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West Virginia’s depth, tempo, and defense could be Virginia’s biggest challenge

As is often the case with UVA games, he who controls tempo will likely control outcome.

NCAA Basketball: Manhattan at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Virginia Cavaliers play host to a No. 25 West Virginia Mountaineers team that has potential to give the Hoos fits all afternoon long. Tipoff is Saturday, December 3 at 2:00 p.m., and here’s the full preview you need to get you there.

It is rare these days for the Hoos to play a team with more depth than they have. After all, the Hoos have nine players averaging over 10 minutes per game (not counting Austin Nichols). And just one player, Perrantes, is averaging double figures in scoring. The Mountaineers actually have 11 players averaging over 10 minutes per game. That is the kind of depth you need to run a high-energy full court press for 40 minutes. Of course, the minutes early in the season are a bit skewed because of the blowouts both teams have had. In the only close game the ‘Neers played, a 81-77 loss to Temple at the Barclay’s Center, just eight players saw greater than 10 minutes, with three guys seeing at least 29 minutes. The Hoos, just this week against Ohio State, saw four players get over 30 minutes and nobody else over 20. Anyway, the Mountaineers have more depth than the Hoos right now.

The Owls managed to beat WVU by shooting lights out. They made 10/19 from three and 21/24 from the free throw line, a kind of shooting statistic that will beat most teams. The Hoos have not really been shooting lights out so far this year, especially from the line where they are just under 70% for the season (ranked 169th nationally), a percentage that may eventually go up as the Hoos make it to the line more often. In last year’s matchup against WVU, the Hoos shot just 13/20 from the line and just 3/8 from behind the arc. Virginia did, however, dominate the paint, led by Anthony Gill’s 20 points (9/11 from the field) and 12 rebounds.

As we know, with the departure of Austin Nichols, the Hoos do not really have anybody who can replicate what Gill gave us last year. Still, most of Gill’s production came on offensive rebounds or in transition, the types of points that Virginia can replace. Whether it is Isaiah Wilkins in transition or Jared Reuter on the offensive glass, the Hoos have been getting plenty of production inside. Against OSU, for example, Reuter used his physicality to come up with 7 big points. The Hoos had 13 offensive rebounds (34% of misses) in that contest. That may very well have been the difference in that game.

The Mountaineers focus on get out in transition, which means they focus less on defensive rebounding. They currently rank just 271st in defensive rebounding (actually in opposing team’s offensive rebounding, which is basically the same thing). That’s a bit on the low side for them, but they’re often among the bottom half of the nation in that category. They ranked 61st last year, but gave up 35% offensive rebounds to the Hoos last year (that was only 6 offensive rebounds, because the Hoos shot 63% from the field in that game).

Along with being deep, West Virginia is also balanced. Three players average double figures, led by senior big man Nathan Adrian at 13.5 ppg. He can step out and shoot the 3 but that isn’t his game. Instead, he’s an interior player and scores a lot of his points in transition. Adrian is 6’9”, but he’s only listed at 235 pounds — big, but not a bruiser. Like his teammates, Adrian is long and athletic. The Mountaineers game is predicated on speed and quickness. They press. And they press. They press full court all game long. They are #1 in the country in forcing turnovers and #1 in generating steals. They play at a high tempo (21st fastest in the nation) which can skew the stats a bit, but PG Javon Carter is 7th in the nation with three steals per game. Five other players average at least one steal per game, although that includes a fair amount of garbage time stats (for example, senior walk-on James Long averages 1.2 steals per game, but likely won’t see action against the Hoos).

The two other guys averaging double figures for the Mountaineers are 6’8” sophomore Esa Ahmad and senior wing Teyvon Myers. Myers didn’t play at all against the Hoos last year. He hasn’t been starting this year, but he’s shooting the ball very well (5/8 from downtown and 53% overall). Ahmad started and played 21 minutes, but scored just four points on 2/4 from the field. He also had four rebounds.

Tarik Phillips will start on the wing with with Ahmad. He’s the best shooter on the team and shot 40% from downtown last year. He’s also very strong in transition and had 3 steals in the matchup last year. In last year’s matchup, just two WVU players reached double figures and both were seniors. WVU shot 2/14 from 3 and just 12/21 from the FT line. This year’s team is probably a better shooting team, but they may not be quite as good in transition as last year’s team was. At least, not yet.

The Hoos have generally done pretty well against this type of team, because they slow the game down, which gets the faster team out of their comfort zone. WVU doesn’t want to play a half-court game, but the Hoos will make them. And that is to the Hoos advantage.We’ll almost definitely see more of a 4-guard lineup with Perrantes, Thompson, Shayok and Hall on the floor along with Wilkins. The danger is that unit getting sped up by the Mountaineers, which the Hoos cannot do. We may also see more of Ty Jerome, because he’s a good ball-handler and it’ll be good experience for him to play against a high pressure defense. This is something he’ll have to do later in the season if London gets into foul trouble or something like that.

This is a battle between two very good teams running very very different schemes. Whoever better controls the tempo likely wins the game. Shooting the ball well would help too.