Wichita State (6-0) vs. West Virginia (5-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Central time Wednesday
Where: Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Cancun, Mexico
TV: CBS Sports Network (Brett Dolan and Pete Gillen)
Radio: KEYN, 103.7 FM
Vegas line: Not released yet
WSU ranking: No. 47 (No. 108 on offense, No. 10 on defense)
WVU ranking: No. 43 (No. 57 on offense, No. 43 on defense)
Score prediction: West Virginia 66, Wichita State 65
WSU’s winning odds: 49%
Coach: Bob Huggins, 13th season, 275-151
Coach: Gregg Marshall, 13th season, 314-113
The Four Factors
Five keys for Wichita State
1. Keep West Virginia off the offensive glass and the free throw line. Sound familiar? That’s because these were two keys for WSU in taking down South Carolina coached by a Huggins discipline in Frank Martin. It’s no surprise that these two things ring true for the Shockers’ game on Wednesday.
West Virginia is not a good shooting team. The Mountaineers rank No. 222 in the country in effective field goal percentage. They take among the fewest three-pointers in the country and of those select few, the Mountaineers are hitting at just a 28.8% clip.
So how does West Virginia have the 57th best KenPom offense? It’s because the Mountaineers are posting top-30 offensive rebounding (36.1%) and free throw (42.8) rates in the country.
Keeping WVU off the offensive glass will be a monumental challenge for WSU. The Mountaineers’ front line goes 6-foot-9, 258 pounds (Oscar Tshiebwe) and 6-foot-10, 255 pounds (Derek Culver). Both are elite offensive rebounders. Tshiebwe is one of the best in the nation, as he is bringing down 18.9% of his team’s own misses by himself — good for fifth-best in the country.
Tshiebwe was a borderline 5-star prospect out of high school and was voted the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in the preseason poll. He’s averaging 12 points and 10 rebounds and is a monster down low. This is what Trey Wade, Morris Udeze, Jaime Echenique, Asbjorn Midtgaard and Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler are up against on Wednesday night:
WSU rose to the challenge on Tuesday and limited a South Carolina team that entered as a top-10 offensive rebounding team to rebounding just 25.5% of its own misses, a season-low. West Virginia is actually a tick below South Carolina, so the goal of boarding out at a 75% rate on the defensive end still applies in this game for the Shockers.
And just like the Gamecocks, West Virginia also relies on generating about a quarter of its offense at the free throw line. WVU is shooting nearly 25 free throws per game, the 26th-highest rate in the country.
Culver is drawing nearly nine fouls per game, the fourth-highest rate in the country and he’s shooting six free throws per game and hitting them at a 80% clip. The other player to keep off the line is senior Jermaine Haley, whose foul rate ranks 27th in the country. But Haley is cashing in on just 62% of his trips to the foul line.
If WSU is able to limit second chances and free throws for West Virginia, then it will take away the lifeblood for the Mountaineers.
2. Don’t let Derek Culver get going in the post. Who says the post-up is dead in the modern basketball world? West Virginia is running post-ups on nearly 17% of its possessions, which is the third-most of any team in the country, per Synergy.
The Mountaineers want nothing more than to start their possession in the post with Culver, the 6-10 sophomore. And for good reason, as he’s scoring at 1.17 points per possession to rank in the 89th percentile of the country.
It’s clear that Culver’s go-to move in the post is his left hook, regardless of where he catches it on the floor. Sometimes he’ll catch and turn right into a quick left-handed hook. Other times, he’ll take a few dribbles, try to get his defender leaning the wrong way, turn over his right shoulder and fire the left hook.
While the left hook is his preferred move, Culver has shown counters to that this season. There was one instance where a defender was shading his right shoulder, waiting for the left hook, and Culver spun the other way and finished with his right hand.
That means the best way for Echenique, Udeze and Midtgaard to defend Culver will be to battle with him for post position in the paint and push him as far out from the basket as possible on the catch. Culver is still capable of backing in and scoring, but it certainly has lowered his effectiveness this season when opponents force him to catch further away from the basket.
Northern Iowa built a 15-point lead on West Virginia on Tuesday, in part because it held Culver without a field goal. If WSU can similarly slow down WVU’s favorite inside target and keep him to single digits, then its chance of winning will only increase.
3. Once again shoot at least 20 free throws. Frank Martin is a disciple of Huggins, so it’s no surprise that the two share the same defensive philosophy. Both coaches like their teams to play overly aggressive on the defensive end, which leads to lots and lots of fouls.
Tuesday was the perfect preparation for WSU to handle West Virginia. South Carolina has a similarly-constructed team with more height, length and bulk than WSU had seen all season. The Shockers did well handling the pressure on Tuesday and made 17 of 23 free throws.
West Virginia isn’t as foul-happy as South Carolina, but the Mountaineers still rank No. 239 in the country in defensive foul rate. The opportunity for WSU is there to capitalize and rack up the fouls on West Virginia, as well as score free points at the foul line.
The goal once again will be for WSU to shoot at least 20 free throws in the championship game.
4. Keep West Virginia out of transition. Gregg Marshall mentioned after the South Carolina victory that keeping the Gamecocks out of transition was the No. 1 bullet point on WSU’s defensive game plan.
Even though South Carolina was struggling to finish in transition prior to the game, the Gamecocks were still relying on generating a quarter of their offense on fast breaks. The same is true for West Virginia.
The Mountaineers are scoring in transition at a below-average rate, in the 16th percentile, per Synergy, but transition possessions make up the biggest part of West Virginia’s offense. That means WSU can’t let West Virginia get on track and start scoring easy ones in transition.
The Shockers did an effective job shutting South Carolina down on fast breaks, holding the Gamecocks to just two points in transition.
The goal for WSU should be once again to hold West Virginia to single-digit fast break points.
5. Protect the basketball. South Carolina’s pressure did force WSU into a season-high 16 turnovers, but 13 of those came in the first half and the Shockers did much better protecting the basketball after half-time adjustments made by Marshall.
West Virginia is another team that steals the ball a lot because it plays up in passing lanes and almost begs teams to back-door them. The Mountaineers are betting that they can wear teams down and force more turnovers than opponents can make perfect passes that crumble the defense.
Turning the ball over could lead to fast-break opportunities for West Virginia, so limiting the live-ball turnovers will be crucial for WSU.
WSU’s turnover rate has increased the last three games, which is not a trend that Marshall will want to see continue against West Virginia. While the Mountaineers don’t press nearly as much as they used to, they still pressure opponents just as much in the half-court with their man-to-man defense.
WSU should aim for keeping its turnover rate somewhere under 20% for the game.
If Tuesday was WSU’s first test of the season, then the Shockers aced it. South Carolina was bigger, longer and more athletic than any team WSU had faced prior this season, yet the Shockers handled all of those obstacles extremely well for such a young team. And the good news is that South Carolina plays an almost identical style to West Virginia. So the things that worked for WSU on Tuesday, should translate on Wednesday. Of course, West Virginia appears to be a much better version of that mold. The Mountaineers are big down low. They are extremely good at rebounding their own misses. They’re going to get up in WSU’s ball handlers and try to force 20-plus turnovers. There’s no doubt that West Virginia presents a step up in competition. But it’s a step up that I think WSU is ready for. The Shockers have the depth at center to handle West Virginia’s size and Trey Wade proved on Tuesday that he can guard a much bigger player in the post and hold his own. The Shockers kept South Carolina off the glass and off the free throw line, which will once again be the winning formula against West Virginia. I want to pick a WSU center to be player of the game, but there is likely to be too much of a rotation for any one center to stand out too much. In that case, I’ll go with Jamarius Burton who has been scoring the ball very well since returning from injury. I like him being able to handle West Virginia’s pressure and using it against the Mountaineers.
Wichita State 72, West Virginia 66.