SAN ANTONIO – It is easy for Villlanova fans, even the wider world of NCAA basketball fans, to maybe look at this current group of Wildcats as being on some relentless and inevitable ride of destiny, pulling into the NCAA Elite Eight, facing Houston Saturday night inside the AT&T Center. Next stop, New Orleans, Final Four.

Not so fast.

If a laboratory could design a squad that presents a high bar to get over for Villanova, the lab might just scrap the project and bring in the Houston Cougars. A team that defends the three-point line every possession while not surrendering much of any ground around the rest of the court.

“Every coach tries to get their team to play that way,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the current Houston operation under Kelvin Sampson. “You wouldn’t talk to one coach who would say, you know, I don’t care if my guys play hard defensively. Kelvin gets his guys to do it. They literally play every defensive possession like it’s the last possession of the game.”

This lab-ordered team might attack the offensive glass with uncommon fury, with an offense almost designed for two-shot possessions, third in the nation at grabbing offensive boards.

“They don’t just run a play to get a shot,” Wright said. “They run a play to get a shot and have the people set up on the weak side for offensive rebounding position. Sometimes they have them matched up with favorable matchups to jump over those people.”

The lab would have to create a team unintimidated by this stage, which Houston flies over after reaching the 2021 Final Four. Also, a group still hungry, looking to make its own historical mark. None of the current Houston starters was a starter last season, after returning star Marcus Sasser got hurt in December. Actually two starters were lost in December. The Cougars just kept rolling.

Every team that has beaten Villanova also has an advantage in average height, which makes it harder for Villanova’s veteran guards to find matchup advantages. Houston passes that mark, just by a tenth of an inch, but that’s enough to follow the trend.

KenPom.com, the analytical bible of the college game, does not care that Villanova is a No. 2 seed and Houston a No. 5. That site offers statistical odds for every game in Division I. For this one, the Cougars are given a 57% chance of winning, a significant edge even though the final score is predicted to be in the balance to the end … Houston 65, Villanova 63.

There is one team left in this NCAA Tournament that is in the top 10 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Clue: It’s not Villanova.

The Wildcats are high enough in both efficiency categories to explain why a close game is predicted. Of the teams remaining in the tournament going into Friday’s play, only Houston, Villanova and UCLA were in the top 25 of Division I both offensively and defensively.

Houston (32-5) lost to Wisconsin and Alabama and SMU, and twice to Memphis, before beating Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game. They’ve yet to win by less than double digits in this NCAA Tournament, including Thursday against top South Region seed Arizona.

“We got everybody’s best shot,” Sampson said of coming off the Final Four, playing in the AAC, including at Temple. “It was alumni night, whiteout, blackout, bring back the class of ‘63 night. It was a night everywhere. It’s the biggest crowds, Saturdays. It’s just the way it’s been for us. But that’s the price you pay. We’re going to be — we’ve had a bull’s-eye on our back for a while.”

Villanova can relate. The Wildcats do have the experience advantage. If there are three-point shots to be found, they will take their own sweet time finding them. Think of the last three-pointer Villanova hit, all but sealing Thursday’s 63-55 Sweet 16 win over Michigan. Collin Gillespie taking maybe four dribbles outside, Michigan’s Eli Brooks on his back. Gillespie turned toward a screen presented by Jermaine Samuels. Wolverines big man Hunter Dickerson, guarding Samuels, took a step toward the lane. Brooks hesitated in his own decision-making just for a beat before chasing after Gillespie, who made both pay for those decisions with a suddenly quick dribble and a three-pointer.

» READ MORE: Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels passed a stern test against Michigan with flying colors | Mike Sielski

Other games, advantages found in other ways. The Big East final, right after Gillespie buried two threes to get ahead of Creighton, Wright had his team clear out the whole right side of the Madison Square Garden court, to let Justin Moore go to work. He eventually got inside, taking his sweet time, his contested layup the last nail in the coffin.

“We don’t talk about it at all,” Wright said of pace of play, this game featuring two teams that prolong possessions longer than any other teams left in this tournament. “We really don’t. With that said, it depends what Houston does, I think will dictate the pace. We’ll go either way. We’re good.”

Maybe, but, unlike Wright’s NCAA title teams, this group isn’t built to go. Wildcats guards will be more concerned with crashing the boards themselves to help keep Houston off the offensive boards.

This doesn’t seem like the kind of game where either team can find an advantage to exploit all night. A quick little advantage could loom large.

“There are certain styles of play that, even if you get time to prepare, you can’t simulate what they do with your team,” Wright said of maybe the biggest obstacle to reaching the 2022 Final Four. “You have to explain to your guys, like we’ve got to start this game, we’re going to take a little smack in the mouth.”

You eventually get used to it, Villanova’s coach said, in any game. But if you’re quickly down double digits, “It’s too late,” Wright said. “We can’t take too long.”