Big 12 Championship: Defense To Dominate In West Virginia-Kansas Showdown

Jay Pryce

Sunday, March 13, 2016 4:42 PM UTC

Sunday, Mar. 13, 2016 4:42 PM UTC

Kansas and No. 9 West Virginia square off for the Big 12 title. The Mountaineers are 3-5 SU (5-3 ATS) against the Jayhawks. Can they pull off the upset today? Pick and analysis inside. 

West Virginia Mountaineers (26-7 SU, 20-10 ATS)
West Virginia (15-5 SU, 14-6 ATS in B12 play) came out the winner in a thrilling 69-67 encounter against No. 6 Oklahoma. In addition to their usual press defense, Coach Bob Huggins' plan was simple: keep the ball out of Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield's hands. It worked. The defense held the senior scoreless through the game's first 30 minutes, though agonized briefly over a waived off half-court shot Hield drained in the game's final second that would have won it for the Sooners.

Slowing down Hield certainly helped, but West Virginia won the game by doing what they do best: pressing and generating extra scoring chances. It shot just 38.3 percent form the floor, but put up 60 shot attempts to Oklahoma's 41 thanks to 21 forced takeaways and 14 offensive rebounds. Can the Mountaineers unravel Kansas as well? History suggests so. Since implementing the full-court press at the start of last season, in part to compete in the Big 12 against teams like the Jayhawks, Huggins' men have held Kansas to an average of 64.5 points in regulation time over four games. They've forced 16.4 turnovers and ripped down a whopping 16.5 offensive boards per game, leading to a plethora of extra scoring chances. West Virginia is 2-2 SU and 3-1 ATS, dropping one in overtime in Lawrence in 2014.


Kansas Jayhawks (29-4 SU, 20-11 ATS )
Kansas (17-3 SU, 12-8 ATS in B12 play) is in a familiar place: the championship tilt. Since the first Big 12 title game in 1997, the Jayhawks have played in more than half, trimming the net in nine of 11 attempts. No. 22 Baylor made coach Bill Self's squad work for a chance at this season's crown last night, though. The Jayhawks scoured for open shots in the first half against the Bears' rim-protecting zone defense, pulling away slowly in the second for a 70-66 victory. Defense again was the unspoken hero for Kansas. It held a high-flying Baylor squad to 39.0 percent shooting from the floor, a tick below its conference-leading 39.2 mark. After last night's win, the Jayhawks are the only team other than Virginia to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (sixth in each) nationally.

Kansas, with its aggressive lock-down defense, will likely be the difference-maker this afternoon—though all the attention will be on “Press Virginia.” In the last four meetings, the Jayhawks have held Huggins' crew to 35.8 percent shooting from the floor, and have limited the turnover differential to 16.5:13.0 in favor of the Mountaineers. Keeping this number close will be key. West Virginia is 20-5 SU and 19-6 ATS over the last two seasons when they accrue two or more takeaways then their Big 12 opponents versus a 6-8 SU and 5-9 against the NCAA basketball odds record with fewer.


Final Analysis
West Virginia is heating up at the right time, going 6-0 SU and ATS in its last six games. Huggins' squad is averaging 80.2 points on 46.2 percent shooting in the stretch, draining an eye-popping 41.2 percent from behind the arc—a huge improvement for a team that ranked 237th in three-point percentage nationally (33.3). In fact, the Mountaineers have shot 35.7 percent or better in all six games, including 45.5 in last night's triumph. But is the offensive boost enough to overcome the class and depth of Kansas? We're not so sure. Self's squad was tired late in the Baylor game, and their stamina will be tested under the press, leading to some tired legs. The full-court assault takes its toll on the West Virginia, too, and we may see some sloppy shooting late in this one. We're not going to flirt with the 3.5-point spread, but like the value in the total. Taking a handful of overtime games out of the equation, the UNDER is 5-17-2 when Kansas or West Virginia played a ranked team this season, offensive woes plaguing the Mountaineers and strong defensive performances urging on the Jayhawks. Oddsmakers have yet to post the over-under as of publication, but the total will likely open in the high 140s to low 150s. West Virginia may struggle to reach 70 points, so there may be some value in the team total staying UNDER as the sharp NCAA basketball pick.

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Under 143.5
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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