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Baylor-West Virginia Preview and Prediction

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The Bears travel to Morgantown for a tough contest

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Baylor Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

After getting destroyed as the No. 1 ranked team in the country last season, Baylor (11-4, 1-2) looks to get revenge against West Virginia (14-1, 3-0) at 6:00 on Tuesday in Morgantown. The game airs on ESPN2.

The Mountaineers have won 14 straight games since losing their opener against Texas A&M in Germany. Prepare to hear that West Virginia is the only college basketball team undefeated in North America!

As always, we’ll look at playing offense against the opponent, then turn to defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.

Offense:

Bob Huggins once again has his alma mater playing what has become known as “Press Virginia.” They press on nearly every made basket.

The Mountaineers system can make it difficult to inbound the ball. They place a skilled big man on the ball, then Jevon Carter, last season’s Big 12 defensive player of the year, usually runs around with the point guard. That can make it tough to not turn it over before the possession begins:

Baylor had 29 turnovers in Morgantown last season. There were a few reasons the Bears turned it over way too much. One big reasons is that guards can struggle to see over traps. King McClure and Manu Lecomte are smaller. When they catch passes on the sideline, it’s tough to see exactly who is open:

One of the biggest challenges playing West Virginia is that they can speed up opponents. On any possession, Jo-Lual Acuil and other big men have to handle the ball 25 feet from the hoop and decide how to create. The way Baylor plays, those guys normally aren’t asked to initiate offense or decide who to fire passes to.

Baylor did a much better job against Press Virginia in Waco last year. The Bears turned it over on 27% of their possessions—still a very high number—but much better than their 37% clip in Morgantown. The Bear’s big men got to the line and got West Virginia in foul trouble. Baylor tried to do that in Morgantown, but the big men got a little too hurried up. Playing the press can do that, but this game demands patience once the ball crosses half-court. Baylor can run offense in 20 seconds. They just can’t afford 25 turnovers.

The Mountaineers are a much better half-court defensive team than they were in the past. In 2015, Baylor knocked off the Mountaineers three times. The 2015 Mountaineers ranked 304th in effective field goal defense. The 2018 Mountaineers rank 45th. That might suggest that Baylor should take a shot at playing aggressively and looking for easy opportunities when they break the press. That’s a risky move. The Baylor big men have not been excellent passing when hurried. The Bears also rank 175th in turnover rate, and they’re playing a West Virginia team that ranks No. 2 in defensive turnover rate. The Bears should not risk playing a game where the Mountaineers get the best shot to turn the Bears over. Baylor’s goal should be to break the press and then go to work.

With Carter’s speed, West Virginia also plays aggressively in the half-court on defense. Their big men move well, so like most of Baylor’s opponent’s, they’ll hedge and trap nearly every ball screen. The Bears need to work in counters to those plays. I’ve discussed the high-horns set the Bears ran at the end of the Creighton game. I’m a little hesitant to think that will work against West Virginia because their big men are much faster than Creighton’s, and the Mountaineers should recover much better. But the Bears could look to have targeted and directed passes out of some of their motion weave sets. Those plays reduce the number of reads the big men have to make—which lowers the risk of turnovers—but they also give some hope to counteract hedging defenses:

Baylor also needs to get to the line a lot. West Virginia plays such an aggressive style that they foul on nearly every play. A few haters claim the difference in how Big 12 officials call fouls and how those fouls get called nationally explains some non-conference and tournament problems for West Virignia. I don’t subscribe to that making a huge difference because the Mountaineers nearly beat Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 last season, and they’re 14-1 with a win over Virginia. But the Mountaineers rank 331st in defensive foul rate. Carter sat out about 10 minutes of the second half against Oklahoma because of foul trouble. Some people are too proud to advocate flopping. I am not. Baylor should sell every call and attack the basket.

The Bears also need to control the offensive glass. West Virginia ranks 132nd in defensive rebounding, and they really struggled to keep some of the best big men—from Tyler Davis of Texas A&M to Jordan Barnett of Missouri—from getting plenty of second chances. Lual-Acuil, Maston and Mark Vital need to be as aggressive as possible on the boards.

Defense:

Expect Baylor to once again play as much zone as possible. Like in the Texas game, the Bears will probably play zone until the Mountaineers either exploit something or start raining threes.

The Mountaineers aren’t a great shooting team. They rank 266th in 3-point percentage, making just 32.7% of their attempts. They’ll shoot them though, as they rank 91st in 3-point attempts. Despite their problems as a team, they have Carter, who is shooting nearly 40% from deep and James Bolden, a big man who has hit 42% of his 81 attempts.

West Virginia runs a motion offense. There’s a lot of off-ball movement early in the game in their sets. Lamont West hasn’t hit a ton of shots, but they can confuse defenses and get open looks. I’m a little concerned if Baylor has to play man-to-man in this one:

West Virginia will likely mimic TCU’s emphasis on finding a way to force Baylor’s attention to a high part of the zone, then they’ll force the ball to the free throw line. Once that happens, West Virginia will hope Baylor will collapse, which can open up shooters or the back-line of Baylor’s zone will come forward, which will open up someone near the hoop. TCU started doing this in the second half against Baylor:

The Bears will need to make sure they keep everything in front of them. The Bears are the underdogs playing in Morgantown. They’re going to need West Virginia to miss some open shots to win. They can’t let big men get behind them in the zone:

Prediction:

This is a brutally tough game. Baylor turns it over a lot, and West Virginia lives turning over opponents. With a friendly whistle in Morgantown, this could be a blowout.

The Bears have been on a rough shooting run. After setting a school record for highest 3-point percentage in team history in their first game, it didn’t seem like this team would struggle to hit open shots. They’ve sprinkled in some nice runs, but they had an awful time of it the last two games. Maybe they return to form and shoot West Virginia out of the gym. A pretty bad Oklahoma team knocked off West Virginia in Morgantown last year. The Bears could pull this off.

West Virginia just feels like a terrible match-up, and that’s an even tougher game to win on the road. We watch the games because weird things happen, but after saying I thought Baylor had better odds than KenPom gave them of beating Texas, I think Baylor’s probably less likely to win this game than the 23% odds he has for this one.

I hope I’m wrong, but I have West Virginia winning 73-62.

Season Prediction Record: 14-1

Prediction Against the Spread: 7-1