Defensive-Minded West Virginia to Hang Tough with Villanova

wvu defense

Rainman M.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 2:26 PM UTC

Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2018 2:26 PM UTC

No. 5 seed West Virginia battles top-seeded Villanova in an East Region semifinal Friday night. Nova is favored by 5.5 to advance into the Elite Eight, but are they the smart play?

West Virginia vs. VillanovaEast Region, Friday, 7:37 p.m. ET, BostonFree NCAAB Pick: West Virginia +5.5Best Line Offered: Intertops

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I understand why bettors are drawn to Villanova in this matchup in our NCAAB picks. The Wildcats (32-4 SU, 23-12-1 ATS), -5.5 favorites on the college basketball odds board, have executed their half-court offense to near perfection, converted a lot of threes, and destroyed their first two NCAA Tournament opponents, a 16 seed and then a very young and inexperienced Alabama team, by 20-plus points each. West Virginia (26-10 SU, 17-16 ATS) doesn't play the flashiest basketball, but they possess the defensive concept with which to stymie Nova's elite offense.

Nova's SU losses have come against teams who enjoy amazing shooting performances and when their offensive has struggled. The key to stopping an offense that is so complete as that of Villanova is to never let it get into rhythm in the first place, as St. John's showed twice. Against teams ranking in the top 11 in both turnover percentage and steal percentage, the Wildcats are 0-2 ATS, including a SU loss as double-digit favorite. In one matchup against St. John's, Nova won thanks to a blistering performance from three, but committed 17 turnovers and failed to cover. In the other game against St. John's, Nova made only 24 percent of its threes and lost SU.

West Virginia is another high-pressure defense that ranks in the top 11 in turnover percentage and steal percentage. The Mountaineers have more individual quality than the Johnnies, especially in the form of lockdown defender Jevon Carter, the Big 12's defensive player of the year, and fellow All-Big 12 defender center Sagaba Konate. It is telling that the game in which Nova committed 17 turnovers against St. John's was the first match-up. The Wildcats struggled to adjust to the pressure, which, although it didn't force as many turnovers in the rematch, still disrupted Nova's rhythm offensively. Even though WVU's defense is also high-pressure, its concept is very much different. Unlike SJU's defense, WVU's speeds up its opponent, allowing on average the 34th-quickest length of possession. Nova typically likes to be deliberative in its offensive possessions, ranking 230rd in length of offensive possession. The Mountaineers will make them uncomfortable by speeding them up with their pressure and stifling them with the quality of their individual defenders.

Carter is WVU's x-factor who can take over the game offensively. In six of WVU's last seven games he has achieved a KenPom rating of 117+ despite playing a high level of competition in high-pressure games. Carter ranks a career-high sixth in steal percentage and excels at turning turnovers into points. He moves the ball effectively, ranking 28th in assist rate. Carter is also a weapon from three, ranking 304th in three-point percentage, and going 12-for-22 from three in his past four games. Guard Daxter Miles has also been on fire, producing an offensive rating of 130+ in four of WVU's last five games, converting five three-pointers in three of them. Nova is weakest inside defensively where WVU will be too tough. Carter is a strong force driving inside and Konate is a major reason the Mountaineers rank fifth in offensive rebounding percentage. He will get put-backs.

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Unlike the two teams Nova has faced thus far, WVU boasts senior leadership and tournament experience. The high-pressure defense has already proven to make Nova beatable, and WVU's different concept will present a difficult adjustment for Nova. Offensively, West Virginia can attack Nova inside, win the rebounding battle, and shoot threes with the hot Carter and Miles.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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