West Virginia wants to keep upset train rolling vs. Villanova
BOSTON — Sporting the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament's chalkiest region doesn't give Villanova coach Jay Wright any special confidence heading into Friday night's game against West Virginia.
The Wildcats (32-4) were together in a Pittsburgh hotel room last weekend when they watched top overall seed Virginia's unprecedented first-round loss to No. 16 seed University of Maryland-Baltimore County.
When it was over, there was no need for Wright to harp on the lesson.
“It was so impactful that you didn't have to say it,” he said Thursday as Villanova hoped to avoid joining the slew of deposed favorites when it plays the fifth-seeded Mountaineers (26-10) for the East Region's spot in the national quarterfinals.
Along with Kansas in the Midwest, Villanova is one of two No. 1 seeds remaining in this year's bracket.
With all those low seeds in the tournament, West Virginia doesn't seem like much of an underdog. But the Mountaineers are hitting that angle hard, saying they don't get the respect they deserve as a senior class that has reached the Sweet 16 three times in four years.
“I felt like ever since our freshman year, we've always been underrated,” guard Jevon Carter said “We've always been the underdogs coming into any game we've played. So we've always had an extra chip on our shoulder.”
Coach Bob Huggins, who is seventh on the NCAA's all-time victory list, said the lack of hype goes back to when his players were recruited. Rather than guys with the potential to go to the NBA after one year, he has to pick the ones who might otherwise attend a mid-major school.
“I told my athletic director that really he had two choices: Either fire me for recruiting the guys I recruited, or give me a raise for being able to win with them,” Huggins said. “We got a bunch of guys that really were looking for an opportunity to play at the highest level.”
Villanova isn't buying it.
“If you're at this point, you're just as good as the team in front of you,” Villanova guard Phil Booth said. “West Virginia is playing as good as anybody else or any other team.”
The Mountaineers rely on a stifling full-court defense that has earned them the nickname “Press Virginia.” Villanova's ability to pull up for 3-pointers in transition is seen as the key to breaking the West Virginia pressure.
“I don't think we're going to change our defense. We're going to press,” Mountaineers forward Esa Ahmad said. “We're going to try to take them out of what they do well and just try to take everything away from them.”