Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
While the ACC-Big 10 Challenge has taken up a lot of the national media focus, two other conferences are in my sights for this preview, as SEC meets the Big East (note that this is not part of the SEC-Big East Invitational) when #51 West Virginia (4-1) meets #63 Mississippi (5-1) in Oxford.
These two teams are both generally projected to be mid-level teams in their conferences, and to be among the at-large teams not totally sure of hearing their name come Selection Sunday. With 15 minutes left in the final of the Las Vegas Invitational, West Virginia seemed to be on the verge of adding further fodder to the Big East love-fest and joining the top 25, as they were up 10 over Kentucky. From then on, the Mountaineers fell apart, losing the last 15 minutes by more than 20 points. Mississippi’s only loss also came in a preseason tournament, as Utah, who opened their season with a loss to a non-D1-team but have been good since, beat them fairly handily in Daytona Beach.
It should not come as any surprise that a Bob Huggins-coached West Virginia is among the nation’s best teams at forcing turnovers, the most important area of their strong defensive play to date. While I don’t expect the Mountaineers to continue with the high number of forced turnovers they have created so far, they will cause a lot of problems for Mississippi. The Rebels don’t turn it over too often, and will benefit from having a more experienced backcourt, but given that West Virginia has also been a good defensive rebounding team, Mississippi will have to be very efficient with the possessions they do have. Considering this experience in the backcourt, the Rebels still tend to feed the ball inside fairly often, and don’t do all that well when they do, not a positive sign against a West Virginia team that can generate a decent number of blocks and missed shots in the interior.
West Virginia’s offense hasn’t been particularly impressive, and it showed in that disastrous second half against Kentucky. So far they’ve committed a few too many turnovers themselves, but have shot decently from the field. The Mountaineers do struggle from the line, just barely above 60% so far, and this could easily come back to haunt them in a late game scenario, especially since Mississippi has been very effective on their own foul shots, and has rarely sent their opponents to the line. As I mentioned above, the place to exploit Mississippi is inside. They don’t control the defensive glass particularly well, and, while they are decent shot stoppers, they don’t generate many blocks, nor do they have a real defensive game-changer. If the Mountaineers press their advantage in the paint, they will put heavy pressure on a young Rebels frontcourt.
West Virginia’s leading scorer, Alex Ruoff, was a solid accessory for Joe Alexander, and used this to rack up a solid point total last season. This year, he is generally taking more shots, and not shooting quite as well. While this is normally quite a bad sign, especially for a perimeter shooter like Ruoff, he has also taken a higher percentage of threes, and maintained a good enough percentage from behind the arc that his efficiency hasn’t changed much. He’s joined outside by freshman Darryl Bryant, who has also shot over 50% from the field, and been very good from three in a secondary role. Inside, a lot of talk has been about freshman Devin Ebanks, and while he has been mildly effective, he has broken the 20 minute barrier in only one of the Mountaineers’ games. In that time, he’s been a 50% shooter who can hit threes, but will need to develop and expand into a much greater role to meet expectations. In the meantime, senior Da’Sean Butler and sophomore John Flowers work the inside for the Mountaineers. Butler hasn’t been great offensively so far, shooting under 45% from the field, but leads the team in rebounding so far. Flowers hadn’t gotten a lot of shots, but has been pretty solid, nearly a 70% shooter, though an 0-12 record on free throw attempts means he really can’t be allowed to play in the game’s big moments.
Most of Mississippi’s returning scoring and minutes come from their guards, with two, Chris Warren and David Huertas, standing out. Warren is the main guy on the offensive end, taking the more shots than any of his teammates and running the offensive effectively with a better than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio. He needs to cut back on his shot attempts a little though, he’s under 40% overall and right on the 33% line from three. He should try and shift some of those attempts to Huertas when possible, as the Puerto Rico native and Florida transfer has shot more than 50% from the field and 45% from three, well above his numbers from last season. Huertas, at 6-5, also leads the team in rebounding, which is somewhat of a rebuke to the freshman frontcourt that hasn’t sorted itself out yet. With a handful of players at 6-7 or taller sharing minutes on the inside, the best to date have probably been Murphy Holloway, who’s shooting quite well and has shown a good nose for the boards, and Terrance Henry, who hasn’t done much scoring but has but up some pretty solid rebounding numbers.
I think that Mississippi will be a team that improves as it finds out how the interior is going to effectively function, but for now it just doesn’t seem to be good enough for a team that can be as effective inside as West Virginia. The Mountaineers won’t be big interior bruisers by any stretch of the imagination once they face teams like Pitt in Big East play, but their advantage in interior experience against the Rebels should see them through the day, even in a hostile environment
Winner: West Virginia Margin: 3-7
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About Evan Dorey
Evan Dorey - Game Previews
A recent university graduate from Markham, Ontario, who loves analyzing the statistics of sports in general, and college basketball in particular.