Sweet 16 Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers


Courtesy of Sporting News

Sweet 16 Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Greg Welsh

Opponent: No. 5 Seed West Virginia Mountaineers (26-10)

Game Time: Friday, March 23, 7:27 p.m.

Channel: TBS 

With Villanova set to square off against West Virginia in the Sweet 16, here is a breakdown of the opposition and the keys to victory for the ‘Cats on Friday, March 23.  

Press Virginia 

As this nickname suggests, the Mountaineers are known for their tenacious full-court press. With all the pressure the team puts on their opponents, it is no surprise that they rank 10th in Division I in turnovers forced per game, with an average of 16.5, and second in average turnover margin at +5.2.

Villanova will surely have to take care of the basketball in order to be successful. Smart passes and quick ball movement will be crucial to effectively breaking the press. 

“It’s 40 minutes of pressure,” Phil Booth, one of Nova’s starting guards, said. “They’re a very physical team, they’re quick, athletic and play so fast paced. They have one of the most rare styles of play in all of college basketball.” 

Head Coach Jay Wright believes the best way to beat the press is to prevent the Mountaineers from setting it up in the first place. 

“They score at a high rate and that’s what gets them into their press,” Wright said. “Your half court defense has to be good because if they’re scoring on you they’re in their press.”

Rim Protector 

It is not just the press that makes West Virginia’s defense so effective. The team also is tough to score on in the paint, ranking 14th in Division I in blocks per game at 5.2. Much of this is due to their sophomore forward, Sagaba Konate, who ranks fourth in the country with an average of 3.23 blocks per game. 

When the Wildcats take the ball to the rim, they are going to have to do it strongly. 

“I think we are going to have to get in there and take a hit every now and then and hope it doesn’t effect us too much and hope we can grind through it,” Wright said. 

Coming in Hot

Just like the Wildcats, West Virginia has cruised through their opening two tournament games, defeating Murray State, 85-68, and Marshall 94-71. While the large margins of victory are certainly due in part to the weaker opponents, there is no denying that the Mountaineers are playing well. 

“We always get teams that are better than their seeding,” Wright joked. “There wasn’t a lot of comfort as I was watching them play [Sunday] night. I think they are similar to us in the fact that they are playing their best basketball right now. They have themselves clicking with each other just like we are, so I think you are going to see a physical and tough game.” 

Mr. Do it All

There is no denying the importance of senior point guard, Jevon Carter, to the Mountaineers. An excellent player on both offense and defense, Carter leads his team in points per game, with 17.4, and assists per game, with 6.6. He also grabs an average of 4.7 rebounds each game, a remarkable feat for someone standing just 6’2”. Perhaps most impressive, however, is Carter’s defense. The senior from Illinois averaged three steals per game this season, placing him second in all of Division I. His aggressive, lock down defense has proven a menace for opponents all year. 

Wright had high praise for the Mountaineer’s star. 

“He reminds me a lot of Jalen Brunson,” Wright said. “It begins with his mental toughness and focus. You can tell he’s a serious competitor, in his press conference last night he was already on to the next game and that’s similar to Jalen [Brunson]. He is a tremendous leader for their team.” 

If ‘Nova can find a way to limit Carter’s impact, it will go a long way in helping the Wildcats reach the Elite Eight.