC State were 3s.

Villanova wants the threat of the outside shot to open things up at the rim, and vice-versa. That worked to perfection against Iowa.

Defensively, Villanova’s smaller lineup hassled the bigger Hawkeyes into 13 turnovers, but the Wildcats turned that into 14 points -- and an eye-opening 18-0 edge in fast-break points.

Wright expects his teams -- regardless of whether they’re smaller -- to be quicker, tougher and more aggressive than his opponents. Villanova was exactly that on Sunday -- and now the Wildcats can put their NCAA tournament exits in the rearview mirror.