#1 Villanova Wildcats (31-3) vs. #16 Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (20-15)
When: Thursday, March 16, 2017, at 7:10 p.m.
Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.
KenPom Prediction: 76-54, Villanova (98%)
How They Got In: Won the NEC Tournament, Beat New Orleans in First Four
Last Tournament Appearance: 2014, Lost to Albany in First Four
Key Players for Mount St. Mary’s: #0 Junior Robinson (5-5, 165) Jr., G; #55 Elijah Long (6-0, 180) So., G; #10 Miles Wilson (6-5, 190) Fr., G
Scouting Report: Mount St. Mary’s bounced back after a brutal non-conference slate in which it finished 2-11 heading into NEC play. The tough trials and tribulations along the way must have served the Mountaineers well, as they went 14-4 the rest of the way and ran through the NEC tournament to secure a bid to the Big Dance, where they beat New Orleans in a nailbiter to move onto a Thursday night date with top-seeded Villanova.
The Mountaineers use a true 7-man rotation, with three additional guys getting a couple minutes here and there in almost every game this season. Leading the way is Junior Robinson, a 5-5 guard who has become a NCAA Tournament darling due to his short stature in a tall man’s game. Despite his small size, he might not be able to dunk like Spud Webb or get up there vertically like Muggsy Bogues, but Robinson can definitely play with some of the bigger guys out there. He is quick and unafraid to taking it inside, usually using a smooth floater to finish the job over opponents who patrol the paint. Robinson also has a solid 3-point shooting stroke, knocking down just under 40 percent of his attempts this season.
However, there are times when Robinson can be a bit reckless with the ball. He has a good eye for finding cutting teammates or kicking out to an open man on the perimeter when he drives inside, but there are times he goes for the daring passes or just flat out loses his handle trying to do ambitious things on the court.
He splits time as the team’s facilitator along with Elijah Long, who is a do-it-all type guard. He can dish, score, and is pretty solid at rebounding the ball. Long leads the team with 15.1 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 4.4 assists per game. He just has a nose for the ball and that carries over on the defensive end as well, where he can be a pest for opponents. His style of play on offense leans closer to a slasher, who prefers to take it inside and can knock down his free throws if needed. However, he has vastly improved his shot from deep since his freshman season and is much more comfortable with pulling up from long range if the opportunity presents itself. About 25 percent of his shots came from beyond the arc, and he has knocked down a respectable 39.5 percent of them. One glaring problem with his game is that he often finds himself in foul trouble.
Then there’s Miles Wilson, who enters Thursday night after picking up back-to-back double-doubles. The freshman guard has improved as the season unfolded and especially picked up momentum down the stretch. He’s crashing the boards and proving to be another solid rebounding guard. Similar to Long, his style of play is centered around attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line, although he will occasionally take and make the three. Also keep an eye out for Chris Wray and Mawdo Sallah, two forwards that are defensive anchors in the paint. They are decent rebounders and shot-blockers, but won’t be game changers on offense. Wray (6-8) and Sallah (6-9) are also the two tallest guys in this rotation, and are the only two taller than 6-foot-6 that actually play key minutes for this team.
Outlook: No 16-seed has ever upset a one-seed in history of the NCAA Tournament and that trend should continue–at least for Villanova–on Thursday night.
The Mountaineers are more sound on defense than they are offensively. They shoot around the middle of the pack on offense, but can force turnovers at a solid rate (21.7 percent of opponents’ possessions) and hold their foes to shoot just 34.0 percent from deep. Expect them to slow it down against the Wildcats, which should be expected by default, but that’s also how Mount St. Mary’s just plays in the first place.
As strange as it is to think the Wildcats as undersized compared to many other teams, as they haven’t really had much of a sizeable frontcourt to brag about (although the development of Dylan Painter is slowly changing this), they will be just as big–if not–bigger and longer than the Mountaineers.
Two aspects to watch for in this game are how Mount St. Mary’s does at the free throw line, and how the Mountaineers react to a high-pressure defense like Villanova’s. Outside the Mountaineers main trio of Long, Wilson, and Robinson, they don’t shoot all that well from the charity stripe, only converting 67.2 percent of his foul shots (280th in the nation). Also, the Mountaineers are prone to turning the ball over, which doesn’t bode well for them, as the Wildcats force turnovers on 20.2 percent of possessions on defense. When teams dial up the pressure on Mount St. Mary’s, it doesn’t react very well. Although this was just the first game of the season, the Mountaineers faltered at the sight of the West Virginia 1-3-1 press. They turned the ball over 21 times (Long had eight of those) and were held to shooting just 35.1 percent on the floor.
Let Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart, the co-Big East Defensive Players of the Year, cook on defense, and before you know it, everyone else will be feasting–onwards to the round of 32.