Mega College Hoops Betting Guide: WVU-Kansas and Villanova-Xavier
Jan 15, 2018; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers forward Sagaba Konate (50) looks to make a move while defended by Kansas Jayhawks guard Devonte’ Graham (4) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
I know it’s going to be tough to duplicate the excitement of Friday night’s NBA Celebrity All-Star Game (I hope you were really watching Bonnies-Rhody), but I think a spectacular Saturday college hoops slate can help us all move on. In this betting guide, we will cover all the angles of the two biggest games on the card:
- West Virginia at Kansas (-3.5) – 6 p.m. ET on ESPN
- Villanova at Xavier (+1.5) – 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX
West Virginia at Kansas (-3.5) | O/U: 152.5
6 p.m. ET on ESPN
Kansas and West Virginia met in a top-10 matchup back in Morgantown in mid-January. In that game, Kansas battled back from a 16-point deficit to pull out a five-point road victory. Blown WVU leads in this matchup have actually been a theme in recent years. The last time these teams met in Lawrence, the Mountaineers blew a 14-point lead with under four minutes left, before eventually falling in overtime. And two years prior to that at the Phog, Kansas came from 18 points eown to again win in overtime. These two teams have split their regular season meetings in each of the past four seasons.
In the NCAA tournament committee’s early reveal of the top 16 seeds, Kansas was listed at No. 6 overall (a projected 2-seed). Given that the Jayhawks lead the NCAA with nine “Quadrant 1” wins (home vs. top 30, neutral vs. top 50 or away vs. top 75), a No. 1 seed is certainly within reach. West Virginia was not listed among those top 16 teams, but a road win at the Phog would go a long way in helping its seeding come March.
With a loss, Kansas would be in serious jeopardy of not winning at least a share of the Big 12 regular season for the first time in 14 seasons. Texas Tech currently sits all alone in first place, holding a one-game lead over the Jayhawks. Considering the Red Raiders already beat Kansas in Lawrence and will host the rematch, Kansas needs this game to keep the pressure on Texas Tech, which has a tough schedule down the stretch. In addition to that aforementioned Kansas rematch, TTU has three road contests against Oklahoma State, Baylor, and West Virginia. This game has massive conference repercussions
By PJ Walsh
Kansas is currently receiving 69% of spread tickets and, while the public is confidently playing the Jayhawks, 55% of dollars wagered have taken West Virginia. With the biggest bets coming down on WVU, a handful of offshore sportsbooks have ticked down from an opener of Mountaineers +3.5 to +3.
I expect a fired up West Virginia team out of the gates, as Huggins will have his squad focused on revenge from a bad home loss earlier in the season. That said, this is Kansas at home in a game that means so much in the Big 12 standings. We should get max effort from both.
By Jordan Majewski
When West Virginia Has The Ball
West Virginia’s spacing in the halfcourt can be fairly clogged within Bob Huggins’ cut-and-fill motion offense. However, the offense has been stellar recently, as the Mountaineers haven’t had an inefficient offensive game since their mid-January swoon that started with that meltdown home loss to Kansas. WVU only scored 66 points in 69 possessions in that game, hitting just 5-27 from 3. It also actually turned the ball over at a significantly higher rate than KU.
In theory, KU should struggle against WVU’s scheme: Per Synergy, the Jayhawks allow 1.21 ppp on cut action. For WVU to finally avenge their recent nuclear meltdowns against KU, Mountaineer forwards Esa Ahmad, Lamont West and Teddy Allen will need to take advantage of the Jayhawks’ two weakest defenders, Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk. The enigmatic Ahmad had a solid offensive game in the first meeting (15 points and five rebounds), but he’s been wildly inconsistent on a game-by-game basis. West’s floor-stretching ability has returned of late (11-of-20 from 3 in his past four games), a primary reason for WVU’s improvement offensively.
KU’s defense has plenty of holes to attack, and its usual 4-out lineup leaves it vulnerable on the offensive glass, which is, of course, a Huggins specialty. KU allows 1.14 ppp on offensive putbacks, per Synergy. With the WVU offense firing on all cylinders at the moment and KU’s issues defending at the 3 and 4, the Mountaineers will have plenty of paths to put up points at the Phog.
When Kansas Has The Ball
I’ve mentioned before that West Virginia is pressing and trapping less this year, and it’s not an insignificant amount. Huggins has been hyper-critical of this defense, and the numbers back up his frustration. While most coaches would love to have a defense that allows just .965 ppp, that actually ranks as the worst defense Huggins has had since the Mountaineers morphed into “Press Virginia” four years ago.
WVU particularly has issues with straight-line drives, as the the perimeter defenders have seemingly been willing to funnel penetration into uber shot-blocker Sagaba Konate (pictured above, right). While that makes some sense in theory, it has led to laziness and poor perimeter rotation on the defensive end (unheard of from a Huggins squad). In fact, WVU currently allows the highest 3-point attempt rate of any Huggins team in the KenPom era, which dates back to the 2001-02 season. That’s a dangerous combo against Kansas, which has an elite on-ball guard in Devonte’ Graham (pictured above, left) and makes 3s at a high percentage.
In the first game in Morgantown, the Jayhawks came back with simple penetrate-and-kick action between Graham and Mykhailiuk. While WVU is still a very good defensive team, it’s just not on the same level as what we’ve come to expect from Huggins’ defenses. That’s concerning against an elite offense like Kansas.
What the Metrics Say
By Bryan Mears
West Virginia is one of the most unique teams in the nation, as it relies on very volatile metrics for success. For example, it ranks No. 18 in offensive efficiency, despite ranking 196th in effective field goal percentage. The Mountaineers rely on offensive rebounds to stay afloat, ranking fourth in the nation in that regard. They should have success again on the offensive glass against a Kansas squad that ranks 277th on the defensive boards.
On the other end of the floor, the Mountaineers’ aggressive defense ranks second in turnover rate. This game should come down to those two volatile data points. If Kansas can protect the ball and box out, it will sweep the season series.
By Evan Abrams and John Ewing
Kansas is just 2-12-1 ATS (14.3%) at home against conference opponents over the past two seasons. The Jayhawks last covered a home game against a Big 12 opponent in February of last season (0-6-1 ATS since). Between 2005 and 2015, Kansas went 54-35-4 ATS (60.7%) at home in conference games.
The Jayhawks have the longest active streak of consecutive weeks ranked (143). But they’ve performed much better against the spread when they fall outside the top 10, as they are now:
- Inside the top 10: 134-143-8 (48.6%) ATS
- Outside the top 10: 42-20-1 (68%) ATS
What’s Your Favorite Bet?
Stuckey: West Virginia +3.5
Jordan: West Virginia +3.5
Villanova at Xavier (+1.5) | O/U: 164.5
4:30 p.m. ET on FOX
A top-five matchup between the two top teams in the Big East. It gets no better in February. The Cintas Center should be electric on Saturday afternoon in Cincy. These two teams have been heading in opposite directions of late. Xavier has won nine straight, scoring at least 96 points in two of its three games in February. Meanwhile, Villanova has lost two of its past three, falling at home to St. John’s as a 16-point favorite and at Providence as a 9.5-point favorite.
Having said that, Villanova has absolutely owned the head-to-head in recent years. The Wildcats handled Xavier with ease in their earlier meeting in Philly by a score of 89-65. And that result was no anomaly, as Villanova leads the all-time series 25-5. Xavier head coach Chris Mack has only defeated Jay Wright once in their 10 previous clashes. Although, some of Xavier’s seniors did experience that one win two years ago at home, where the Musketeers own a perfect 16-0 record this season.
In the early reveal of the NCAA tournament committee’s top 16 seeds, both Xavier and Nova were listed on the 1-line. A win on Saturday would go a long way in helping either secure a top seed in the dance.
With a win, Xavier can take a 2.5 game lead over Villanova in the Big East standings, which would put it one step closer to securing its first ever Big East regular-season title since joining in 2013. Xavier has won 17 regular season championships in program history between the A10 and Horizon, with the last coming in 2011. Conversely, a Nova win would put it 0.5 game back (it plays one more game than Xavier the rest of the way) with a season sweep in hand. A victory would also move Nova to 5-0 against the RPI top 25 and 13-2 against the RPI top 50, putting it right back into the No. 1 seed discussion, even after losing two of three coming into the day.
We’ve got some massive Big East and national implications, to say the least.
By PJ Walsh
It’s been a quiet day so far regarding this matchup, with very little to report regarding sharp action. Fifty-nine percent of spread tickets are laying the points with Xavier, but there hasn’t been enough action on either side to have a major effect on this line.
After a rough 1-2 stretch, Villanova should come in with just as much desperation as a Xavier team that must be tired of hearing how it can’t beat Villanova. No situational edge for either side, as this game will come down to scheme and execution.
By Jordan Majewski
When Villanova Has The Ball
When the Cats are clicking, no team scores more efficiently. They’ve absolutely dominated Xavier in recent years because Wright’s system of multiple ball handlers, shooters, and passers shreds Chris Mack’s pack-line-principled defense and morphing 1-3-1 zone. The first meeting in Philly was more of the same, as Nova built up nearly a 30-point lead and scored 1.25 points per possession (ppp). This time, Xavier will catch a break, as Phil Booth’s broken hand will keep him out for Nova. Booth went off for 21 points in the first game.
“Stopping” Villanova usually means relying on missed jump shots. Teams can’t overload the perimeter, because Jalen Brunson will beat them with penetration, and Wright actually has a post threat this year in Omari Spellman. Villanova is known for its 3-point shooting ability, but the Wildcats also have the 27th-highest field goal percentage at the rim, per hoop-math.com. With Xavier’s defense not exactly known for stringing together stops, you can expect business as usual from the Nova offense, especially after an unfocused effort against Providence. In that game, Villanova turned it over at a season-high 24% rate and hit just 3-of-20 from 3. You basically only get one of those games a year from Nova.
When Xavier Has The Ball
With a 1.21 ppp efficiency rating, this is by far the best offensive team Mack has ever had at Xavier. Considering Wright also has his worst defense in six years, Xavier might actually score that second ever win over Nova in Big East play. Xavier dominates in the post, scoring there in the 93rd percentile nationally, per Synergy. The Musketeers also take shots at the rim at the 17th-highest rate. With two freshmen big men trying to pick up Wright’s constantly switching man-to-man defense, Nova’s post defense has struggled. That trend should continue today against Sean O’Mara and Kerem Kanter, whom Mack rotates to keep them both fresh. Those two have been a revelation in terms of post efficiency.
It’s no secret that Trevon Bluiett has been terrible in his career against Villanova. With the lengthy Mikal Bridges switching onto Bluiett in recent matchups, the Xavier guard just hasn’t been able to find offense. After a 37-point outburst against Seton Hall, a supremely confident Bluiett would surely love to finally hang a big number on Nova in the last “mega” home game of his career at Cintas (XU still has one home game left with Providence).
What the Metrics Say
By Bryan Mears
Both squads rank in the top-five in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, but on defense, Xavier simply doesn’t match up well against Villanova. Nova makes 3s at the 19th-highest percentage nationally, while Xavier ranks 296th in 3-point percentage defense. (As mentioned above, Nova has struggled from deep of late: 17-of-71 (23.9%) over its past three games.) Nova ranks 12th in transition; Xavier ranks 287th in defending transition opportunities. Nova typically has an upper hand by not turning the ball over, which should be the case today against a Xavier team that ranks 322nd in turning opponents over. The talented Musketeers get their Big East rival at home this time, but Nova statistically matches up against them as well as any team in the country.
NBA Outlook: Mikal Bridges (Villanova)
By Bryan Mears
Most of the NBA Draft buzz is around dynamic freshmen like Trae Young, DeAndre Ayton, and Marvin Bagley. But don’t forget about Villanova junior Mikal Bridges, who has improved steadily over his college career and is now projected as a potential lottery pick.
He is long at 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, and fits the mold of the perfect 3-and-D NBA wing. Offensively, he can knock down a variety of shots, and has even shot 40.3 percent from 3 this season. Bridges plays a highly efficient game and knows how to finish at the rim (about 80% for his career). As an 84% free throw shooter, he projects as a knock-down guy in the NBA.
Bridges is also a beast on the other end of the floor. He can defend across all guard and wing positions, and he’s solid at creating steals and blocking shots. He may not ever be a high-usage scorer, but we’ve seen the value of wings in the NBA grow. Just think how a guy like Shane Battier affected the NBA Finals a few years ago. Or how important Robert Covington is to the 76ers future.
By Evan Abrams and John Ewing
Top-five teams favored in conference games are 475-566-24 ATS (45.6%) since 2005. If the conference rival is ranked, the favorite is 86-116-6 ATS (42.6%). At the time of publication, Nova was a slight favorite in this matchup.
Wright and Mack have faced off 10 times while at Villanova and Xavier, respectively. Eight of the 10 were decided by double-digits. Wright is 9-1 straight-up and against the spread against Mack, covering by an average of 9.9 points.
Since 2005, Wright and Villanova are 13-5 SU and 12-6 ATS on the road following a road loss. That includes 5-1 ATS when the opponent is ranked in the second road game.
What’s Your Favorite Bet?
Jordan: Over 165
Mears: Nova -1.5
Editor’s note: The opinion on this game is from the individual writers, and is based on their research, analysis and perspective. It is independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.
Top photo via Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports