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Know Your Other Buffalo Game: West Virginia vs Morgan State

As you know, there are two games taking place in Buffalo early Friday. Does Morgan State have a chance at an upset, or is the Clemson-Mizzou winner destined to play Huggy Bear's Mountaineers in round two?  You probably know the answer.

Then again, you never know what'll happen when Gus Johnson is calling the game...

2 West Virginia vs 15 Morgan State


Points Per Minute
1.79 1.57 1.89 1.73
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.14 1.00 1.10 1.01
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.25 1.23 1.27 1.22
2-PT FG% 48.8% 46.6% 46.8% 45.6%
3-PT FG% 33.6% 33.3% 33.8% 32.7%
FT% 69.6% 69.0% 70.3% 67.1%
True Shooting % 53.6% 52.3% 53.1% 51.2%
Assists/Gm 15.7 11.5 12.7 11.4
Steals/Gm 5.6 5.9 6.6 5.9
Turnovers/Gm 11.7 13.5 13.5 14.4
Ball Control Index
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.82 1.29 1.43 1.19
Expected Offensive Rebounds/Gm 12.7 11.6 13.6 13.3
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 15.6 10.3 15.4 13.2
Difference +2.9 -1.3 +1.8 -0.1

Ken Pomeroy Stats

Pace 312 60
WVU Offense vs MSU Defense Ranks
WVU Offense MSU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 11 190 WVU Big
Effective FG% 143 73 MSU
Turnover % 60 196 WVU Big
Off. Reb. % 2 273 WVU Big
FTA/FGA 149 267 WVU Big
MSU Offense vs WVU Defense Ranks
MSU Offense WVU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 136 24 WVU Big
Effective FG% 209 118 WVU
Turnover % 99 138 MSU
Off. Reb. % 11 92 MSU
FTA/FGA 48 232 MSU Big

I'm not going to try to convince you that Morgan State has a really good chance of beating West Virginia -- they don't -- but I could certainly think of worse 2-15 matchups for Todd Bozeman's Bears.  Morgan State's biggest strengths (offensive rebounding, getting to the line) coincide perfectly with a couple of West Virginia's weaknesses, and depending on how the game is called, they could hang around a while with a WVU team that doesn't rebound as effectively on defense as on offense and fouls way too much.

In all, Morgan State is a team built to hang around.  Their second chances and free throws give them some easy points despite the lack of great shooting talent, and it showed -- they only lost by nine points at Louisville and 16 at Baylor, plus they won at Arkansas.  Now, it's not a system built to win necessarily -- just ask Appalachian State, Loyola-MD, Eastern Kentucky, Robert Morris and S.C. State, all of whom beat the Bears this season.  But they're a hard-nosed team who dominated the MEAC, and their grinding style could ... well, it could make for a semi-competitive, quite unwatchable Friday morning game.

While MSU's offensive effectiveness will decide the game against a WVU defense that wasn't quite as good statistically as you may have thought, we see some interesting matchups when WVU has the ball too.  WVU wins by getting offensive rebounds and finding the open man -- they're 20th in the country in Assists per Field Goal Made ... while MSU's is 26th in the country in the same category.  MSU's 3-point defense is good enough to force some misses from an only average WVU 3-point offense, and if WVU didn't have such an extreme advantage on the offensive glass, I'd say this game really could become pretty interesting.

WVU Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min
(Last Time)
Da'Sean Butler (6'7, 230, Sr.) 16.8 0.47 36.0 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.7 TOPG
Kevin Jones (6'8, 250, So.) 15.0 0.46 32.9 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.2 TOPG
Devin Ebanks (6'9, 215, So.) 13.4 0.40 33.9 MPG, 11.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.5 APG, 2.1 TOPG
Darryl Bryant (6'2, 200, So.) 7.5 0.30 24.6 MPG, 9.7 PPG, 3.2 APG, 2.2 RPG, 2.1 TOPG
Wellington Smith (6'7, 245, Sr.) 7.3 0.31 23.5 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.3 TOPG
John Flowers (6'7, 215, Jr.) 3.7 0.26 14.4 MPG, 2.9 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.2 APG
Casey Mitchell (6'4, 225, Jr.) 2.5 0.29 8.4 MPG, 3.9 PPG
Dalton Pepper (6'5, 215, Fr.) 2.5 0.32 8.0 MPG, 3.3 PPG
Joe Mazzulla (6'2, 200, Jr.) 2.3 0.16 14.4 MPG, 2.1 PPG, 2.2 APG, 1.8 RPG
Cam Thoroughman (6'7, 240, Jr.) 0.8 0.10 7.5 MPG, 1.0 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.

If this isn't a Bob Huggins team, I don't know what is.  WVU is a team built to win close games.  Five of their top six players are 6'7 or taller, and every regular is at least 200 pounds (all but two are at least 215).  The only thing they do at a truly high level is grab offensive boards -- otherwise, they just pound away and pound away at you, keeping things close and wearing you down at the end.  For the season, they are 10-3 in games decided by five points or less, which is obviously damn impressive.

Equally obvious: they have Da'Sean Butler to thank for quite a bit of that.  Not only is he statistically WVU's best player, but he has made more game-winning baskets than Zaire Taylor in the last 12-13 months.  He won both the Cincy and Georgetown games in last weekend's Big East Tournament, and I almost hope we see a Mizzou-WVU second round game, just to see whether it's Butler or Mr. Coffee winning the game at the end.

This does, however, lead to my biggest concern with WVU -- the fact that they've had 13 games go to the wire at all.  Yes, they play in the Big East, which will obviously lead to tight game after tight game.  But they have only 11 wins of 15 points or more.  Compare that to the other 2-seeds: Ohio State had 14, Kansas State 13.  Again, this might not be a big deal, but the more "crunch time" situations in which you find yourselves, the more likely you are to end up in a situation where the shots simply aren't falling, Da'Sean Butler or no Da'Sean Butler.  I'm not going to dump on a team that has eight road wins and seven more neutral court wins (they're my Final Four pick at the moment, plus they've been placed in a region with a Kentucky team who has also let teams hang around and a New Mexico team that hasn't played nearly as many big-time games this season), but ... it's just a small red flag, is all.

Morgan State Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min
(Last Time)
Reggie Holmes (6'4, 180, Sr.) 18.9 0.57 33.2 MPG, 21.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 2.0 TOPG
Kevin Thompson (6'9, 240, So.) 16.9 0.54 31.1 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 11.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.4 BPG, 2.1 TOPG
DeWayne Jackson (6'8, 210, Fr.) 9.6 0.42 22.9 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
Troy Smith (6'4, 195, Sr.) 9.0 0.32 28.1 MPG, 9.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 SPG, 1.5 TOPG
Joe Davis (6'0, 180, Jr.) 4.8 0.34 14.2 MPG, 7.2 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 1.3 TOPG
Ameer Ali (6'4, 230, So.) 4.6 0.35 13.3 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
Sean Thomas (6'1, 185, So.) 4.1 0.17 23.7 MPG, 4.7 PPG, 3.1 APG, 1.4 RPG, 1.8 TOPG
Rodney Stokes (6'10, 225, Jr.) 3.5 0.27 12.9 MPG, 3.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG
Danny Smith (5'11, 190, Jr.) 2.4 0.13 18.5 MPG, 2.8 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.5 RPG, 1.7 TOPG
John Long (6'5, 210, Sr.) 1.2 0.19 6.1 MPG, 0.8 PPG, 1.3 RPG

Looking at Morgan State's player stats, you start to understand one of the largest differences between major programs and mid-major ones: depth and well-rounded talent.  First of all, MSU has two super players -- Reggie Holmes is a rugged scorer who can shoot the 3-pointer relatively well (37%) and gets to the line a ton, and Kevin Thompson is the best offensive rebounder of any of this pod's four teams (WVU, MSU, Mizzou, Clemson).  Beyond that, Todd Bozeman has had to put together a team of players with one specific talent, and that's about it.  You've got the passer who can't shoot (Sean Thomas), the rebounder who can't really shoot (Ameer Ali), etc.  And beyond Thompson, there's just not a lot of size here.  You've got DeWayne Jackson, who's 6'8 ... but only 210 pounds.  You've got Ameer Ali, who's 230 pounds ... and only 6'4.  Rodney Stokes is pretty big (6'10, 225), but he doesn't have a whole lot to offer (rebounds, but doesn't shoot and turns the ball over a lot).

I will say this: I like Jackson, and I really like Holmes and Thompson.  Three players aren't enough to counter WVU's depth and size, but these are three rock-solid players, and that's more than you see from a lot of 15-seeds.

Three Keys to the Game

  1. Second Chances - Offensive rebounding is a strength for both teams, and if Morgan State is going to have a chance on Friday, it's going to be from creating more second chances than they give up.  It's that simple.  The matchup of WVU's Kevin Jones versus MSU's Kevin Thompson could be the key to who wins this battle.

  2. Pace - MSU is going to be forced to take a pretty large chance on Friday.  Either they allow WVU to slow the game to a crawl and try to beat them in a half-court situation (not likely), or they try to speed the game up to their pace, risking a blowout loss if their shots aren't falling.  I assume they try to put the pedal to the medal, and if they're able to catch the WVU defense off-guard and get to the line quite a bit (and by "they" getting to the line, I mean Holmes, who has taken almost one-third of MSU's free throwsby himself), then they'll have the chance to stick around.  But if they're just yanking up bad shots, they could find themselves down 15 pretty quickly.

  3. Who plays better? - Let me explain why I just basically introduced the Yogi Berra version of a key to the game: since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in the mid-1980s, four 15-seeds have beaten 2's.  There was no script that each game followed.  In 1991, Richmond beat Syracuse by taking the lead early and simply answering 'Cuse, blow for blow.  They didn't shoot a lot better than the Orange from the field (49% to 45%), they didn't make a ton of 3's (each team made five), they were outrebounded (34-28), and both teams shot wonderfully from the free throw line.  Six Spiders scored at least eight points, and they just plain beat 'Cuse.

    In 1993, Santa Clara beat Arizona because Arizona couldn't buy a bucket.  Steve Nash's Broncos shot only 38% (Nash himself went 1-for-7 from the field and scored only 10 points), but Arizona shot only 31%, and though each team missed 38 FG attempts, SC outrebounded the Wildcats by 14 and won the game because of it.

    In 1997, Coppin State whipped South Carolina (the same day that 14-seed Chattanooga beat Georgia and 15-seed Murray State almost beat Duke) by simply answering every Gamecocks bucket with one of their own until SC blinked.  CSU overcame a 7-point second-half deficit and took a 1-point lead with 6:12 left, then simply made almost every shot they took down the stretch.

    In 2001, Hampton beat Iowa State after taking an early lead, giving up a major run in the second half (they were up 4 at half, down 11 with 8:00 left), and simply continuing to fire away as Iowa State missed free throw after free throw, shot after shot.  ISU went up 57-48 with seven minutes left ... and didn't score again.

    So in the four 15-over-2 instances, the only real similarities are that the 15 just hung around until the 2 cracked.  In two cases (1991 and 1993), the 15 jumped ahead and stayed there as long as possible, while in the others (1997 and 2001), the 15 withstood a surge and kept firing when the 2 thought they had landed the knockout blow.  There is no magic formula here -- if Morgan State hangs around long enough and answers every WVU charge, they'll have a chance.  WVU is mentally tough enough that they probably will not crack down the stretch, but they allow teams to hang around enough that magic might take over down the stretch if they're not careful.

Summary & Prediction

I know I've been building Morgan State up a bit here, but I do think this game could be destined to stay close and interesting for a while, as long as one of MSU's stars (Holmes, Thompson) doesn't get into foul trouble, or MSU doesn't completely fall apart in the spotlight.  If MSU plays well, they've got just enough matchup advantages to stick around for a while before WVU almost inevitably pulls away in the game's final 10 minutes.  Expect a ton of whistles and quite a few missed shots in this game; if MSU derives a severe free throw or offensive rebounding advantage, they could shock the world ... but it probably won't happen.  Obviously nothing would make Clemson and Mizzou fans happier than a shocking upset, and while an upset here is maybe a smidge more likely than in other 2-vs-15 games just because of the matchup ... it's still not even remotely likely.

Ken Pomeroy's Prediction: West Virginia 78, Morgan State 61.
My Prediction: West Virginia 74, Morgan State 60.