A little less than 3 years ago, the adolescent Boilers stomped a West Virginia team that was destined to make the Final Four. Today, Bob Huggins brings a much less intimidating group of Mountaineers into Mackey. Here's what I see in the numbers:
1 They seem to play up & down to the level of their opponents
Each of West Virginia's past 7 games has been decided by 10 pts or less. Moreover, this season has seen them hang tough with a good Iowa State team (#33 in KenPom) on the road and also lose to a pretty bad Duquesne team (#214 in KenPom). So much like our team, they can hang with the big dogs at times but can also lose some head scratchers.
What to expect: A close game. West Virginia has lost big only twice this year--to Gonzaga and Michigan, and we certainly ain't at that level. This will be no reprise of that 2010 game, which was effectively over 5 minutes into the 2nd half.
2 They can't shoot. Again. (When did basketball players stop learning how to shoot basketballs?)
If the Pharaoh had scheduled consecutive games against the Nittany Lions, Huskers, and Mountaineers, the book of Exodus need never have been written--they'd have had bricks enough for anything they needed plus a giant statue of Bob Huggins in a gold suit to boot.
Ahem. Anyway, for the third straight game, we're facing a team that can't shoot the ball. Like Nebraska and Penn State before them, West Virginia shoots under 30% from three and right around 45% from two.
What to expect: Purdue was able to hold Penn State and Nebraska to shooting numbers (EFGs of 28.4% and 35.6%, respectively) far below their already dismal season averages. If they continue that trend, another win should be in the cards. However...
3 Unlike our two previous opponents, the West Virginia offense has something to make up for dreadful shooting.
In every offensive four factor category other than shooting, West Virginia is fairly good. They limit turnovers and grab offensive boards roughly as well as we do, and they get to the free throw line at a much better rate.
What to expect: Some Large-Hadron style collisions as West Virginia sends big man after big man barrelling into the paint in the attempt discover new sub-atomic particles and maybe get Hammons into foul trouble. That would clear out the lane, making for easier shots and a higher likelihood of offensive putbacks.
4 They spread their minutes around.
For the season, only one Mountaineer has played over 70% of available minutes--point guard Juwan Staten. In contrast, three Boilermakers (DJ, TJ, and RJ) have. Looked at another way, West Virginia gets 43% of their minutes from bench players.
What to expect: More substitutions from Painter. Against Nebraska and Penn State, only 7 players (the starters, Little AJ and Hale) got 10 minutes or more. Look for that to change, as at least one of Carroll, Lawson, or Chooch will likely be needed.
This is notable because with the tighter lineups used against Penn State and Nebraska, we had our 3rd and 4th best shooting performances of the year. One worries that opening the lineup back up might disrupt that offensive flow.
This is an intriguing and roughly even matchup. In my predictions so far, I've been fairly rosy, but I'm going to have to break that trend today. Although our defensive rebounding was good in the non-conference, it's been poor in Big Ten play, where we've allowed opponents to collect 32.5% of misses (compared to only 28.0% over the whole season). I think that fact, combined with foul trouble to Hammons (and the huge effect that has on both our offense and defense) does us in.
I expect West Virginia to build a slight lead mid-way through the first half and hold it throughout. We'll keep it close, but not get all the way back, and desperation fouling at the end will stretch out the margin a bit.
West Virginia 69, Purdue 62
PS. Hope I'm wrong!