Feast Week Mission Briefing: West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2016

Feast Week is here. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments over the next week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings continue today with West Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off, which takes place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Catching Up: Devin Williams, Jaysean Paige and Jonathan Holton are gone, but “Press Virginia” is alive and well in Morgantown. The 3-0 Mountaineers again lead the country in defensive turnover rate (34.2%) and are first in defensive steal rate (17.3%), steamrolling lesser competition by an average of 42.7 points per game. The demands of Bob Huggins‘ style and the big leads it has generated have given way to a deep, balanced attack in the early part of the season. A staggering 11 players have seen the floor for at least 10 minutes per game and five players are currently posting double-figure scoring averages, led by Nathan Adrian‘s 13.3 points per contest.

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams will be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia's swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

This Thanksgiving, opposing teams should be thankful if they can hold onto the ball against West Virginia’s swarming defense. (AP/Raymond Thompson)

Opening Round Preview: Illinois will give West Virginia its first real test of the season today in Brooklyn. It feels like John Groce’s team has been snake-bitten from the minute he arrived in Champaign, but his team is off to a solid 4-1 start, although the loss, which came at the hands of Winthrop, shows that they aren’t out of the woods quite yet. Still, the Illini are shooting the ball well, hitting 39.8 percent of their threes, led by seniors Tracy Abrams (7-of-11, 63.6%) and Malcolm Hill (15-of-29, 51.7%). The team has also been extremely effective inside, converting 87.3 percent of its attempts at the rim, per hoop-math.com. The problem for Illinois is that it hasn’t valued the ball, turning it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions and winning the battle on the offensive glass only 23.3 percent of the time. Those are weaknesses that West Virginia is well-versed in exploiting, and Huggins’ team should be able to do just that.

Potential Later-Round Match-ups: After West Virginia, Florida State is the best team in the NIT Season Tip-Off field and would present a welcome resume opportunity for the Mountaineers. The Seminoles like to push tempo, but they’ve been able to do so in a controlled fashion. Led by veteran point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State’s offense has turned the ball over just 14.2 percent of the time, so West Virginia’s ability to use its defense to generate offense could be tested if a date with the Seminoles comes to fruition.

Outlook: The Mountaineers’ resurgence has included wins at neutral-site tournaments in each of the last two seasons. They have a good shot to make it three straight this week in Brooklyn, but it won’t be a walk in the park. Still, if West Virginia is truly the second-best team in the Big 12 — as the preseason coaches’ poll would have us believe — this is an event it should win.

Brian Goodman (966 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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