VILLANOVA, Pa. (CBS) — The Villanova Wildcats believe playing in the Big East Conference toughens them for the NCAA Tournament. That theory will be put to the test on Friday.
Villanova will be looking for a berth in the Elite 8 with a Sweet 16 contest in Boston, but standing in the way are the Mountaineers of West Virginia. Perhaps no team in college basketball plays a more physical brand of basketball than Bob Huggins’ squad.
West Virginia’s high intensity pressure defense has resulted in an easy trip to the Sweet 16 with wins by a combined 40 points over its first two tournament opponents.
Villanova Coach Jay Wright knows his team will face a style unlike any other when the Wildcats step on the court in Boston on Friday.
“The great challenge is you just never see that during the year,” said Wright. “You might play 35 games and you don’t play against anyone who plays that way. It’s hard to simulate it. I think we’re going to have to just get in there, take a hit like being in a boxing match where you take a couple of times. You hope it doesn’t affect you too much and be used to it and grind through it.”
The West Virginia pressure is an especially difficult challenge for guards. It sets up a tremendous strength against strength match up with the presence of Villanova’s talented backcourt.
Guard Phil Booth will be one of the players who will face the full force of West Virginia’s pressure and the junior has plenty of respect for the Mountaineers.
“It’s going to be a very tough test with their athleticism and the length they have and how hard they play for 40 minutes,” Booth said. “It’s pretty amazing. They bring a lot of challenges. They force a lot of turnovers.”
West Virginia is also more than capable of scoring. The Mountaineers average over 80 points per game. When West Virginia is scoring, it provides a better opportunity for its defense to set up the press, which can result in ugly moments for opponents. Wright knows the way his team defends can alleviate turnovers when his team has possession.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” said Wright. “It’s not just their guards that shoot threes and not just their press. They’re a tremendous shot blocking team and a tremendous rebounding team. They get extra possessions. They score at a high rate and that’s what gets them into their press, so your half court defense has to be good. If they’re scoring on you, they’re in their press.”
While West Virginia will provide a tough test on Friday, Villanova knows the challenges are usually greater as the NCAA Tournament progresses. With a host of high-seeded teams getting knocked out during the first weekend, the Wildcats aren’t taking anything for granted. For players such as Jalen Brunson, Friday will provide another opportunity to move one step closer to a national title.
“It’s a great feeling when you move on and get to the next round with your team,” Brunson said. “We’re just really excited we have the opportunity to gout there and play with each other at least one more time. We’re going to try and make the most of it and play Villanova Basketball.”
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