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StLou's Previews - West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia Mountaineers

Virginia hits the road to take on easily its toughest test of the season to date, visiting the #16 Mountaineers in the rubber game of a 3-year series. We were victorious at MSG in 2015; they subdued us at JPJ last year. Can the Hoos get revenge for last year's painful loss?

Game Details:

Date/Time: Tuesday, Dec 5th, 7:00 PM EST
Location: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, WV
TV: ESPNU

What 'They' Say

Vegas: WEST VIRGINIA -2.5
TAPE: Ranks WVU #10, predicts a 68-67 UVA win, 56% confidence
KenPom: Ranks WVU #14, predicts a 66-65 WVU win, 52% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters

PG #2 Jevon Carter, 6-2 205, SR
32.8 mpg, 19 ppg, 5.5 apg, 40% 3P%
SG #4 Daxter Miles Jr., 6-3 200, SR 
26.3 mpg, 14.9 ppg, 3 apg, 21% 3P% 
SF #21 Wesley Harris, 6-8 200, SO
23.3 mpg, 8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 38% FG% 
PF #15 Lamont West, 6-8 230, SO 
23.5 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 38% FG% 
C #50 Sagaba Konate, 6-8 260, SO 
19.7 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 61% FG% 

Key Reserves

PG

#3 James Bolden, 6-0 170, SO
20 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 2.3 apg, 47% 3P%
G #14 Chase Harler, 6-3 210, SO 
18.1 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 1.8 apg, 38% 3P% 
G/F  #13 Teddy Allen, 6-5 225, FR 
12.8 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 44% FG% 
F/C #25 Maciej Bender, 6-10 250, SO 
13.9 mpg, 1.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 27% FG% 

 

The ABC's of WVU:

A) They owe their success thus far to their guard rotation. This begins with senior PG Jevon Carter, who's every bit living up to his 1st team all-Big XII preseason status. Nightly averages of 19 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 4.5 steals, shooting 40% from deep. He's strong, fast, and is their leader in every sense of the word. He is the singular engine around which their Press (see next note) is built. He is at his best when generating turnovers and getting out into the open court, but is probably their best half-court player as well. I expect a rotation of defensive assignments on him to see who's the best fit... expect all of Jerome, Guy, Hall, and Johnson to get their turn. Only Hall can match him on both speed and size, however, as he's faster than Ty and stronger than Guy and Johnson, and veteran enough to know how to use those advantages. He'll play most of the game, even if he gets in foul trouble (38 minutes with 4 fouls against Marist, 34 minutes with 4 fouls against Missouri). Paired with Carter will be a rotation of starting senior 2-guard Daxter Miles, who's good in transition but a career 33% long-ball shooter (and only 20% thus far this year), and high upside speedster sophomore James Bolden, who's dropping in 12 points a night on 47% 3-point shooting. These three on defense account for about 2/3 of WVU's steals.

B) Press Virginia. We have to talk about it. Everyone else does. Bob Huggins was looking for a team identity when he got to WVU. Coinciding with their move to the Big XII, the 'neers began putting an emphasis on physical ball pressure and Press Virginia was born. Things really clicked starting in the 2014-15 season, when WVU led the nation in defensive turnover percentage. Over the last four seasons (including the first month of this one), WVU has either been 1st or 2nd nationally in turnover generation, with anuual TO%s those years of 28%, 25%, 27.6%, and so far this year 29.1%. This ain't your garden variety Havoc, either. WVU looks to trap ball handlers anywhere on the floor they can... off of made baskets, off sideline in-bounds, and in the backcourt of half-court sets. No one uses the sideline as a 6th defender as well as WVU does. They're going to mug ball handlers and dare the refs to call it on a regular basis. Last year they coaxed 14 turnovers out of us, which wasn't awful, but still a night to forget for London, Darius, Marial, and Devon (10 combined), as 10 of those 14 TOs were live-ball steals that negated our D's ability to get back and set up effectively. This will be the major talking point for the night's announcing team.

C) They're incredibly young in their front court. Gone are the top 3 posts from their win over us last year; PF Nathan Adrian (10 points, 5 reb, 4 asts, 2 stls) graduated, C Elijah Macon went pro, and F Esa Ahmad (9 points, 7 reb) was declared ineligible for the semester. Taking their place in this game are sophomore JUCO transfer swing forward Harris (8 ppg, 6 rpg), sophomore big man West (10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg), and sophomore center Konate (9.6 ppg and 6.1 rpg). They've been a productive group so far, though only Konate is doing it with good shooting percentages. Backing them up are Polish sophomore Maciej Bender and freshman combo wing Teddy Allen, both of whom are struggling to get on track thus far. The script has been flipped from last year, when WVU had the personnel advantage in the post.

Their season to date:

West Virginia is 7-1 on the year. They opened the year with an 88-65 loss to #9 Texas A&M in Germany. Their best wins are a comeback over Missouri and a blowout over Central Florida. Most recently they beat NJIT by 33.  

Keys to getting the win:

1) Move the ball safely but aggressively. This is the key to both ends of the floor, making it twice as important as any other factor in this game. Our defense is going to lose the bulk of its effectiveness if we're reacting to transition WVU offense off turnovers in the back half of the court; it means we're not able to get a body between the ball and the basket, it means we're scrambling to find rebounding assignments, and it puts their guards in control of the flow of the game. And of course our offense is going to need to settle into a rhythm if we want to get buckets. Last year we beat the initial press fairly effectively, but got into trouble in the half-court, not moving the ball effectively to get into the lane. There are going to be a lot of open jumpers available if we simply move the ball cleanly to find the open man; work the middle of the floor with short accurate passes, find a rhythm to break them down methodically, and bombs away. And how do you beat the pressure? (A) move and pass before the trap finds you, (B) stay away from the sidelines, and (C) receivers need to move toward the ball, be more aggressive attacking the pass than the defender is.

2) Win the rebounding battle. Lost in the obsession over WVU's pressure defense is their remarkable efficiency exploiting the offensive glass this year. They're playing incredibly aggressive on the offensive glass, grabbing 38.5% of their own misses, which is 8th nationally. For comparison's sake, last year's UNC squad, the gold standard of O-Rebounding, grabbed 41.3%. Unlike the Tar Heels, however, WVU isn't doing it based only on elite big man play. To be sure, the bigs play well on the offensive glass, but the wings are crashing too... Harris is grabbing 9.4%, Allen is grabbing 12.4%, and even then undersized Harler is grabbing 14% in his limited minutes at the 2. What this means is defensive rebounding will be a total team effort; our guards and wings have to be every bit as disciplined on boxouts and attacking the glass as our posts do. Our defensive rebounding on the season is below our traditional dominance, 74.9%, only 59th nationally (we're usually Top 20), but the last four games have seen a return to normal, over 80% in that stretch.

3) Play every bit as physical as WVU does. The real story of last year's game, beyond the box score, was the street fight that we were wholly unprepared for. The highlight was Daxter Miles' flagrant elbow to Isaiah Wilkins' temple, but the physicality extended into every facet of the game. The sad fact was that Virginia let it disrupt them. Off the record comments by WVU players that made their way back to Hoos Place writers indicated they thought Virginia was soft (they used rougher language), and frankly that's just so atypical of recent Virginia teams. We're used to leaving games with the opponent feeling we were the tougher team, stronger, better physically conditioned, and prepared to body up with the best of them. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes we're not used to seeing teams play as strong, as physical as we do, and about once a year we see Virginia get a little shell shocked by it, such as the two Michigan State losses. Virginia cannot let this game follow that narrative. WVU will play dirty, and our players have to be mentally conditioned to not only absorb their blows (literal and figurative), but to give as good as they get. Play within the whistle, of course, but our mentality going into this game needs to be one of feeling right at home in the back alley.

Leading the Charge

Updated on December 4, 2017 by Seattle Hoo

Earlier in the season, Rhode Island robbed the Hoos of one ranked opponent. This one is guaranteed. When the #15 Hoos invade West Virginia Tuesday night, the locals will be #18 in the AP poll. Led by senior Jevon Carter, they will be hostile and ready for harm. Carter and the frontcourt are tough matchups for the Hoos. They will start 6-8, 260-pound Sagaba Konate, who can score and rebound and will be matched up against Jack Salt; 6-8, 230-pound Lamont West, who is long, lean and very quick; and 6-8, 200-pound Wesley Harris at the wing forward. UVA senior leader Isaiah Wilkins will have his hands full with West, who is not a major outside shooting threat, but who does critical damage on the offensive boards and in transition. West is difficult to keep a body on, so he will require a lot of concentration by Wilkins.  On UVA's offensive end, don't expect to see Zay posting up too much. West Virginia will play a mix of scramble man-to-man and 1-3-1 zone, so Zay will probably be setting screens on the perimeter and finding gaps in the middle of the zone to facilitate ball movement. Last year in Charlottesville, he was on his way to a monster game until a Daxter Miles elbow scrambled his brains. The Hoos will need Zay to be strong on the boards and disrupt West Virginia's ball screening action. And watch out for flying elbows.

Carter presents a defensive dilemma for the Hoos largely because of the 6-8 Harris at small forward. Devon Hall would be my preferred choice to defend Carter because he has the size and strength to not get bullied by the extremely physical senior point guard, but can Ty Jerome adequately defend the taller and longer Harris? This would be a game where a mature De'Andre Hunter would be a huge advantage because of his ability to match up physically with Harris. We'll see what Bennett decides to do.  I might be tempted to let Jerome tussle with the bigger man and put the strength, experience and defensive chops of Hall on Carter because of Carter's importance to West Virginia's offense.

On Virginia's offensive possessions, the Devon Hall who torched Rhode Island and Wisconsin for 34 points will be needed. Carter, the three-time Big XII Defensive Player of the Year, very likely will be assigned to shut down Kyle Guy, meaning Hall will either have the sophomore Harris or 6-3 Daxter Miles covering him. Hall would have the experience advantage on Harris and the physical edge over Miles.  Either way, that is a matchup the Hoos can exploit. Avoiding the press by controlling the boards and attacking it with good spacing and aggressive dribbling (when appropriate) make Devon's point guard-to-power forward skill set a unique challenge for West Virginia. StLouHoo sees a big game for Devon.

The third senior might even have the biggest role to play.  Nigel Johnson played West Virginia four times, including twice in Morgantown, while at Kansas State.  He knows what to expect from the press and from the arena. His scouting report on the press matches what I saw against Missouri: stay away from the sidelines, especially near the timeline.  Johnson's speed and exceptional open-court dribble attack make him a valuable weapon against PressVirginia.  Johnson knows that the key to beating the West Virginia defense is to "stay patient and don't let them overwhelm you," Nigel told Jeff White of UVA Athletics. "The trick for me for beating the press was just to keep the ball in the middle. Don't let it get to the sides. When you get the ball on the sides, right near halfcourt, that's when they really try to choke it out and get turnovers." Look for the Hoos to focus on getting the ball in Johnson's hands in the middle of the floor and then spreading the attack out around him. They will want to have Guy and Jerome on the wings to force West Virginia to spread out its defense.

Handling the atmosphere is another place Johnson can help. He knows the Coliseum. "They get a little crazy in there, the atmosphere's a little crazy, but that's what college basketball is all about, that's what college sports is all about. It makes it a lot more fun to play."

What to do with Johnson on defense is another challenge. His quickness could bother Carter, but he is smaller and Carter would surely look to overpower him. Miles would be a good matchup for Johnson. When the 'Neers go to 6-foot sophomore Beetle Bolden - their second-most dangerous shooter behind Carter - Johnson is probably the best choice for preventing penetration.  Expect this to be one of Johnson's biggest minutes games of the year, and the quality of his decision-making will go a long way to determining the outcome.

Preventing dribble penetration by the West Virginia guards will be the key to winning this game, and the three seniors will lead the Cavalier effort on that front. Last year, dribble penetration is what really beat the 'Hoos. They must do better this year.

Where the seniors can really lead the team is in toughness. As StLouHoo sets out above, West Virginia is one of those "foul all over the floor and dare the refs to call them" teams. They want every game to be a street fight - a back alley street fight. Last year's Hoos repeatedly were bullied by opponents, and none more than West Virginia. The seniors are the ones to make sure that does not happen again. Zay is an imposing man this year. The difference in his physique and ruggedness from last year is unmistakeable. In watching Devon closely this year I have noticed that while he is the nicest young man in the world off the court, he's become a mean son-of-a-bitch on it. He's learned how to be nasty in the lane and has shown no inclination to take shit from anybody. He also is an imposing physical specimen on the wing, and using that physicality against West Virginia's younger or smaller perimeter players will be key. Meanwhile, Nigel Johnson is the smallest of the Hoos, but he has the tats of a federal pen lifer and the urban attitude of the DC-NY corridor that was lacking last year. It will be up to these three to set the tone for Virginia in showing West Virginia that if they want a street fight, we're packing.  And I mean packing heat, not packing up.

Predictions:

Throw out their TAMU loss... those overseas military base season tip-off games are never representative; they're playing in weird gyms with weird attendance, and on weird schedules to boot. As far as I'm concerned, WVU is 7-0 against a fairly middling schedule so far. As productive as they've been turning teams over, the context is that Missouri and UCF, their two best wins, are two of the sloppiest ball-handling teams in the country, with offensive TO%'s of 21.5% (273rd) and 24.9% (340th) respectively... we're 14.4% (9th). This game is going to primarily come down to our ability to turn WVU into a half-court team, where they're weakest. Their forwards are green and haven't seen post defense like ours all year. They only have two competent 3-point shooting guards. But we've also not seen a pressure like theirs yet... VCU's havoc is a shell of its former self and URI's pressure D, which is effective but only about 70% the intensity of WVU's, did goad us into 11 TOs (an 18% TO%). Beating the pressure, on in-bounds, getting up-court, and in the half-court, is no sure thing, but we're optimistic the Hoos can limit the damage. I'll put the O/U on UVA turnovers at 14.5, which is a 23% TO% on a predicted 64 possessions. That would be our worst TO performance of the year, but also WVU's lowest, and it means that 3 out of every 4 WVU possessions, they're being forced to play our game.

This game will be incredibly telling about our ability to win in hostile gyms this season, with road dates to raucous venues in Syracuse, Durham, Louisville, and Miami on tap in ACC play. If the Hoos can stay composed for 40 minutes, and not let occasional mistakes get our ball-handlers flustered, causing us to compound bad decisions with more bad decisions, then I dare say this is a game the Hoos could and should win. Control the glass and force WVU to play half-court offense on the majority of their possessions, and I like our ability to get the big victory. A tight first 30 minutes sees us build a small lead that WVU spends the last few minutes trying to erase, before a few late FTs stretch out the small margin by a few points and cement the victory. 

Hoos win: 68-60