(5) West Virginia v. (4) Maryland
Time: 7:45 PM ET, TV: TruTV
Spread: MAR -1
Betting odds c/o Bovada
West Virginia narrowly escaped a 5 v. 12 matchup against Buffalo in the second round to advance to a far tougher matchup against Maryland. Despite the strength of the Terrapins, NCAA basketball oddsmakers set the line just one-point in favor over Maryland. The total is set at 138 and the game will be aired on TruTV.
In the win over Buffalo, the Mountaineers balanced its scoring by putting three players in double figures and sharing the wealth. Though Buffalo shot a better percentage (slightly) from the field, WV got to the line 27 times and hit 19, while also knocking down five triples. Moreover, WV forced 17 turnovers, and if it can wreak that kind of havoc in Sunday night’s action against Maryland, it will have a good shot at advancing to the Sweet 16.
The West Virginia Mountaineers came into this tournament as losers of three of its past four games, two ‘Ls’ to Baylor and an OT loss to Kansas. A victory over Oklahoma State was sandwiched in between, but the Mountaineers are going to need to recapture the mojo it had when it reeled off 15 of 16 over a stretch dating from the season opener against Monmouth through a big win over then-No. 18 Oklahoma on Jan 13.
West Virginia basically fell apart in its final regular season game, getting outscored by Baylor 42-34 in the second half. Jaysean Paige came off the bench to score 18 point and hit four threes, while the Mountaineers as a team knocked down 9 of 24 (37.5 percent). In addition to Paige’s explosion off the Mountaineers’ bench, it also got 18 points from forward Devin Williams.
Williams is the Mountaineers’ second leading scorer at 11.3 points per game while also snagging 8.2 boards per game. The 6’9” sophomore big man has improved greatly over his freshman campaign last year, shooting 3 percent better from the floor and increasing his scoring average by nearly three points per game. His free throw shooting leaves some to be desired, but the 69 percent he’s shot this season easily trumps the 57 percent brickfest from a year ago.
What may give WV problems is that its leading scorer Juwan Staten is nursing a leg injury, though he is listed as probable to play (and let’s be real, he will, this is March Madness). Staten averaged 14.5 points and 4.6 assists per game this season while knocking down 35 percent from three-point range. What is going to hurt WV is that it is a poor free throw shooting team at just 66 percent.
Maryland boasted a 27-6 regular season record with a 14-4 mark in the Big Ten. It lost to Michigan State 62-58 on Mar 14 to close its season, and it came despite getting a big game from forward Melo Trimble, who shot 7 of 16 while hitting four threes en route to 22 points. Removing his four threes, the rest of the team shot 4 of 11 from behind the arc—subpar. The 6’2” freshman guard may lack experience, but he makes up for it in poise. This season he averaged 16.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists. He’s also notched 21, 17 and 22 point in his past three contests while connecting on at least two threes in each of those games. He averages just 11.5 shot attempts on the season, but with the postseason here that number is due to increase.
Maryland barely held on in second round play against Valaparaiso. It got 14 points from Trible and another 14 from Wells, but Jared Nickens came off the bench to score 14 points on seven field goal attempts, all threes (hitting four). Strangely, in a winning effort, Maryland assisted on just nine of its 19 field goals. Get to the line, it did though. Maryland attempted 24 foul shots and knocked down a solid 18.
Defensively, the Terrapins were able to force some turnovers too, coming up with 10 blocks/steals as a team in the affair. Alpo trailed by four at the half and out-scored Maryland by a point in the second, and it could be an indication that Maryland is starting to wilt. Defense was what won the game for the Terrapins, despite allowing the Valpo Cruisers to launch 27 threes, 12 of which reached the bottom of the net. Maryland has the interior strength to keep Devin Williams in check, which is a major x-factor in the game due to the intangible and uncounted contributions he makes within a game.
Beyond Trimble’s play in the backcourt, the Terrapins also get big production from 6’5” senior swingman Dez Wells who posted 15.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in his senior season this year. Wells has been a productive player all three of his seasons at Maryland after transferring from Xavier following the 2011-12 season. His workload has increased, but only with a slight down tick in efficiency from the field. And that’s been more than compensated by his three-point marksman ship, as he knocks down 50 percent from behind the arc. His 80 percent free throw shooting will come in hand in late game situations. The problem for Wells is turnovers. He commits 3.1 per game and has averaged 2.5 or more the past three years, none of which have featured him averaging more than three dimes per.