Free Play: Take Villanova (#872)
West Virginia was a good bet last weekend against a pair of lesser foes, knocking off Murray State in the opener, followed by a rout of outclassed Marshall in the Round of 32. That was then; this is now.
The Mountaineers shot 52% from the floor and forced 16 Murray State turnovers in that victory. Against Marshall, it was 50% shooting and 18 forced turnovers to go along with their +18 edge on the boards. Don't expect a similar result in any of those statistical categories in tonight's Sweet 16 showdown versus Villanova.
Bob Huggins has only one gameplan. West Virginia likes to disrupt opposing offenses with their press, leading to easy transition buckets at the other end of the court. That's why their season long offensive efficiency numbers are rock solid –easy layups and dunks and wide open three pointers in transition opportunities off turnovers have inflated those numbers.
When you put West Virginia in a half court setting, this offense doesn't execute at a particularly high level. And when the Mountaineers get into a game with a team that doesn't turn the ball over, it can get downright ugly for Huggy Bear's squad.
Villanova doesn't turn the ball over. With veteran stud Jalen Brunson handling the basketball, the Wildcats finished the season ranked #11 in the country at fewest offensive possessions that end in turnovers and #8 in the country at the fewest offensive possessions that end in steals. Basically, I don't expect West Virginia's press to work here – Brunson is not likely to turn the ball over in bunches.
And that sets up a real problem for West Virginia when it comes to halfcourt defense. For the season, the Mountaineers ranked #300 in effective three point shooting defense. All that pressing and trapping leads to wide open shooters when the press breaks down. And Villanova is a truly elite offensive team, more than capable of knocking down open looks from beyond the arc.
The numbers do not lie. Jay Wright's veteran squad has posted truly elite offensive efficiency numbers all year – as good or better than ANY college basketball team over the last decade. This ‘Nova team ranks among the true ‘class' teams in college basketball this season, with SIX double digit scorers now that Phil Booth is healthy at the point again. Despite all the tight finishes and underdog winners in early Big Dance action, this is one spot where laying the points is wholly warranted. Take Villanova.