by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
January 29th, 2021
Florida at #11 West Virginia
Spread: West Virginia (-6); O/U: 148.5
Time/Location: 2:00 ET, WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia
Florida Gators (9-4, 6-3)
Florida is a team who has nothing expected of them based on the awful events that have conspired this season for their team. They lost the heart and soul of their team, Keyontae Johnson, to a very scary incident during a game earlier this season and will be without him for the rest of the season. While it would have been easy for the Gators to give up on the season, they’ve instead become one of the toughest outs in the country, just like when Louisville lost Kevin Ware in their run to the National Title.
Now Florida aren’t National Championship good, but they’re good enough to put up a very tough fight in any game they play. Florida have turned to the likes of Tre Mann and Colin Castleton to pick up the slack that was left in Johnson’s absence in the meantime. Man is posting 14 points per game while Castleton is coming in just under 13. Mann is a menace from deep, hitting well over 41% of his tries while Castleton is a traditional big, blocking shots and grabbing boards. Scottie Lewis, Tyree Appleby, and Noah Locke are the players that make Florida such a tough team, though. Instead of having off and on players deeper in the roster, the Gators have consistent performers everywhere. Those five players are averaging over double figures scoring and each brings value in some other part of the game that helps the team mesh perfectly.
The defense, especially on the perimeter, could be a lot better. Florida gives up a lot of points and that gets them in trouble down the stretch where most of their players are relatively inexperienced at being “the man” in big moments. Usually someone is able to step up, but lacking the go-to player in Johnson is a huge issue in those cases. In a normal year Florida would be a contender for the division, but in a big season for a lot of unassuming SEC teams, the disaster-struck Gators can just strive to play their best basketball.
West Virginia Mountaineers (11-4, 4-3)
West Virginia also lost a player this season, not in as dire circumstances as Florida, but a loss nevertheless. Oscar Tshiebwe, one of the ebay players at the program, decided to transfer to Kentucky midseason and leave the program, but it hasn’t really affected the Mountaineers in the way I expected it might. After a long layoff, West Virginia handled Kansas State before beating Texas Tech in shocking and reassuring fashion. The victory, slim as it may be, over the Red Raiders proved that the four out system that the Mountaineers are running is sustainable, even in such a heavyweight Big 12 like this one.
The biggest loss in regard to Tshiebwe was on the boards and defense, his limited role this season holding his scoring to a lower number than it could have been. I expected Derek Culver to post the numbers he currently is, but what I didn’t expect was for him to not lead the team at that clip. Despite scoring 13 points per game, Culver is being outdone by Miles McBride who is averaging about 16. McBride is playing exceptionally well behind the arc, shooting 47% from three (on just 3.7 attempts per game) with good assist to turnover numbers and a very big effect on the defensive end. The fact that the sophomore has already developed into a shooter and stopper is a huge win for this team. Culver’s production is still very good as he’s pulling down plenty of rebounds.
The defense isn’t perfect for this irregular West Virginia team, but it’s still good enough. They’re running teams off the line well and though they aren’t blocking a lot of shots, they’re winning the turnover battle and rebounding well. West Virginia is one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the country and getting those extra chances for McBride, the hot-handed Taz Sherman, and Sean McNeil is a huge deal. This team is really deep and though the loss of Tshiebwe hurts, it’s far from crippling.
Analysis and Pick
This is a really interesting game because while on paper West Virginia should be winning by a margin in this game, Florida has been great recently, beating Tennessee handily and scoring a lot of points. That poses a problem for West Virginia, but not one they can’t overcome. The six point spread is a bit rich for me, but I do like the over in this match. West Virginia and Florida both have very adept scorers and getting to 70 apiece on these defenses shouldn’t be a huge task. There’s plenty of options to score on each team and I’m expecting some high pace regardless, so let’s hope for points. Take the over, the best number I found was 147 points.