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Winthrop Eagles vs. Villanova Wildcats Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

Winthrop Eagles vs. Villanova Wildcats Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

Winthrop Eagles vs. Villanova Wildcats Prediction: NCAA Tournament First Round Preview

The first full day of the NCAA Tournament will wrap up with a late-night tipoff between Big South champion Winthrop and the Villanova Wildcats. Jay Wright has coached Villanova to a pair of national titles in recent years, but his team is coming into this year's NCAA Tournament trending in the wrong direction.

Villanova was upset in its first game in the Big East Tournament by eventual champion Georgetown. The extra time to rest up could serve the Wildcats well as they got dinged in the final weeks of the regular season. They will be challenged by a Winthrop team that has lost just one game all season, and that one was a two-point loss at the end of January. Could Villanova be in some trouble and at risk of another early exit from the Tournament?

South Region: No. 12 Winthrop Eagles (23-1) vs. No. 5 Villanova Wildcats (16-6)

Time: Friday, March 19 at approximately 9:57 p.m. ET

Where: Indiana Farmers Coliseum (Indianapolis)

TV: TNT

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Spread: Villanova -6.5

Keys for Winthrop

While Villanova's defense can be a strength, Winthrop may have the offense to challenge the Wildcats at times. Winthrop comes into the NCAA Tournament with an average of nearly 80 points per game. Controlling the rebounds is a strength for the Eagles, with just over 40 rebounds per game as a team (18th in the nation). Winthrop cannot afford to lose rebounds against Villanova if the Eagles are going to pull off the upset. The Big South champions will be led by Chandler Vaudrin, with the guard leading the team in points per game and assists per game. Villanova's defense will look to clamp down on him anytime Vaudrin has the basketball.

Keys for Villanova

Villanova's national title odds took a blow with the season-ending injury to guard Collin Gillespie late in the regular season. But the Wildcats still have a significant talent advantage to rely on in their first-round matchup with Winthrop. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is fully capable of taking care of this game on his own if needed after splitting Big East player of the year honors this season. Villanova's defense will be another noticeable advantage the Wildcats can count on. Villanova may be vulnerable but should be good enough to make it to the second round.

Final Analysis

Those looking for a good old-fashioned 12-over-5 upset in the first round will be locked in on this matchup. With the Wildcats banged up and with a history of early exits (of course, two recent national titles help overshadow that a bit), combined with Winthrop having only one loss, why would this not look like the best bet for such an upset? Villanova could not be entering the NCAA Tournament on much of a colder streak with losses in three of their last four games down the stretch. But the time off since their early exit from the Big East Tournament will allow Jay Wright to have his team ready to pull away from the upset-bid by the Eagles.

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Prediction: Villanova 71, Winthrop 62

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.