|Points Per Game||80.2||86.9|
|Field Goal %||43.8||50.3|
|Rebounds Per Game||37.8||35.5|
|Assists Per Game||15.3||16.8|
|Blocks Per Game||5.2||4.0|
|Steals Per Game||8.1||6.7|
Location: Boston, Massachusetts. TD Garden Arena
This will be the 43rd meeting between the NCAA Tournament 5th seed West Virginia Mountaineers (26-10) and the number one seed Villanova Wildcats (32-4).
Former Big East rival Villanova leads the all-time series 22-20 dating back to 1956. During their battle’s in the Big East, Villanova had the edge 11-12 and head coaches Bob Huggins and Jay Wright were 3-3 against each other inside the Conference.
West Virginia has rolled through the NCAA Tournament with wins over Marshall and Murray State with a combined score of 179-139.
The Wildcats have cruised their way to the Sweet 16 in wins over Radford and Alabama with an average margin of victory of 24.5 points.
Villanova starters and their NCAA performance:
Junior guard Jalen Brunson (6’3” 190-lbs) is the Big East player of the year and is averaging 14 points and four assists. He is an aggressive player that can score from the outside and is crafty on the inside. Brunson can absorb contact and complete an old-fashioned three-point play.
Junior guard Mikal Bridges (6’6” 210-lbs) has shot 17-26 (46.2%) from the field and 8-14 (57.1) from behind the arc, averaging 18 points and 4.5 rebounds. He put up 23 points in the second round versus Alabama.
Bridges is cold-blooded, making shots in crucial moments of the game, even with a hand in his face. He can beat you off the dribble and finish around the rim.
Junior guard Phil Booth (6’3” 190-lbs) is averaging seven points, four assists and 4.5 rebounds. Although he averaged 10.6 points per game on the season, he has struggled the last three games with his only double figured scoring game coming against Radford (10) in the first round
Freshman forward Omari Spellman (6’9” 245-lbs) has averaged 8.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He has nine double-doubles on the season, but he is not someone they feed the ball to on the post. Spellman is their best offensive rebounder and that’s where he finds his points.
Junior forward Eric Paschall (6’9” 255-lbs) is averaging nine points and five rebounds. He had seven points and five rebounds in the win over Alabama.
Coming off the bench:
Sophomore Donte Divincenzo (6’5” 205-lbs) has averaged 12.5 and 6.5 assists. He is the first player off the bench. Donte was 3-10 from three-point range going in the four games coming into the Alabama game and was held under double figures before he went 5-11 from behind the arc and scored 18 points in the second round.
Freshman forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (6’9” 220-lbs) is averaging seven points and two blocks in 11.8 minutes per game. He got his 3rd double figure scoring game (10) on the year in the first round against Radford.
Freshman guard Collin Gillespie (6’3” 190-lbs) is averaging six points per game. He averages 15.3 minutes on the year. He can get hot from the outside averaging 39.1% from three.
Villanova is not strong on the frontline and West Virginia forwards Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad can exploit their weakness underneath. I expect the Mountaineers to attack the paint on offense feeding their forwards on the post.
The Wildcats have extremely strong guard play with Brunson and Bridges, but West Virginia guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr have been harassing some of the best backcourts in the country all season long.
Dax has back to back games of nine points, far from his average of 22 points in the Big XII Tournament. He hasn’t struggled but the play of Teddy Allen and Lamont West has taken some of the burden off the senior guard.
The Mountaineers needs the production of the bench to continue. They have scored a combined 62 points in the first two games of the tournament.
Carter is imposing his will in the NCAA tournament and is showing the country why he is one of the best players in college basketball, averaging 24.5 points, 6.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 5.5 steals in the tournament.
The Wildcats will defend with a ¾ court press and will trap at half-court, until their opponent breaks the pressure then they will pick their spots to throw in the press. This could be opportunities for Dax, Carter, West and Beetle Bolden to hit shots after getting through the pressure.
In Villanova’s four losses, their opponents shot a combined 50.4% from the field and 47.4% from behind the arc.
West Virginia has shot 50.8% (65-128) from the field and 44.4% (16-36) from three-point range.
Villanova has four days to prepare for West Virginia’s pressure defense and the Wildcats will attack the press looking for open shots in transition. The Wildcats do come in as the nation’s number one scoring offense, but no other team plays defense like the Mountaineers.
With all the attention to West Virginia’s defense and Villanova’s offense, this game will come down to who can control the paint and I give the advantage to the Mountaineers. If they can establish an inside presence on offense, it puts a lot of pressure on the Wildcats to make shots against arguably the best defense in the country.
I think the Mountaineers wear down the Wildcats and move on to the Elite 8.