Jalen Brunson, Villanova Advance to 2018 Elite Eight After Win over WVU

The Villanova Wildcats continue to be a steady force of dominance in a 2018 men’s NCAA tournament largely defined by shocking upsets.

The Big East representative clinched their fourth Elite Eight appearance in 13 years with a 90-78 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers in Friday’s Sweet 16 showdown in Boston.

Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, received 27 points and four assists from Jalen Brunson, while Jevon Carter led the fifth-seeded Mountaineers with 12 points, eight dimes and four steals in a high-profile backcourt battle.

A primary focal point coming into the game was that showdown between Villanova’s star-studded backcourt and West Virginia’s hounding pressure defense, which features Carter, who leads the country in steals per game.

Brunson and Mikal Bridges are the catalysts for the Wildcats’ attack with their ability to drill shots from deep, penetrate the lane and facilitate for others, and, thanks largely to their efforts, Villanova boasts the best offense in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted metrics.

The steady presence of the two juniors proved key with West Virginia’s press making every possession a chore. Brunson and Bridges combined for just four of Villanova’s 17 turnovers despite consistently handling the ball, which helped the top seed weather some of the Mountaineers’ storms.

They did more than just protect the ball, though, and Brunson in particular went into takeover mode with his team facing a 60-54 deficit in the second half.

He spearheaded an 11-0 run that featured an and-one and an assist on a Bridges three to help Villanova seize momentum for good. Omari Spellman got in on the fun with multiple head-turning swats, a rim-rattling putback dunk and a three on another Brunson dime. In a testament to their overwhelming talent, the Wildcats took control behind Spellman and Brunson in the blink of an eye and never looked back.

That formidable offense connected on 13 threes at a 54.2 percent clip and featured four players with at least 14 points.

Spellman tallied 18 points (4-of-7 from deep), eight boards and three blocks. Bridges added 16 points (3-of-5 from deep) and six rebounds, and Eric Paschall finished with 14 points.

West Virginia is no slouch on offense either at No. 10 in Pomeroy’s rankings, and it matched the potent Villanova attack punch-for-punch throughout much of the game largely behind the foursome of Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad.

Carter sliced through the lane to create for himself and others, and Miles spaced the floor with his outside shooting. Konate did his work around the rim on both sides with soft touch and as a rim protector—never more dramatically then when he turned away a Bridges dunk in transition in dramatic fashion.

However, Miles eventually fouled out, and Konate picked up his fourth foul on a double technical jawing with Spellman. The whistles limited the aggressiveness down the stretch for two of the team’s leaders, and Brunson and Spellman took full advantage with their relentless offense.

While they couldn’t match the firepower of Brunson and Spellman, the Mountaineers still received 16 points from Miles to go with 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks from Konate. Ahmad chipped in 11 points, six rebounds and three steals.

Villanova now turns its attention to the Elite Eight, where it will face either the second-seeded Purdue Boilermakers or the third-seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders. While the other regions all have at least one team seeded ninth or higher remaining, the East has been largely chalk.

That means the Wildcats will be battle-tested, though, if they reach the Final Four with one more win.