Know Your Round of 32 Rival: West Virginia

Hooray, we have at least one more game to preview this year!  Leave your trifecta picks in comments!  By god, somebody will pick a winner this year!

West Virginia: 28-6 (16-5 in Big East)

WVU Opp
Points Per Minute
1.79 1.56
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.14 0.99
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.26 1.22
2-PT FG% 48.7% 46.2%
3-PT FG% 33.4% 32.7%
FT% 70.1% 68.6%
True Shooting % 53.6% 51.8%
WVU Opp
Assists/Gm 15.8 11.3
Steals/Gm 5.6 5.9
Turnovers/Gm 11.6 13.5
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.84 1.27
WVU Opp
Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm 14.0 11.8
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 15.5 10.4
Difference +1.5 -1.4


Ken Pomeroy Stats

MU WVU
Pace 44 308
Mizzou Offense vs WVU Defense Ranks
MU Offense WVU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 43 22 WVU
Effective FG% 93 90 Push
Turnover % 46 143 MU Big
Off. Reb. % 135 80 WVU
FTA/FGA 270 228 WVU
WVU Offense vs Mizzou Defense Ranks
WVU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 12 14 Push
Effective FG% 149 49 MU Big
Turnover % 55 3 MU
Off. Reb. % 2 329 WVU Big
FTA/FGA 133 185 WVU


The best matchup Mizzou could have hoped for.

I'm not going to try to convince you Mizzou will win this game.  But I am going to say that, for a 2-vs-10 game, the matchups are pretty damn favorable for Mizzou.  Using my rough "2 pts for a big advantage, 1 for a small one" test, WVU has a 3-2 advantage when Mizzou's on offense, and it's 3-3 when WVU's on offense.  The size of some of the "big" advantages varies -- obviously WVU's advantage on the offensive glass is much bigger than Mizzou's turnover advantages or FG% defense advantage, but still ... this certainly backs up the notion that WVU has to account for Mizzou's matchup advantages as much as MU has to account for WVU's.

Where WVU is strongest

  1. Their best offense is missed shots. So according to Ken Pomeroy's numbers, the Mountaineers have the 12th best offense in the country despite the fact that they a) shoot well over 20 3-pointers a game, and b) shoot the 3-ball quite badly (202nd in the country in 3PT%).  How can this be?  Because they simply rebound the crap out of the ball.  You get the distinct impression that they will often yank up a 3-pointer just to get the offense rolling -- everybody crashes the glass, they grab more offensive rebounds than almost anybody in the country (only Old Dominion grabs more), and their high assist level (they're 15th in Assists Per FG Made) suggests that once they've grabbed the offensive rebound, they pretty quickly find somebody for a relatively high-percentage shot.  It's an odd combination, but there's no arguing just how effective it is.  And as a Mizzou fan rooting for a team that sometimes gives up a ton of offensive rebounds, it's absolutely petrifying.

  2. They're just so damn big. This isn't the tallest team in the world (only 113th in Pomeroy's Effective Height measure), but as I've mentioned numerous times this week, every single player in the WVU rotation goes at least 200 pounds.  As means of comparison, four Mizzou regulars are under 200 (Zaire Taylor 189, Marcus Denmon 185, Mike Dixon 175, Miguel Paul 172).  Plus, all but two WVU regulars are at least 215 pounds ... while without Justin Safford, Mizzou has just two total (Key Ramsey 217, Steve Moore 264).  Of course, Mizzou might be able to counter size with speed, but ... well, they're going to have to do a really good job of asserting their own identity and style because by simply walking onto the court, WVU asserts theirs.

Where they are weakest

  1. They take chances that don't pay off.  WVU's defense ranks well overall, but a pretty iffy combination points to potential Mizzou success if Mizzou can attack as well as they did against Clemson -- WVU's defense is just 250th in Steal% and 228th in FTA/FGA.  This could allow Mizzou to win the ball control battle and get to the line a bit, but it all depends on their offensive mindset.

  2. They may be big, but they're thin. WVU has five players who average at least 23 minutes per game, three who average at least 32 (Kevin Jones 32.6, Devin Ebanks 33.7, Da'Sean Butler a whopping 35.7).  Because of this, and because of the fact that nobody below the top five average even 15.0 minutes per game, makes them 297th in Bench Minutes.  Needless to say, that's not a great position to be in if Mizzou is able to inflict their style on you.  Pretty clear that the identity battle will be of extreme importance in this one.

WVU's Season to Date

  • Wins vs KenPom's Top 100
    #6 Ohio State (71-65)
    #14 Georgetown (81-68)
    vs #14 Georgetown (60-58)
    vs #15 Texas A&M (73-66)
    at #21 Villanova (68-66, OT)
    #27 Pittsburgh (70-51)
    #30 Marquette (63-62)
    vs #40 Notre Dame (53-51)
    #43 Louisville (77-74)
    #52 Ole Miss (76-66)
    at #65 St. John's (79-60)
    #68 Cincinnati (74-68)
    vs #68 Cincinnati (54-51)
    at #71 Seton Hall (90-84, OT)
    #71 Seton Hall (75-63)
    vs #76 Marshall (68-60)
    at #81 South Florida (69-50)
    vs #86 Portland (84-66)
    at #90 Providence (88-74)
  • Losses
    #4 Syracuse (71-72)
    at #13 Purdue (62-77)
    #21 Villanova (75-82)
    at #27 Pittsburgh (95-98, 3OT)
    at #40 Notre Dame (68-70)
    at #57 Connecticut (62-73)

Battle-tested.  First things first: they have played TWENTY-FIVE GAMES against Ken Pomeroy's Top 90.  I was more impressed with that before I realized that Mizzou had played 22 games against such teams, but still ... 25 is ridiculous.  The major difference between Mizzou and WVU, of course: WVU is 19-6 versus the Top 90, while MIzzou is just 14-8.

Always. Be. Closing.  As mentioned in the mid-week WVU-MSU preview, WVU is 10-3 in games decided by six points or less. This could be explained through a number of factors: 1) Da'Sean Butler really has been ridiculous in clutch situations this year.  2) This team is so heavy and strong that teams are worn down at the end of games.  3) There has been at least a little luck involved.  When you have a ridiculously high batting average with runners in scoring position, when you have a third-down conversion rate that is much higher than the rest of your numbers suggest it should be, when you have a really good record in tight games ... all of these things are at least a little fluky.  But against such a tough schedule, WVU would be an equally scary team with a couple more losses here and there.

Meanwhile, Mizzou is 5-5 in such games.

WVU Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Da'Sean Butler (6'7, 230, Sr.) 14.9 0.42 35.7 MPG, 17.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.7 TOPG
Kevin Jones (6'8, 250, So.) 13.5 0.41 32.6 MPG, 13.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG
Devin Ebanks (6'9, 215, So.) 12.3 0.36 33.7 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 2.0 TOPG
Darryl Bryant (6'2, 200, So.) 14.1 0.57 24.5 MPG, 9.5 PPG, 3.1 APG, 2.2 RPG, 2.1 TOPG
Wellington Smith (6'7, 245, Sr.) 6.3 0.27 23.2 MPG, 6.6 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.3 TOPG
John Flowers (6'7, 215, Jr.) 3.3 0.23 14.3 MPG, 3.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.2 APG
Casey Mitchell (6'4, 225, Jr.) 2.4 0.28 8.5 MPG, 3.9 PPG
Joe Mazzulla (6'2, 200, Jr.) 2.3 0.15 14.7 MPG, 2.2 PPG, 2.3 APG, 1.8 RPG
Dalton Pepper (6'5, 215, Fr.) 2.2 0.28 8.0 MPG, 3.3 PPG
Cam Thoroughman (6'7, 240, Jr.) 0.7 0.09 7.4 MPG, 0.9 PPG, 1.1 RPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • WVU really is a relentless basketball team.  That they have a good, efficient offense despite no major regular averaging even 1.35 points per shot (Cam Thoroughman averages 1.53, but he's only taken 19 shots in 31 games) is just staggering.  Second chances and timely baskets are the Mountaineer modus operandi.
  • I'm not entirely sure WVU plays with actual positions either.  Sure, their two point guards (Truck Bryant, Joe Mazzulla) easily have the highest assist rates on the team (Mazzulla averages 6.4 assists per 40 minutes, Bryant 5.2), but Butler, Flowers, Dalton and Ebanks also have pretty good assist rates themselves.  Plus, there is no standout on the glass.  Jones, Smith, Ebanks and Thoroughman are all threats on the offensive glass, while Ebanks, Butler, Jones, Smith, and strangely Mazzulla are all above the '4.0 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes' mark.  Everybody does a little of everything for the Fightin' Huggy Bears.
  • Da'Sean Butler really is a fascinating player -- he fits the profile of a shooting guard on offense (0.37 shots per minute, 5+ 3-point attempts per game, low 40% shooting, 3.6 assists per 40 minutes) and a power forward on defense (5.2 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes, albeit with almost no blocked shots).
  • Heading into the Clemson game, I expressed a fear of Jerai Grant because he fit the profile of the type of big hustle player that gives Mizzou trouble.  Sure enough, Grant had a nice game against Mizzou.  Well, Kevin Jones is a more consistent version of Grant.  He's not as individually dangerous on the offensive glass, but he takes high-percentage shots, is strong around the basket, and if WVU breaks the press with Keith Ramsey or Laurence Bowers chasing the play from the backcourt, there's a good chance Jones is going to be open near the basket.
  • Devin Ebanks is WVU's best defensive rebounders, and he takes a lot of jumpers despite not being a 3-point shooter (he takes -- and misses -- right at one 3 per game).  He is Bob Huggins' most high profile signee at WVU, and for what it's worth, he always seems to play pretty damn well when I'm watching.  So he's got THAT going for him ... which is nice.
  • I've got to say, I'm extremely curious how Mizzou handles Joe Mazzulla and how WVU handles Mizzou with Mazzulla.  He is not even remotely a threat to shoot, partially due to a shoulder injury and partially due to ... him just not being much of a threat to shoot.  He is, however, potentially WVU's most important player tomorrow.  He will likely get a lot of minutes (Huggins has hinted that both Mazzulla and Bryant could see the court quite a bit together), and how he handles the pressure and the decisions he makes will do more to decide Mizzou's success than almost anything else.
  • Cam Thoroughman is not a pretty human being.

Keys to the Game

  1. R-E-B-O-U-N-D.  Duh.  It's not rocket science to suggest that Mizzou has to be able to at least compete with WVU on the glass, particularly when WVU is on offense.  Making them a one-and-done offense just murders them.  The Mountaineers are the 2nd-best offensive rebounding team in the country, which is scary considering that Mizzou ranks near the bottom of the country in defensive rebounding.

    If there's a silver lining here, it's that Mizzou has actually represented relatively well against the best offensive rebounding teams:

    Offensive Rebounds Allowed by Mizzou Against Top Offensive Rebounding Teams
    vs #1 Old Dominion - Expected: 9, Actual: 8 (-1)
    #5 Kansas State - Expected: 12, Actual: 12 (0)
    at #5 Kansas State - Expected: 15, Actual: 13 (-2)

    It appears that when Mizzou faces such a strong offensive rebounding team, they are able to circle the wagons and keep them off the glass somewhat.  Of course, that comes by slowing the tempo down and keeping guards back to help on the glass (all three of the above games were extremely low-scoring, especially for Mizzou).  Mizzou will really want to push the tempo tomorrow, so seeing how they balance urges and needs will be interesting to watch.

  2. Tempo, Tempo, Tempo.  Only six NCAA tourney teams play a slower tempo than WVU.  Meanwhile, when at their best, Mizzou is moving faster than any team in the country.  We'll put it like this: the magic number is 67.  For every possession this game goes over 67, Mizzou's odds of winning increase by 5%.  For every possession under, they decrease by 5%.  That's completely unscientific, but it's probably true.

    The issue here is found in Key #1 above.  To keep WVU off the glass, Mizzou will likely have to sacrifice some tempo. This shows you the risk-reward situation that Mike Anderson will be dealing with tomorrow.

  3. How long does West Virginia get sucked in?  When a team plays Mizzou for the first time, especially the Mizzou team that showed up to play Clemson, there is almost no question that their brains will get sped up at some point, and Mizzou will go on at least a small run.  It happened to Clemson even though Clemson likes to play fast, and it happened to every team Mizzou played in last year's NCAA Tournament.  UConn almost certainly would have lost to Mizzou in the Elite Eight last year if Kemba Walker hadn't gotten hot, as even though they had an extreme size advantage, they just didn't know how to slow the game down once Mizzou got going.

    How West Virginia handles the non-stop pressure -- not just the full-court press itself, but the halfcourt defense, the transition offense, and all the other components that make up the Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball style -- will dictate how this game plays out, and since a Bob Huggins team hasn't faced this style since he was coaching at KSU, we just have no idea how they will adapt.

Prediction

If WVU wins ... chances are, they will build an early lead, minimize the inevitable couple of Mizzou runs (through timeouts, steely guard play, whatever), wear Mizzou down on the glass, and win a slow, potentially brutal-to-watch 64-53 affair.

If Mizzou wins ... they attack the WVU defense early (instead of taking a few passive 3's), get to the line, make enough shots to press (the slashing success opens up some 3's, and either Kim English or Marcus Denmon gets hot), and just overwhelm an unsuspecting Mountaineers team with the Fastest 40 Minutes identity.  They likely build a pretty hefty lead with 10-15 minutes left and hold on when WVU makes a mad charge at the end.  The game is played around the 69-70 possession level, and Mizzou pulls it out, 78-76.

Obviously WVU is favored to win this game for a reason.  They are a big, tough, battle-tested team that has won nine of their last ten games.  But they simply haven't faced the Mike Anderson style, and they've only had a day to prepare.  That gives Mizzou a fighting chance.  If I were betting money on this game, I might make a different pick here, but ... it's the tournament, crazy things happen, and as I've said before, my prediction doesn't matter, so why not pick with the heart instead of the head?  Mizzou 78, West Virginia 76.  That's my story, ahem, and I'm sticking to it.

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