Syracuse continues its NCAA Tournament run on Sunday against No. 3 seed West Virginia following a 16-point upset win over San Diego State. The Mountaineers are old Big East foes for SU, and they won their first round game in a 17-point win over Morehead State.
Here’s everything you need to know about West Virginia before Sunday night’s Round of 32 game:
Syracuse leads 34-16
Last time they played
Syracuse and West Virginia’s last season together in the Big East was 2011-12. The Orange beat the Mountaineers 63-61 in January 2012, as Brandon Triche scored 18 points and Kris Joseph added 13 points and seven rebounds. SU struggled from 3 in that game, but its defense was able to stave off the Mountaineers’ comeback.
KenPom gives West Virginia a 59% chance to win by a projected score of 78-76. Bart Torvik gives WVU a 61% chance to win by a predicted score of 78-75
Haslametrics.com projects the Mountaineers to have a very slight edge, by a projected 77.27-76.55. Jeff Sagarin’s projections show West Virginia at 60% to win.
The West Virginia report
West Virginia isn’t “Press Virginia” anymore since head coach Bob Huggins abandoned his trademark full-court pressure defense last year. But its defense is still aggressive, constantly looking to block shots, generate steals and run out in the open floor. West Virginia teams of years past featured great defense and a sometimes-struggling half-court offense. The 2021 team is quite different.
West Virginia’s offense is the 10th-most efficient in the country, per KenPom. The Mountaineers pull down offensive rebounds at the 13th-best clip nationally. They have two players in their main rotation who shoot above 40% from 3 and another in Sean McNeil, who’s close.
The offense is run through center Derek Culver, who will be a force on the glass and will look to get to the line. He’s alongside sophomore point guard Miles McBride, an excellent perimeter defender who runs the WVU offense. McBride is 104th nationally in assist rate and shoots 40.6% from 3.
He’s only 6-foot-2, though, 4 inches shorter than his potential matchup, SU guard Buddy Boeheim.
McNeil is WVU’s sharpshooter and floor spacer. He’s attempted 54 more 3s than 2s this season and will be a shooter for the 2-3 zone to key in on. Redshirt freshman forward Jalen Bridges could barely get into the games early in the season, but he’s improved significantly down the stretch run and provided a boost to the WVU offense. He scored 15 points in West Virginia’s first-round win against Morehead State and made 48.9% of his 3s in conference play.
Bridges can score at multiple levels and has some length on the defensive end at 6-foot-7.
Taz Sherman is the Mountaineers’ first person off the bench, even though he plays starter’s minutes. Sherman and McBride make up the WVU backcourt, and Sherman’s more of a slasher than a shooter who looks to get to the line. He shoots at a decent clip from 3 but is even better at drawing fouls.
Playing in the Big 12, West Virginia played the 20th-toughest schedule in the country. The Mountaineers don’t really have a bad loss on their schedule, with all nine of their losses coming to teams who made the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia took Baylor to overtime, lost to Gonzaga by five and beat Kansas, Texas and Texas Tech in conference play.
The Mountaineers benefitted from the 46th-highest minutes continuity in the country and it’s allowed their offense to gel down the stretch this season.
West Virginia offense vs Syracuse defense
By KenPom adjusted efficiency, this 2020-21 WVU team is tied for the best offense Huggins has ever had at the school. They have scorers at all three levels, and the Mountaineers are excellent at getting to the free-throw line, generating second-chance points and breaking quickly off of steals in the open court.
Syracuse struggled with the early ball pressure against SDSU, and WVU ranks 14th in the nation at turning steals into points offensively. They’ll look to get out in transition as much as possible, but their halfcourt offense is much better than years past, too. Culver, Sherman and McBride are all nationally ranked at drawing fouls, and despite Syracuse’s defensive strength there, foul trouble could become an issue.
There were 262 offenses in college basketball that saw at least 75 possessions of zone defense this year, and West Virginia’s offense was in the bottom five against them, per Synergy.
Despite WVU’s struggles against the zones they have seen this season, their shooting ability from 3 gives them ample opportunity to bust the Orange’s recently improved 2-3 zone. While San Diego State made almost nothing in the first 35 minutes of the game on Friday night, the Aztecs did generate plenty of open 3-point looks, and the Mountaineers could do the same by playing through Culver in the middle.
The biggest matchup edge for the WVU offense will be on the glass. The Mountaineers rank 31st in field goal attempts per 100 trips down the court, and the Orange rank 348th defensively. SU is 339th in defensive rebounding, and WVU is 13th offensively. Whether the Orange can force misses is one thing, but getting the rebounds is another. WVU could exploit the Orange’s defensive rebounding weaknesses in this matchup.
Syracuse offense vs. West Virginia defense
The Mountaineers were up and down last season and finished the year at .500 in the Big 12 with a top-five defense in adjusted efficiency. Almost inexplicably, the Mountaineers defense has fallen off significantly this season.
West Virginia’s defense still generates turnovers at a decent clip, but the Mountaineers underlying metrics are really concerning. They allow a high rate of open jump shots and don’t really get out on shooters particularly well. WVU is 238th in 2-point field goal percentage allowed and, other than Culver, doesn’t do much to alter opponents’ shots.
In the last 10 games, the WVU defense is 83rd in Bart Torvik adjusted efficiency. The defense is 146th against top-50 opponents this year. Culver is their only defensive rebounder, so the Orange should be able to generate some offensive rebounds against this WVU frontline.
Given the amount of open jumpers and offensive rebounds WVU tends to allow, Syracuse should be able to get open looks and make them. Syracuse is more efficient offensively when facing teams that have a defensive 3-point field goal percentage allowed that’s higher than 32.32%, according to Haslametrics.com. West Virginia allows 3s at a 33% clip, and its defense tends to shade toward allowing 3s.
West Virginia’s defense will give up the mid-range jump shots to Syracuse. The Orange shoot more mid-range shots than average.
Player to watch: Derek Culver, No. 1, center
San Diego State didn’t offer much of an inside scoring presence against Syracuse on Friday night, but the Mountaineers will. Culver is one of the most dominant centers in the country and will be a matchup issue for the Orange in the post and on the glass throughout the game. Culver is ninth in the country in fouls drawn per 90 and 35th in free-throw rate. He’s elite on the glass and ranks top 100 in offensive rebounding and top 10 in defense. West Virginia’s offense relies a lot on getting to the line to score points, and Culver is a major reason why Culver was first team All-Big 12.
Stat to know: 63.4%
West Virginia allows unguarded jump shots on 63.4% of its defensive possessions, which is the fourth-highest rate in the country of teams who completed the regular season, per Synergy. The only teams worse are Oakland, Mississippi Valley State and South Carolina State. The underlying numbers of this WVU defense do not rate out favorably, and the Orange should be able to get plenty of open looks against the Mountaineers.
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