Villanova University's Jalen Brunson (1) reacts after sinking a three-point basket against the University of Miami during the first half of play in their fourth-round game of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Regional Championships on March 24, 2016 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. File photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo
Villanova will be looking to advance to the Elite Eight with a victory over No. 5 West Virginia in the East region Friday in Boston.
The No. 1 seed Wildcats (32-4) had little trouble defeating No. 16 Radford 87-61 in the first round and No. 9 Alabama 81-58 in the second round in Pittsburgh. As a result, they're moving on to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in coach Jay Wright's tenure on the Main Line and the second time in the last three years.
The No. 5 Mountaineers (26-10) advanced by routing in-state rival and No. 13 seed Marshall 94-71 Sunday night in San Diego.
This is officially Villanova's 11th appearance in the Sweet 16. The NCAA began officially keeping track of this when the field expanded to 32 teams in 1975. Two years ago in 2016, the Wildcats went on to win the national championship.
Villanova is fully aware of the challenge that West Virginia presents with its pressing defense and tenacious style.
"The pressure they bring with all the guys they play -- it's 40 minutes of pressure," Villanova guard Phil Booth 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. The preparation for that is going to be big for us."
The Wildcats have been red-hot with their shooting, dropping in 17 shots from beyond the 3-point arc against Alabama and 14 against Radford. Their two-game total of 31 treys in the first two rounds is the highest total since Loyola-Marymount had 32 in 1990.
To advance in this round, the Wildcats must break West Virginia's daunting press.
"West Virginia gets extra possessions and they average 80 points a game," said Wright, who owns a 5-8 career mark against the Mountaineers. "They score at a high rate and that's what gets them into their press, so your half-court defense has to be good because if they're scoring on you, they're in their press. I think we are going to have to get in there and take a hit every now and then and hope it doesn't affect us too much and that we can grind through it."
Villanova's experience was evident in the first two rounds. At this stage, it's just as much about execution.
"I think [experience] will help us a little but at the same time this is a new team with new leaders and everyone has different roles now," said Villanova guard Jalen Brunson, a candidate for National Player of the Year. "It's all new for us but we just go out and play together and not worry about what happens outside those lines. We just need to stick together and we can get the job done."
Guard Jevon Carter paced West Virginia with 28 points against Marshall. Lamont West scored 18 points off the bench and the Mountaineers defense forced 18 turnovers by Marshall, which seemed to be overwhelmed.
West Virginia advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year.
"We're just happy to keep playing," Carter told reporters. "This is March. This is what we came to do. We don't just want to go to the Sweet 16 -- we want to win it all, go back, prepare for Villanova, watch a lot of film, and get ready for the next game."
Carter is the biggest key for West Virginia and he became the first player since Georgetown's Allen Iverson to score 28 points to go along with at least five steals and five assists in an NCAA Tournament game.
"That's typical," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins told reporters of Carter. "That's why he was the National Defensive Player of the Year a year ago and probably will be this year. He shattered our steals [record] both in the season and career. He's had a phenomenal career. You have to understand how hard he works to appreciate Jevon Carter. He's the hardest-working guy I think I've ever had."
Huggins is 13-8 all-time in the NCAA Tournament at West Virginia.