BOSTON – After seven months and 36 games, the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament is not the time to make drastic changes to a game plan, no matter who the opponent is.
West Virginia has studied film of Villanova – the team it will play in a semifinal game of the East Region on Friday at TD Garden – but it’s been only a few days and two practices since the Mountaineers flew home from San Diego on Sunday and then left Tuesday for Boston because of the warnings of a nor’easter along the East Coast.
There hasn’t been time for the fifth-seeded Mountaineers (26-10) to make drastic adjustments to contend with top-seeded Villanova (32-4) even if they were inclined to – which they are not.
“We’re just going to go play,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Thursday. “I don’t think there’s any secret. The basic core of what we do, we don’t change.
“We do what we do, and we’ve got to try to do what we do better than they do what they do.”
What the Mountaineers do has been dubbed “Press Virginia.” The full-court pressure defense is designed to force turnovers and disrupt the opposition. It can be high intensity, annoying, and effective.
West Virginia, led by a senior backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr., was second in the nation in turnover margin at 5.2 per game and 10th in forced turnovers at 16.53 per game.
The only Villanova opponent that forced turnovers at that level was St. John’s (16.2). In two games — a Wildcats win and a close loss — the Red Storm forced Villanova into 25 total turnovers.
The Mountaineers press because they want to play at a fast pace.
“I don’t think we want [the score] in the 60s and 70s,” Huggins said. “We’re better when we score, and we’re better when the game’s sped up.”
That will be fine if West Virginia is forcing ‘Nova into turnovers and keeping the Wildcats’ offense discombobulated.
If ‘Nova and all-American point guard Jalen Brunson get a handle on what West Virginia is doing, however, the Mountaineers could be in a sprint they can’t win no matter how hard they push the pace.
When Villanova is on its game, the Wildcats are the Usain Bolts of college basketball.
‘Nova plays as disciplined as any team, but, unlike most other teams, it can also do that at warp speed.
Six Cats average more than 10 points, and five have made more than 50 three-pointers.
Villanova led the nation in scoring at 86.9 points per game and was third in scoring margin at 16.6 points – just a tenth behind Cincinnati and Gonzaga. It’s all by design.
“They do a great job passing the ball,” Huggins said. “They get the ball to the man that is most open. It’s not sometimes. It’s not the guy that’s open sometimes. It’s the guy that’s most open.
“When you can put five guys on the floor who can all make shots, that spreads you out.”
For all of its talk about wanting a high-scoring tempo, West Virginia was 8-11 when the opponent scored 70.
Villanova was held under 70 just three times and won each game. ‘Nova is 26-2 when it scores at least 80 points.
West Virginia knows that, but after 36 games, the Mountaineers say they will stick to doing what they did to reach the Sweet 16.
“I don’t think we’re going to change our defense,” junior forward Esa Ahmad said. “We’re going to press. We’re going to try to take them out of what they do well and just try to take everything away from them.”
It will be “Press Virginia” or go home.