The percentages suggest West Virginia’s season will end on Friday night in Boston Garden against Villanova—the Mountaineers are a 5 ½ point underdog to a Wildcat team that’s the favorite to win the NCAA title. But in a March where percentages get torn up left and right, West Virginia basketball’s national championship odds deserve a second look.
The Mountaineers are a 12-1 shot to cut down the nets in San Antonio. That puts WVA right in the middle of the board, with La Vegas effectively ranking them eighth among the 16 remaining teams in the title chase.
If you’re skeptical about West Virginia, that’s reasonable. You can argue the Mountaineers are at this point only because of a soft draw, beating Murray State and Marshall. Bob Huggins and WVA were the beneficiary of Wichita State’s surprise early exit.
You can also point to the fact that West Virginia was a rather pedestrian 11-7 in Big 12 play this year. Or that they lost all three games they played to Kansas and lost two of their three signature non-conference games (Virginia, Texas A&M, Kentucky). Their entire resume basically shouts that they while they might be legitimately good enough to be at this level, the ceiling has been reached.
But there’s a flip side and it starts with this—this West Virginia team does something its immediate predecessors didn’t do much of, and that’s run a consistent offense. Huggins’ teams have a deserved reputation for their defensive intensity, but one of the hidden facts of this year is that West Virginia ranks 11th in the country in offensive efficiency.
The last time WVA had an offense of this caliber was 2010. And what happened in 2010? The Mountaineers made the Final Four and ousted the tournament favorite (Kentucky, with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins) along with the way.
It’s the guards that lead the way. The backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles combines to average 30 points/8 rebounds/10 assists per game. The three-point shooting is suspect, with only Carter being really consistent from behind the arc. But for the short-term, that might be just as well on Friday night when getting into a long-range shooting contest against Villanova would be deadly.
If West Virginia can get by Villanova, you can make a strong argument they are simply a better team than either Texas Tech or an Isaac Hass-less Purdue that would await on Sunday. And by the time we get to the Final Four, who knows how many other favorites will fall by the wayside.
Those that put money behind their opinions really have to decide on West Virginia right away. If they upset Villanova, the odds will sharply drop. Especially the odds on simply getting to the Final Four, where the Mountaineers are an attractive 5-1.
Success has been a long time coming for West Virginia basketball. Prior to that 2010 Final Four run, the program’s only notable moment had been when Jerry West got them to the national final in 1959. The Mountaineers are usually competitive, but never elite. If they beat Villanova, greatness will finally be in their grasp