7:27 PM EST, TBS – Line: Villanova -5.5, Over/Under: 154.5
After a wild Opening Weekend, the remaining No. One Seeds should certainly be on notice, with the Villanova Wildcats likely receiving the memo far in advance of their meeting with the Five Seed West Virginia Mountaineers in the East Regional Semifinal from TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. They oftentimes say that “Styles make fights” which was readily apparent to anyone who watched any of the action from last weekend’s First Two Rounds of the NCAA Tournament, with a number of upsets being drawn largely from a contrast in styles. While they weren’t upset or pulled one for that matter (yet), West Virginia (26-10, 11-7 in Big XII) is very much one of those teams that every coach would prefer to avoid in March solely because of their tenacious, pressing Defense, which overwhelm an opponent, taking even the most efficient of offensive teams out of their comfort zone. Ever since Bob Huggins arrived eleven years ago, the Mountaineers have been one of the most difficult teams to prepare for, particularly if you’re a team that is unfamiliar with their style play. As you can imagine, this has led to quite a bit of success in the NCAAs, with the longtime tactician nine Tourney appearances, Five Sweet Sixteens, and a Final Four back in 2010. The objective is always to create havoc, with few teams adept at feasting off such carnage, which was evident in each of their previous two matchups last weekend. First up was Twelve Seed Murray State, who succumbed to their opponent’s rabid defense, shooting just 41.2% from the Field, including 7-of-23 from beyond the Arc (30.4%), while committing Sixteen Turnovers in comparison to dishing out a Dozen Assists. Huggins charges capitalized on virtually every mistake made, shooting a healthy 51.6% from the Floor themselves, while compiling Eighteen Assists opposed to just Eight Turnovers, led by Senior Guard Jevon Carter (17.4 PTS, 42.6% FG, 39.8% 3FG, 4.7 REB, 6.6 AST, 3.0 STL, 25.2 PER) and his Twenty-One points on 9-of-17 Shooting (52.9%), Five Rebounds, Eight Assists, and a ridiculous SIX Steals. That victory set up a meeting with a rather familiar foe, as in-state rival Marshall awaited them in the Round of 32, after upsetting perennial Mid-Major Powerhouse Wichita State earlier that day. In this case, familiarity sure as hell didn’t translate to a close game, as the Mountaineers bested their local rivals with relative ease, racing out to a 42-25 lead at Halftime, before ending the night 94-71. The Thundering Herd’s sharpshooting attack was rendered all but inert, as West Virginia relegated them to a dismal 39.3% Shooting from the Field, including 10-of-30 from inside the Three-Point Arc (30.0%), harrowing them into as many Turnovers (18) as Assists. Conversely, the Big XII natives continued to feast off the misery of their opposition, shooting a blistering 50.0% from the Field, , including 12-of-25 from Downtown (48.0%), all the while pummeling them on the glass, with Thirty-Eight Rebounds opposed Twenty-Three for Marshall. And who else but Carter could lead them? The grizzled, veteran Floor General paved the way once more, scoring a game-high Twenty-Eight Points on 10-of-18 Shooting from the Floor (55.6%), including 5-of-7 from Three (71.4%), along with Four Rebounds, Five Assists, and Four Steals, while the tandem of Lamont West (9.5 PTS, 42.0% FG, 34.8% 3FG, 3.9 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.4 STL, 15.2 PER) and James Bolden (8.7 PTS, 43.5% FG, 41.5% 3FG, 1.9 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 20.0 PER) thrived off the Bench with a cumulative Twenty-Nine Points, Twelve Rebounds, Two Assists, Two Steals, and a Block. Now, they’ll face a significant step up in class in the form of Villanova, while the Sweet Sixteen itself has been a bit of a roadblock for the Mountaineers in recent years; West Virginia saw two out of their last three trips to the NCAA Tournament end in the Regional Semifinals, and have met defeat in four out of their past five appearances in this round.
Meanwhile, after an insane Opening Weekend that saw a pair of No One Seeds bite the dust, Villanova (32-4, 14-4 in Big East) must be giving thanks for surviving that onslaught of madness, which is significant when you consider their history of failure in the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament. In six of the previous eight Tournaments, the Wildcats had failed to escape the Second Round of the Tourney, in which they were slotted as a One Seed or Two Seed on four occasions. Of course, the one time they advanced past that particular point, they won the whole damn thing, cutting down the nets after a dramatic Championship Victory two short years ago. Despite seeing their run of four consecutive Big East Regular Season Championships come to an end, Jay Wright’s charges still managed to win their second straight Big East Tournament Title with relative ease, and disposing of their first two opponents in this Tournament in much the same manner. Needless to say, Sixteen Seed Radford provided little opposition for the No. One Seed in the East Region, as the favorites embarrassed them in a 87-61 culling that saw the ‘Cats race out to a 44-23 lead at Halftime, while ending the affair shooting a white-hot 59.6% from the Field, including 14-of-27 from beyond the Arc (51.9%), while dishing out Twenty Assists in comparison to Thirteen Turnovers. In a very balanced effort, six different players scored in double-figures, led by Jalen Brunson (19.1 PTS, 53.5% FG, 42.0% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 4.7 AST, 0.9 STL, 27.1 PER) who Totaled Sixteen Points on 7-of-9 Shooting (77.8%), with Three Rebounds, Four Assists, and a Steal. Their Third Round meeting with Alabama initially promised a much closer contest, though by the final whistle it was clear that it was yet another one-sided affair, with Villanova cruising to an 81-58 victory. Despite only leading 32-27 at Intermission, the denizens of the Big East thoroughly outplayed the Nine Seed in the Second Half, outscoring them 49-31 over the final Twenty Minutes of action. Though they only shot 39.7% from the Field Overall, Wright’s troops earned this one on the strength of their Three-Point Shooting, which was in rare form in the Second Stanza; ‘Nova drilled 17-of-41 Threes on the day (41.5%), including 10-of-21 in the Second Half alone (47.6%). Donte DiVincezno (13.1 PTS, 47.0% FG, 39.1% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 3.6 AST, 1.2 STL, 20.4 PER) kept them in the game early, scoring all Eighteen of his Points in the First Half, before his teammates erupted to run the Crimson Tide out of CONSOL Energy Center afterward. Mikal Bridges (18.0 PTS, 51.7% FG, 44.2% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 2.0 AST 1.6 STL, 1.1 BLK, 27.5 PER) grabbed the spotlight at that point, scoring all but One of his Twenty-Three Points in the Second Frame, hitting three consecutive Treys at one point to propel the Wildcats to a decisive 18-1 run. It became clear very quickly that ‘Bama did not possess the requisite firepower to get into a shootout, as the SEC Natives ended the game shooting just 41.7% from the Field, including 4-of-16 from beyond the Arc (25.0%), with more Turnovers (15) than Assists (13). It should be interesting to see how this Offense matches up with West Virginia’s aggressive Press, for if the Mountaineers manage to disrupt the Wildcats’ perimeter-oriented attack, it could be a rough night for Wright and Co. No team has been more prolific from long-range than these guys, who knocked down an NCAA-best 419 Three-Pointers this season on 40.2% Shooting (12th Overall), though they have at times become overly-reliant on the Money Ball; 47.3% of their Attempts from the Field have been Threes, with that accounting for 40.2% of their Total Points thus far. However, the common thread in their four losses has seen them go ice-cold in this regard, shooting 33-of-127 from downtown, or in other words, 25.9%.