The best battle of point guards in the Sweet 16 will undoubtedly be between West Virginia’s Jevon Carter and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson.
Carter is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders, while Brunson may very well be the best all-around player left in the NCAA Tournament.
In other words, something has got to give on Friday.
The Mountaineers have earned the moniker of Press Virginia thanks largely to Carter’s efforts.
“If you walked out of your hotel, and some guy got in your face and followed you everywhere you went, wouldn’t that bother you?” Huggins said, per USA Today. “That’s what we try to do for 40 minutes.”
Carter is second in the nation at steals per game with (3.0) and first in total steals (108). That’ll go head-to-head against Brunson, who’s 30th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.71).
The two aren’t just ends of a spectrum colliding, though. They’re bred from the same roots.
Will not be first time Jevon Carter & Jalen Brunson on same court together next week. Both played for Chicago AAU team, NLP, run by former Chicago Bull Dickey Simpkins. Cut from same cloth.
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) March 19, 2018
Carter at his best in the NCAA Tournament
Carter has led West Virginia through its first two victories.
In the first round, Carter was a stat-sheet stuffer against Murray State with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 6 steals.
Then against in-state foe Marshall, Carter again poured it on to the tune of 28 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals.
“This is March,” Carter said. “This is what we came to do. We don’t just want to go to the Sweet 16. We want to win it all.”
Brunson is meticulously efficient
The Villanova point guard’s careful yet dogged approach has carried the Wildcats. He’s only turned the ball over more than three times twice — he coughed it up seven times in a loss to Providence then, ironically in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Radford, had four giveaways.
On the other hand, Brunson has had 18 games of one or fewer turnovers.
He’s also reached double-figure scoring numbers in every game this season.
That consistency at an almost unprecedented level.
So what gives?
Villanova is the highest-scoring offense in the nation at 86.9 points per game. Brunson accounts for 19.1 of that mark with his scoring alone.
The Wildcats have also connected on 31 3-pointers so far in the NCAA Tournament.
Don’t expect the same type of performance from the perimeter by Villanova against West Virginia — even a broken press leads to transition opportunities on drives more often than outside jumpers.
The best course of action for Carter and Co. will likely be to keep the ball out of Brunson’s hands at all costs, and the press can help with that.
Carter will have to be efficient from the field as well. Of West Virginia’s 10 losses this year, four have come when Carter shot below 40 percent.
But Carter will be a gnat that refuses to buzz off of Brunson. He’s 11th in the country in minutes played (1,276) and rarely comes out of games unless he’s in foul trouble. Brunson will have to deal with that for 40 minutes.
“You have to understand how hard he works to appreciate Jevon Carter,” Huggins said. “He’s the hardest-working guy I think I’ve ever had.”
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