West Virginia Mountaineers (26-10 SU, 17-15 ATS, 17-15 O/U) vs. Villanova Wildcats (32-4 SU, 24-12 ATS, 24-12 O/U)
NCAAB: Friday, March 23, 2018 at 7:27 p.m. EST
The Villanova Wildcats and West Virginia Mountaineers will square off in the East Region semifinals at the TD Garden in Boston, Mass. on Friday night. Villanova, which has won seven straight games, has tipped off its NCAA Tournament campaign with victories over Radford and Alabama. The Mountaineers mauled Murray State and Marshall to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16.
Getting back in gear
In the second week of January, Villanova and West Virginia were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the AP Poll. Fast forward less than three months and they have to go head-to-head as early as the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. That is because the Mountaineers, who started the season 15-1, played their way down to a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance with a 9-9 record in the last 18 contests spanning the regular season and the Big 12 Tournament. They have not compiled only one winning streak of more than two games (three, from Feb. 20 through Feb. 26) since their hot early-campaign stretch. Another three-game streak, of course, is necessary if West Virginia wants to book a spot in the Elite 8. Two down; one to go. Picking up the pace on the heels of their recent woes, the Mountaineers walloped Murray State 85-68 to begin their NCAA Tournament before disposing of upstart Marshall 94-71 this past Sunday. Against the Thundering Herd, guard Jevon Carter scored a team-high 28 points while going 10-for-18 from the field in addition to five assists, five steals, five rebounds, and only one turnover. The vaunted, in-your-face defense of “Press Virginia” limited Marshall star Jon Elmore to just three points–and forced him into six turnovers–in the first half.
“We just tried to make it hard for him,” Carter commented. “We played team defense and we frustrated him a little bit. He just didn’t know where to throw the ball and ended up causing him to turn the ball over…. We don’t just want to go to the Sweet 16.”
“The best team in the tournament”
The NCAA Tournament has so far been heavy on upsets while producing a steady diet of down-to-the-wire thrillers. Villanova, however, has kept itself above the fray. Avoiding any such nonsense against lesser opponents, the Wildcats took care of Radford 87-61 in the first round before hammering Alabama 81-58. Against the Crimson Tide, Mikal Bridges led the way with a team-high 23 points on 7-for-16 shooting to go along with three rebounds, two blocks, and just one turnover in 26 minutes of work. After West Virginia ousted Marshall this past Sunday, Mountaineers’ assistant coach Ronnie Everhart offered a daunting scouting report of his team’s upcoming opponent.
“They’re a lot like Kansas; they run the same type of schemes,” Everhart said of the Wildcats, comparing them to Big 12 rival KU. “They don’t have an (Udoka) Azubuike, but they’ve got guys who gang rebound. They’re the best team in the tournament in my opinion.”
The West Virginia Mountaineers are:
- 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games against the Big East
- 3-8 ATS in their last 11 games following an ATS win
- 7-1 Over in their last eight overall
The Villanova Wildcats are:
- 5-1 ATS in their last six overall
- 8-1 ATS in their last nine neutral-site games
- 8-2 ATS in their last 10 NCAA Tournament games
Everhart may be on to something in his analysis of Villanova, which was arguably the best team from start to finish–other than Virginia, which is obviously no longer playing–throughout the regular season and conference tournament schedule. West Virginia is 3-8 ATS in its last 11 against the Big East and 3-8 ATS in its last 11 following an ATS win. The Wildcats are 5-1 ATS in their last six overall, 8-1 ATS in their last nine at neutral sites, 8-2 ATS in their last 10 in the NCAA Tournament, 20-8 ATS in their last 28 following a win, 21-8 ATS in their last 29 against winning opponents, 50-21-1 ATS in their last 73 non-conference contests, and 9-4 ATS in their last 13 against the Big 12. Don’t be surprised if those trends continue.
Pick: Villanova Wildcats -5.5
The over is 7-1 in the Mountaineers’ last eight overall, 5-1 in their last six at neutral sites, 5-1 in their last six following a win, 4-0 in their last four non-conference contests, 4-1 in their last five against opponents with winning percentages over .600, and 4-1 in their last five in the NCAA Tournament. It is also 20-8 in the Wildcats’ last 28 overall, 5-2 in their last seven at neutral sites, 5-2 in their last seven non-conference contests, 11-3 in their last 14 following a win, and 16-5 in their last 21 against opponents with winning percentages over .600. Look for this one to go over the total.