West Virginia Battles Nova for Elite 8 Berth
Ex-Big East rivals meet yet again
MORGANTOWN — No. 15 West Virginia’s cross-country trip in the NCAA Tournament heads to the east coast tonight when it take on an old nemesis, No. 2 Villanova (32-4), at 7:27 p.m. at the TD Garden (19,580) in Boston, Mass.
The game will be televised on TBS with Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel and Allie LaForce providing the game coverage.
“They (the Wildcats) really do shoot the ball well,” WVU (26-10) coach Bob Huggins said during Monday’s teleconference. “That’s the thing that really stands out when you look at those guys.
“Everybody they put on the floor can score and everyone of them can shoot the 3.”
Not unlike a Marshall team the Mountaineers dispatched Sunday by a 94-71.
“You can’t over help on defense because they can all shoot the 3,” said Huggins, who is taking his alma mater to its third Sweet 16 appearance in the last four years. “Kind of like players for Oklahoma State or Kansas. When you over help they make shots.”
Something Mountaineers fans witnessed time and again in three losses to the Jayhawks as well as during an 88-85 home loss to OSU.
“Jay (Villanova head coach Wright) has always had great success with guards. He recruits great guards. They’ve kind of been tagged ‘Guard U’. Their spacing is terrific.”
West Virginia has a pair of good guards as well in seniors Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr.
“One is right-handed and the other is left-handed,” Huggins said when asked to compare Carter to Villanova’s Jalen Brunson.
Brunson, who was selected to the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division I All-American first team, has put together an impressive junior season, averaging a team-leading 19.1 points per game, and is one of the favorites to take home Player of the Year honors when all is said and done.
He will be joined in the backcourt by fellow juniors Phil Booth (10.6 ppg.) and Mikal Bridges (18.0). Junior Eric Paschall (10.2) and freshman Omari Spellman (10.6) round out the starting five at forward.
Huggins will counter with his normal lineup of Carter and Miles Jr. at the guards with junior Esa Ahmad and sophomores Wesley Harris and Sagaba Konate at the forwards.
Carter, who was selected to the NABC’s All-American third team, leads the Mountaineers in scoring at 17.4 points per game, assists (97) and steals (108) and is coming off a 28-point, five-assist, five-steal performance in the win over the Thundering Herd.
Miles Jr, who ranks second in school history with 123 games started, chips in 12.8 points per outing while sophomore James ‘Beetle’ Bolden (8.7 ppg) gives Huggins a solid three-man rotation out front.
Ahmad (10.2) and Konate (10.8) provide most of the inside scoring while Harris, who missed much of the Marshall game due to concussion protocol, chips in nearly six points per game, but provides the length necessary to make WVU’s fullcourt pressure effective.
“We fully expect that he (Harris) will be ready to go,” Huggins said. “His size and length bother people. Especially perimeter people.”
Add in the play of sophomore Lamont West, who had his first career double-double against Marshall, and freshman Teddy Allen, and the coaching staff possesses the depth it needs to have in order to deal with the Wildcats.
Fans can also expect to see Cameron’s Logan Routt on the floor to spell Konate, who is second in the country with 113 blocked shots this season.
Tonight’s matchup will be the 43rd meeting between the two schools with the Wildcats holding a 22-20 advantage in a series that dates back to 1956.