As part of its preview of the 2016 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense statistics are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All other advanced stats are also from kenpom.com (unless noted otherwise), and are through March 14.
Record: 26–8 (13–5 Big 12)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 114.8(23rd)/92.4 (6th)
Seed: East No. 3
Impact Player: Devin Williams, Junior, Forward, 13.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.4 apg
The Case For: The Mountaineers' résumé is rock-solid. They have wins against Kansas and two each against Baylor and Iowa State. In the regular season, they had 11 against the RPI top 100, and 13 wins in the RPI’s toughest conference. Oh yeah, and then there’s that suffocating defense. Yes, it’s their neighbor to the southeast in Charlottesville that gets all the attention for protecting the hoop, but WVU’s might be the best all-around D in the country.
They are sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency. The Mountaineers are first in steals per game and and second in opponent turnover percentage per game. They give up an average of just 66.6 points per game. Led by sophomore guard Jevon Carter, who had a team-high 58 steals and was named to the Big 12 All Defensive team, the Mountaineers can stop just about anybody. Add that to the second-best offensive rebounding team in the nation, with a diverse offense filled with six legitimate scoring threats, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more dangerous team. They are deep—coach Bob Huggins’ rotation runs 10 strong. And with eight players on the roster from last year’s Sweet 16 run, this could be a Final Four year for West Virginia.
The Case Against: The offense is varied and deep enough, but it’s not great. There’s no alpha dog to lead them—senior guard Jaysean Paige, their leading scorer at 13.9 points per game, is the sixth man—and they struggle in two key categories. They’re 287th in the country in free throw percentage (67.0%). From three-point range, they are 251st in the nation, with a paltry 32.9% mark. Yes, they get production from six players, but a close game could kill them.
The blueprint to beat them is fairly straightforward. Hold onto the ball and make them shoot. West Virginia has not yet proven that they can win a game with their shooting, nor when a team locks them down. The Mountaineers will attempt to win a title with their defense, and it might be good enough to do so. But offense could be their downfall. They’ll falter against a team like Michigan State—a high-scoring team that makes opponents shoot from distance. Plus, there’s the notion—fair or not—that Huggins can’t win the big game. He’ll get a chance this year to prove it’s wrong.
SI Prediction: Beat Stephen F. Austin in the first round; beat Notre Dame in the second round; beat Xavier in the Sweet 16; lose to North Carolina in the Elite Eight