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Taking a look at Penn and Villanova's NCAA opponents

03/12/2018, 9:15am EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
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Penn and Villanova will both start their NCAA Tournaments on Thursday.

The Quakers, who won the Ivy League championship on Sunday, earned the No. 16 seed in the Midwest Regional and will take on No. 1 seed Kansas at 2 p.m. in Wichita, Kansas.

The Wildcats received the No. 1 seed in the East Regional and will play the winner of No. 16 LIU Brooklyn or No. 16 Radford at 6:50 p.m. in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Here’s a look at both Big 5 team’s NCAA opponents:

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LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds (18-16, 10-8 Northeast) or Radford Highlanders (22-12, 12-6 Big South)

The Wildcats don’t have the luxury of knowing who their opponent will be quite yet. LIU-Brooklyn and Radford play each other in Dayton at 6:40 p.m. on Tuesday night to determine who will face Villanova on Thursday.

Radford finished tied for second in the Big South conference during the regular season. A 3-pointer by freshman guard Carlik Jones at the buzzer of the Big South championship game against Liberty sent the Highlanders to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

Radford is making just its third ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The Highlanders are on a bit of a hot streak heading into the tourney. They won their last four regular season games before picking up three wins in the Big South Tournament.

The Highlanders are led by junior Ed Polite Jr. The 6-foot-5 forward leads the team in both scoring (13.6 ppg) and rebounding (7.7 ppg). Jones, a 6-foot guard, is the only other Radford player in double figures, averaging 11.8 points and three assists per contest. Sophomore guard Donald Hicks (7.8 ppg), senior center Randy Phillips (6.9 ppg) and senior guard Christian Bradford (4.2 ppg) are Radford’s other three starters.

Radford goes about four players deep on its bench with nine players seeing action in 32 or more games. The Highlanders especially have some depth at the frontcourt position. Phillips, who is 6-foot-8, is one of four players in the rotation listed at 6-foot-7 or taller.

LIU-Brooklyn finished tied for fourth in the Northeast Conference. The Blackbirds upset Wagner, the regular season champs, in the conference championship game. This is the program’s first NCAA appearance since making three straight trips from 2011-13.

The Blackbirds are guided by two dynamic scorers. Senior Joel Hernandez is a 6-foot-3 guard averaging 20.9 points, 2.6 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game. He poured in 32 points in the conference title game win against Wagner. Junior Raiquan Clark is the team’s other top option. The 6-foot-6 wing averages 17.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg. He followed Hernandez with 20 points in the Northeast Conference championship.

Guards Jashuan Agosto (11.7 ppg) and Julian Batts (10 ppg), both 5-foot-11, are the team’s other top two players. Julius Van Sauers, a 6-foot-8 forward shooting 44 percent from deep, is the Blackbirds’ fifth starter, but he plays just 11 minutes per game. Redshirt-senior forward Zach Coleman (6.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is the team’s top reserve, averaging 22.7 minutes per game.

Radford has the country's 14th ranked defense (64.4 ppg), but the Highlanders average just 67.4 ppg, which ranks 314th in Division I. LIU-Brooklyn can score (77.5 ppg), but has trouble stopping opponents (76.5 ppg). Neither should be much trouble for a Villanova squad that is one of six teams that ranks in the Top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Kansas Jayhawks (27-7, 13-5 Big 12)

Though there was some chatter early into conference play that this might be the year the Jayhawks’ Big 12 dominance ended, no such thing occur. Kansas not only claimed its 14th straight conference title, but the Jayhawks also won their eighth conference tournament championship during that stretch as well.

Senior guard Devonte’ Graham was the Big 12 Player of the Year. The 6-foot-2 guard led the team with 17.3 ppg and 7.5 apg. His classmate Sviatoslav Mykhailuk is Kansas’ other top scorer. Mykhailuk, a 6-foot-8 guard, averaged 15.1 ppg while making more than 100 3-point shots and shooing 46 percent from deep.

Joining Graham and Mykhailuk in the starting lineup are three more double digit scorers. Sophomore center Udoka Azubuike could give Pemn some problems in the paint. The young big man, who is listed at seven-feet tall and 280 pounds, averaged 13.7 ppg to go along with 7.1 rpg and 1.8 bpg. He missed the Big 12 Tournament with a knee injury but should be back for Thursday’s game.

Sophomore guard Malik Newman, a former five-star recruit in his first season after transferring from Mississippi State, is another scoring threat at 12.1 ppg. Junior guard Lagerald Vick (12.0 ppg) rounds out the starting lineup.

While the Jayhawks’ starting lineup is loaded with talent, coach Bill Self’s squad only goes about seven deep. Freshman guard Marcus Garrett (4.4 ppg) and sophomore guard Mitch Lightfoot (3.9 ppg) are the only other players averaging more than 10 minutes per game. However, with Azubuike out for the Big 12 Tournament, freshman Silvio De Sousa saw an uptick in action. The 6-foot-9 forward scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Big 12 title game against West Virginia.

This is the third year in a row that Kanas earned a No. 1 seed. The previous two ended with trips to the Elite Eight. Penn will need to make NCAA Tournament history to beat Kansas as a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the tournament.


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