If there was a bracket that the committee got almost perfect, it is the East where the #1 seed Villanova,#2 seed Purdue, #3 seed Texas Tech, and the #5 Seed West Virginia (which survived a #13 seed Marshall who upset the #4 seed Wichita State) all advanced to the Sweet 16 in Boston, MA!
So, no surprise here that #1 Villanova is the favorite heading into Friday’s action. But, they definitely will face a tough match-up in West Virginia who is playing some of their best basketball of the season. In the second game a wounded #2 seed Purdue, may head into the game as an underdog to the #3 seed because of their loss of 7-2 post man Isaac Haas who is waiting on approval of his protective device for his elbow (the first one was turned down by NCAA officials)
The South and the West looked to be wild shootouts, with a number of potential Cinderella squads looking to make the move to San Antonio, but in Boston the least recognized squad nationally in the bracket is Texas Tech that in a tie with West Virginia for second place in the Big 12 behind Kansas. This is Tech’s first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2005!
Although Villanova looks to be the favorite here, they will face a real challenge on Friday to move forward to the Elite Eight. With that in mind lets look forward and look at the Friday match-ups in the East Region:
East Region Sweet 16 Game One: #1 seed Villanova 32-4 vs #5 seed West Virginia 26-10
Jay Wright’s Villanova squad finished 2nd in the Big East behind fellow #1 seed Xavier (out on first weekend) after struggling late in the season, but they seemed to have righted the ship one the first weekend with blowout wins over Radford and a very talented Alabama squad by an 81-58 margin. They feature six players in double figures that average between 10.2 and 19.1 points an outing. They feature two of the nation’s top individual talents in 6-2 junior point Jalen Brunson, who leads them in scoring and assists, and 6-6 junior Mikal Bridges who pops for 18 a game and hits 44% from beyond the arc. Tough combo 6-4 Donte DeVincenzo ads 13.1 a game and is a guy who likes the ball in pressure spots. Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall give them a pair of solid 6-9 bookends on the blocks who hold their own versus all comers. As a team they average 87 points a game and play solid defense which makes them a tough out
Bobby Huggin’s West Virginia Mountaineers finished tied with Texas Tech for second in the Big 12, but they seem to have hit their stride in wins versus Murray State and Marshall averaging right at 90-points per outing last weekend. They play a tough, physical style of defense, that they will need if they plan on disrupting the Wildcats on Friday. No Doubt they can trade buckets with just about anyone, as they have six players averaging between 8.7 and 17.4 points an outing! Their top gun offensively is 6-2 point guard Jevon Carter who averages 17 points and hands out 6.6 assists an outing. He gets solid support from 6-3 Daxter Miles who adds 12.8 a game, along with their trio of 6-8 inside talents, Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, and Lamont West who all chip in around ten points a game for the Mountaineers. If they have a weakness it may be their long range consistency where Villanova holds a 5% advantage, and that could be important if the Mountaineers get down in the second half, something that Coach Huggins will try to avoid for sure.
Keys to the win:
For Villanova – The Wildcats will need to do a solid job on the glass and create the kind of tempo that they are comfortable with and not succumb to the physical defense that West Virginia will play as they look to disrupt the ‘Cats offensive flow. This is a place that Jalen Brunson needs to keep his team focused to taking care of the ball (they only average 10 TO for the year) and make sure that they make every possession count. If they can do that they will be hard to beat, as they are an excellent passing team that tends to work to get quality looks from the field, especially three where they hit 40% for the year.
For West Virginia – Can the Mountaineers force the tempo & style of the game they want by utilizing their defensive pressure for 94-feet. They will need to make sure that they make the Wildcats uncomfortable off the dribble and attack both the passing lanes as well as be physical on both defense and the boards. If they can make Villanova take tough shots and disrupt the dribble drive and kick whenever possible, they will have a good shot at pulling the upset, especially if they are efficient on offense and don’t get into a three point shooting contest with the ‘Cats!
The outcome: I think this one will have a real ebb and flow as both clubs find success in spurts and make a number of runs throughout the game, but in the end it may be the squad that makes the last run that wins, or the team that makes big shots down the stretch. In that case I think Villanova has a slight advantage over West Viginia and should hold on to win by one or two possessions!
East Region Sweet 16 Game Two: #2 seed Purdue 30-6 vs #3 seed Texas Tech 26-9
Matt Painter’s Purdue comes into this match-up unsure of whether they will have any minutes from their #2 scorer and rebounder 7-2 Isaac Haas. They survived a quality Butler squad in the second round 76-73, but without Haas didn’t look like the team that dominated stretches of play in the Big 10 before faltering a little in the last month to finish second to Michigan State. But, the thing that changes the Boilers the most is the presence of Haas in the paint, he is a difference maker! Without him Matt Painter will have to go small, and rely on 7-3 freshman Matt Harms to rotate into the line-up to give Texas Tech some different locks on both ends of the Court. In playing small ball the Boilermakers will rely on 6-1 Carsen Edwards 6-4 Dakota Mathias, and 6-8 Vincent Edwards to lead the way! Note: Haas has not practiced the past two days, and isn’t expected to play, not only this week, but throughout the rest of the tournament.
Chris Beard’s Texas Tech has built his team around their athleticism and length on the defensive end of the court to create possessions with pressure and to create opportunities in transition. They only have three scorers in double figures with 6-3 Keenan Evans leading the way at 17.8 points a game followed by 6-8 Zhaire Smith and 6-5 Jarrett Culver scoring just over 11 points each an outing. But, they have depth with six other players who play 15 to 22 minutes a game without mush drop off that allows them to wear teams down in the second half of games! It is that depth that will have to play at a high level to disrupts a more controlled approach they will see form Purdue on Friday!
Keys to the win:
For Purdue – The Boilermakers need to control the tempo of the game, running when available, and doing a good job of taking care of the basketball versus pressure they will get from Texas Tech. They need to make sure that they create good shots on the perimeter off the drive and kick where they shoot 42% from beyond the three point arc. With loss of Haas it will be everyman hitting the glass and making sure that they don’t get into a track meet unless they dictate it. Efficiency is going to be key if Purdue is going to make the move to the Elite Eight.
For Texas Tech – The Red Raiders are going to have to take advantage of their depth and surprising advantage size wise on the glass. If th do they can establish the tempo they want and can make it difficult for Purdue in the second half of the game. Their physical defense on the perimeter may be key as they force Purdue to beat them inside the arc. The Keenan Evans – Carsen Edwards match-up could be key, especially early on as Tech tries to establish the tempo. But, it could be as simple as attacking the Haas-less Boilermakers off the dribble that could be the difference.
The outcome: Texas Tech is a club that plays hard for forty minutes, doesn’t blow you away with their shot making, but their tenacious approach on the defense will disrupt Purdue and the Boilers without Haas may not be able to offset that and gaining control of the tempo. Before the tourney, I would have picked Purdue, But short-handed I think the Texas Tech squad that upended Florida moves on to the Elite Eight.
Up next we will break down the Midwest Region, the other side of Friday’s regions in the Sweet 16, right here at thebasketballchannel.net.