BOSTON — A look at the NCAA East Regional semifinal between Villanova and West Virginia, scheduled for 7:27 p.m. Friday at TD Garden.
The Wildcats endured a minimum of anxiety in dispatching their first two NCAA opponents by a total of 49 points. The Mountaineers, however, will provide much more stress with their full-court press, meaning all of Villanova’s guards must be careful with the basketball and be aggressive when pressured. Freshman Collin Gillespie neatly handled Alabama’s attempts to rush him, and he must play the same way Friday night. Rebounding also will be an issue because West Virginia goes hard to the offensive glass, meaning Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall have to establish solid positioning while the guards come back to help.
West Virginia keys
The Mountaineers force an average of 16.5 turnovers and have scored an average of 20.2 points off opponents’ miscues this season. Easy points are important for them because they shoot only 43.8 percent from the field, meaning they will have to play better in the half-court against the improved Villanova defense. West Virginia also must do a good job guarding the three-point line and funneling drives by the Wildcats to where 6-foot-8 sophomore Sagaba Konate, one of the nation’s best shot-blockers, can do his thing.
Both teams average more than 80 points, but defense will be the key Friday night. Villanova clamped down on Radford and Alabama last weekend, allowing an average of 59.5 points, 37.4 percent overall shooting and 30 percent shooting from three-point range. A key for the Cats will be to keep senior guard Jevon Carter from controlling the game. As mentioned, West Virginia likes to turn the opponent over repeatedly and has a premier shot-blocker in Konate, but the Mountaineers must be solid with three-point defense; their 37.5 percent mark during the season was not outstanding.
Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo were Villanova’s offensive stars last weekend. Bridges scored 22 points in the second half of the win over Alabama. In five postseason games, he is averaging 20.8 points and shooting 55.6 percent from the floor, and has knocked down 20 three-pointers. DiVincenzo had 18 points vs. the Crimson Tide and has dished out 13 assists in two NCAA games. In the Mountaineers’ two tournament victories, Carter averaged 24.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 5.5 steals and shot 54.3 percent. After going scoreless against Murray State, sophomore forward Lamont West had 18 points in the win over Marshall.
The closest that Villanova has come to seeing the type of pressure and physicality that West Virginia will apply defensively was in its three games against Providence. Toughness and poise will be the key components to whether the Wildcats can advance to the Elite Eight. The Mountaineers might have lost 10 games during the season but they played in a difficult conference, the Big 12, and aren’t intimidated by opponents. They do have to stay out of foul trouble; they have committed nearly 200 more fouls (772-576) than Villanova in the same number of games (36).