After surviving a First Four thriller against New Orleans, 67-66, Northeast Conference champion Mount St. Mary's treks from Dayton to Buffalo for a First Round matchup with Villanova.
The Mountaineers are tasked not only with becoming the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1, but to do so against the defending national champions.
Villanova has lost just once in its last 13 games, and at 31-3, earned the top overall seed in the 2017 Tournament. Jay Wright is working with arguably his best team in a great career as Wildcats head coach -- and given his last time won it all, that's high praise.
Josh Hart is a leading contender for national player of the year awards, former super-recruit Jalen Brunson has developed into an intriguing NBA draft prospect, and 2016 national championship game hero Kris Jenkins is just as dangerous as ever from behind the 3-point line. Mikal Bridges' maturation from reserve to key post player gives Villanova versatility, while "The Michael Jordan of Delaware," Donte DiVincenzo, adds scoring pop.
To say "The Mount" has a daunting mountain to climb would be an understatement.
East Region First Round: No. 16 Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers (20-15) vs. No. 1 Villanova Wildcats (31-3)
Time: 7:10 p.m. ET (Thursday)
Where: KeyBank Center (Buffalo, N.Y.)
Keys for Mount St. Mary's
The Mountaineers won a terrific game over New Orleans, and guard Junior Robinson made a splash on the national scene. In some ways, Mount St. Mary's has had its "One Shining Moment." This is a team now playing with the proverbial house money, so it's best if the No. 16 seed hits the floor Thursday with no pressure.
Conversely, it's important the Mountaineers put pressure on Villanova.
The Havoc defense stymied New Orleans for much of the first half Tuesday. Mount St. Mary's successfully generated turnovers, and controlled the glass to limit possessions to one attempt. That produced a double-digit-point lead early on.
Mount St. Mary's must limit Villanova's looks at the basket, whether through turnover-creation or limiting offensive rebounds. Turning those changes of possession into transitional points, with the lightning bug Robinson leading the charge, can spark the Mountaineer offense.
Keys for Villanova
Mount St. Mary's doesn't have the size or the sheer talent to go toe-to-toe with Villanova on most days. However, it takes only one, bad day for a heavy favorite to go down in an upset at the NCAA Tournament. A disparity in athleticism or skill can be reconciled with some hope, and a few good breaks.
Villanova needs to execute from the outset as it has proven repeatedly it can. Avoid looking ahead to a Second Round date with either Virginia Tech or Wisconsin, and treat Mount St. Mary's like it's one of those power-conference opponents waiting on Saturday. Build a big lead early to eliminate any hope the upstart Mountaineers might have.
The Wildcats’ best course of action to take Mount St. Mary's out early is to exert an overwhelming size advantage across all positions. Villanova can exploit that edge to take the Mountaineers out of their swarming defense.
Mount St. Mary's looked good against New Orleans, and head coach Jamion Christian is a fast-rising star. Nonetheless, the Mountaineers are vastly overmatched against the defending national champions.
A No. 16 seed will one day beat a No. 1, but it will take a soft, undisciplined No. 1 to fall. Neither of those adjectives applies to Jay Wright's team in any form. Villanova executes as precisely as any team in the country on both sides of the ball.
The Wildcats should make quick work of Mount St. Mary's, en route to an intriguing Second Round date with either Virginia Tech or Wisconsin.