Villanova redshirt junior forward Eric Paschall dunks the ball in a game at The Pavilion.
(USA Today Images)
Benjamin Simon and William Derry
West Virginia (26-10 overall, 11-7 conference)
Senior guard Jevon Carter (17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 6.6 APG, 3 SPG, .426 FG%, .398 FG%, .857 FT%)
Senior Guard Daxter Miles Jr. (12.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.3 SPG, .446 FG%, .343 3P%)
Sophomore forward Sagaba Konate (10.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.2 BPG, .505 FG%)
Junior forward Esa Ahmad (10.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2 APG, .444 FG%)
Sophomore forward Lamont West 9.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, .420 FG%, .348 3P%)
Summary of Season:
The West Virginia Mountaineers only lost one game in their first 16 contests to start the season. That loss came in their first outing of the year against #25 Texas A&M in the Armed Forces Classic at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. After the 15-1 start, the Mountaineers would then lose five of their next six games, which included back-to-back single-digit losses against #8 Texas Tech and #10 Kansas. In the heart of their Big 12 conference schedule, West Virginia went 3-2 with a two-point win against #17 Oklahoma despite potential NBA lottery pick Trae Young scoring 32 points. West Virginia went 3-1 in their last four games of the regular season and avenged their loss to #12 Texas Tech, who had beat them by one-point earlier in the season. The Mountaineers advanced to the Big 12 conference final to face #9 Kansas after defeating Baylor and #14 Texas Tech, but came up short. West Virginia received a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday and beat 12 seed Murray State in the opening round. The Mountaineers then faced 13 seed Marshall in the second round, who had upset 4 seed Wichita State, and defeated the Thundering Herd by 23 points to advance to the Sweet 16.
Villanova (32-4 overall, 14-4 conference)
Junior guard Jalen Brunson (19.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 4.7 APG, .535 FG%, .420 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Mikal Bridges (18 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2 APG, 1.1 BPG, 1.6 SPG, .517 FG%, .442 3P%, .849 FT%)
Redshirt sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo (13.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, .470 FG%, .391 3P%)
Redshirt junior guard Phil Booth (10.6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, .455 FG%, .394 3P%)
Redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman (10.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG, .478 FG%, .438 3P%)
Summary of Season:
The Villanova Wildcats began the season on a 13-game win streak, putting together a perfect non-conference record. After defeating DePaul in their first conference game of the year, the Wildcats lost on the road against Butler, who beat them twice last season. ‘Nova rebounded thereafter winning nine straight games, including a win versus #10 Xavier. However, in their next six games, ‘Nova would go 3-3, losing three games by single digits against St. John’s, Providence, and Creighton. Ahead of the Big East tournament, the Wildcats won in overtime against Seton Hall by one point and also defeated Georgetown. After getting through the quarterfinals and semifinals of the conference tournament, ‘Nova battled against Providence and punched their NCAA tournament ticket with an overtime victory. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats easily beat 16 seed Radford to advance on to the second round. Following their opening round win, the Wildcats handedly took down 9 seed Alabama to move on to the Sweet 16.
What Villanova must do to win:
Villanova has made 31 three-pointers and shot about 46% from three so far in this year’s NCAA tournament. The Wildcats have often relied on their three-point shooting to help them win throughout the season and they will need to continue to convert from behind the arc if they want to advance on to the Elite Eight. With Villanova facing West Virginia, a team known for their full-court press, ‘Nova will also need to limit their turnovers bringing the ball up the court and be wary of the shot clock. Villanova and West Virginia both committed 20-plus fouls in their previous NCAA tournament games, so staying out of foul trouble and knocking down free throws will be another important factor for ‘Nova to win. ‘Nova will need to keep an eye on Jevon Carter, West Virginia’s leading scorer. Carter does it all for the Mountaineers on offense and defense, as he’s filled up the stat sheet averaging 24.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 5.5 steals in their two tournaments contests. ‘Nova has to slow down Carter by giving him different defensive looks and forcing him into tough contested shots.
What West Virginia must do to win:
West Virginia must do what most teams can’t do: faze Villanova. That’s going to start on the defensive end. From 2007 to 2012, the two teams had played each other six times. Villanova’s turnovers per game were only slightly higher than their average over the span (14.3 against WVU versus the 13.4 average) and they split the six games during that span. This season, the Mountaineers forced the third most turnovers in the entire country, but the Wildcats also led the Big East (54th in the nation as well) in lowest amount of offensive turnovers per game. Both teams are experienced and led by star point guards. The game will also be decided by who, Carter or Brunson, is able to dictate the tempo and flow of the contest. Additionally, the Mountaineers are only one of three teams to defeat the top ranked Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavaliers, who averaged a mere 8.5 turnovers per game and totaled the lowest amount of turnovers in the nation (290), were forced into 14 turnovers by the stingy West Virginia defense. If Villanova is affected like Virginia was by West Virginia’s aggressive defensive attack, the Mountaineers will be looking at an Elite Eight appearance.
Eric Paschall vs. West Virginia Frontcourt
The Mountaineers are big and the Wildcats’ frontcourt could have some trouble defending their larger offensive attack. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins starts three players at 6-foot-8 with Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, and Wesley Harris. Even more, one of the first people off the bench is 6-foot-8 Lamont West (who has also started 20 games). The Wildcats will have their hands full in that department. Eric Paschall will play an integral role in their ability to shut down the Mountaineers’ attack. Even though Omari Spellman will be the biggest player on the court, WVU’s height means that Paschall, at 6-foot-6, will have to play up. On offense, he will need to put the Mountaineer bigs into mismatches, while providing an extra ball handler against their press. Defensively, Paschall has to hold his own and help out the younger Spellman against Huggins’ talented frontcourt.
Donte DiVincenzo and Lamont West
Though Donte DiVincenzo has only started 10 games for the Wildcats this year, the Delaware native has played starter minutes and put up starter stats. DiVincenzo is averaging 29.4 minutes, 13.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.2 steals. The redshirt sophomore had a modest showing in ‘Nova’s opening round win against Radford, scoring 7 points, grabbing 4 boards, and dishing out 8 assists. In the Wildcats’ win against Alabama, Divincenzo showed what he can really do when he’s on his game, scoring 18 points (5-11 3PM-A) and notching 5 assists. With two different performances to start the NCAA tournament, look for DiVincenzo to find a balance in his game and have his best outing yet against West Virginia. He’s an instant offensive spark for Villanova head coach Jay Wright and his ability to score in bunches will be important against WVU’s stifling defense. The Wildcats will also need his athleticism against the big and long frontcourt of West Virginia.
When the Mountaineers were playing their best basketball of the year so was Lamont West. The 6-foot-8 forward from Cincinnati averaged 13.2 points per game and 5.5 rebounds over their 15-game win streak (sat out one game during the stretch however) at the beginning of the year. Since then, his averages have dipped to a total average of 9.5 points per game and 3.9 rebounds. West especially struggled in postseason play when he dropped three straight 0 point games against Texas Tech, Kansas, and Murray State. However, West returned to his earlier season form against Marshall, securing his first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. West can light it up and West Virginia will need him to play well if they want to win against one of the country’s most discipline teams.
In an exciting and high scoring affair, the Villanova Wildcats will outlast the West Virginia Mountaineers. After losing three of six games in February, the Wildcats have played some of their best basketball, winning all but one of their final seven games by 10 or more points. That will continue against West Virginia as the Wildcats are experienced enough to defeat West Virginia’s press and in the end, the Mountaineers will not have enough to keep up with the Big East champions.
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship