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PREVIEW: No. 23 West Virginia provides biggest early test for Missouri

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In what might be their toughest non-conference game, Mizzou faces “Press Virginia”.

NCAA Basketball: Marist at West Virginia Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou is 5-1 and have had four really good performances and two duds. Tonights matchup features a team that can turn a dud performance into an embarrassing blowout in a hurry. So the Tigers can’t afford to forget to show up as they take on West Virginia in the championship game of the Advocare Invitational.

Previewing your Big 12 replacement, the West Virginia Mountaineers

The job Bob Huggins has done since taking over the job at West Virginia has been pretty remarkable at times. The Mountaineers have finished inside the KenPom top 25 in eight of 11 years and inside the top 10 three times. They’ve played in the NCAAs three years in a row and Huggins has remade his roster into a completely different kind of team from when he started.

From 2008 to 2013 West Virginia played at one of the slowest tempos, averaging 255th in the country over that span with a pace of around 60 to 65 possessions a game. But in 2014 Huggins wanted to try to something new. The pace picked up, the press picked up and suddenly you had a team no longer playing a slow plodding pace but one turning the volume up.

NCAA Basketball: American U. at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Since 2015, West Virginia has ranked 1st, 2nd, 1st and 1st in the country in defensive turnover percentage. Early in the experiment they were fouling a lot and sending teams to the free throw line, that isn’t happening at the same rate. Once ranking 351st in FTRate, now they’re 271st. Fouling is going to happen when you play at the pace WVU plays with, but they’ve reduced the fouling this year while still turning you over.

They also crash the glass with reckless abandon on offense. Huggins teams have always rebounded well, and they haven’t lost that advantage even with the the tempo and style change. They’ve ranked in the top 10 in OR% four years in a row, eight years in total since Huggins arrives, and one year they were 27th which is still damn good.

WVU: Stats ‘N Stuff

player year pos %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos %min %pts ts% %ov
Jevon Carter SR CG 82.50% 18.42% 60.26% 28.92%
Daxter Miles Jr. SR CG 62.08% 15.98% 66.08% 18.39%
James Bolden SO PG 53.75% 14.29% 65.16% 13.42%
Sagaba Konate SO POST 44.58% 11.28% 80.86% 7.34%
Lamont West SO CF 57.92% 12.78% 64.98% 7.13%
Wesley Harris SO CF 54.58% 8.27% 51.99% 4.58%
Teddy Allen FR CF 30.83% 7.33% 45.01% 5.17%
Chase Harler SO CG 46.67% 4.89% 51.34% 9.21%
D'Angelo Hunter JR WING 14.58% 2.63% 48.88% 1.74%
Logan Routt SO POST 17.50% 2.26% 72.12% 3.20%
Maciej Bender SO POST 35.00% 1.88% 40.58% 0.91%

Its clear the Mountaineers rely a lot on preseason All American Jevon Carter. He plays over 80% of the minutes in a fast paced offense, only Daxter Miles is close with just a hair over 60%. But WVU is young and fast so they’ll throw players at you in waves.

Missing from the lineup is Esa Ahmad, a four-star combo forward who is in the middle of a half of a season suspension. When Ahmad comes back he’ll make WVU even deeper and one of the favorites in the Big 12. But for now they have to navigate the non-conference without him.

In contrast Missouri is a good rebounding team. They currently rank 59th in ORB%, 79th in DRB%. Missouri will have a distinct size advantage and they’re going to have to utilize it to neutralize the speed and energy WVU is going to bring.

Projected Starters

  • PG: Jevon Carter v Blake Harris
  • CG: Daxter Miles v Kassius Robertson
  • WING: Wesley Harris v Jordan Barnett
  • CF: Lamont West v Kevin Puryear
  • POST: Sagaba Konate v Jeremiah Tilmon

The very clear matchup for the Tigers is guard play. They’ll have a slight advantage inside, but handling the basketball against traps and a full court press. Missouri has very clearly struggled in these areas early and they haven’t provided a full answer with any of the choices at this point.

Blake Harris has been good at times but his turnover rate of 27.2%. Jordan Geist has been more limited to playing off the ball for most of his minutes and has played solid, and both Geist and Terrence Phillips have decent TO% of around 15%. All three players are going to have to find some level of consistency as none of them has faced the kind of defensive design they’re about to meet tonight.

Mizzou West Virginia KenPom

If Mizzou can win the expected rebound battle and just be not completely awful in their Turnover rate they’ll give themselves a chance. And a chance against a team as good as West Virginia is what you can ask for.

According to some, it’s too early to be considering post season opportunities, but a big part of the non-conference slate is all about building a resume. The Tigers coughed away a resume builder with a road stinking loss to Utah, and the matchup against WVU is their best chance to get an impressive non-conference win. Quite frankly this is the best team Mizzou will face until they see Florida at home in early January.

The best version of Missouri is a team in the image of Texas A&M. A fairly dominant interior game and just enough guard play to carry the night. In the season opener, Texas A&M absolutely annihilated WVU by dominating the glass and playing consistently with the ball. They had 18 turnovers against the WVU press and while 18 TOs is still a lot, it’s really not when you have the kind of guards A&M (and for that matter, Missouri) have.

So that’s what you need. Good efficient two point shooting, timely threes, win the boards and limit your turnovers and your recipe for a win is in place. Mizzou will need to weather a likely early storm and find ways to counter punch every time the Mountaineers get a spurt. Oh, and make your free throws.

Prediction? I think the Tigers keep it close but ultimately lose down the stretch to a more veteran crew. I’ll say WVU 88, Mizzou 81.