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The West Virginia Mountaineers begin their season Friday night with a home against the Akron Zips. West Virginia was picked to finish fifth in the 10-team Big 12, while Akron was slated to place ninth in the Mid-American Conference. The Mountaineers went 15-21 and missed the NCAA Tournament last season for just the third time in 12 years under head coach Bob Huggins. Akron, who began the year 1-0 with a 81-64 win over Malone University, went 17-16 last year.
West Virginia returns sophomore forward Derek Culver, who led the Big 12 in rebounds in league play at 10.9/g. The Mountaineers add freshman and McDonald's All-American forward Oscar Tshiebwe. They'll be asked to guide a team that lost its top three scorers from a year ago. Akron received double digits in scoring from five players in its opening win. The Zips, led by head coach John Groce, ranked No. 22 in the NCAA and led the MAC last year in defensive efficiency.
Akron returns one of best defenses in countryThe Akron Zips made a splash hire two years ago by bringing in former Illinois head coach John Groce. In his second season, Groce coached Akron to a winning record boosted by a defense that ranked in the top-10 nationally in opposing 3-pt field goal percentage (29.3). Akron returns three starters from a year ago including scoring leader, guard Loren Christian Jackson.
In Akron's 81-64 victory over Malone Tuesday night, the Zips received 17 points from junior transfer Camron Reece. Reece and senior guard Channel Banks both formerly played together at Sheridan College (WY). Banks scored 15 points against Malone with all his scoring coming from downtown.
Akron's hallmark of strong 3-point defense continued against Malone, as the Zips held their opponent to 4-18 from outside. Akron also forced 15 turnovers. The Zips will look to force West Virginia into plenty of bad looks from outside, as the Mountaineers were the worst 3-point shooting team in the Big 12 last season.
Rebounding key for MountaineersThe West Virginia Mountaineers put together a disappointing non-conference performance last season with losses to Buffalo, Western Kentucky, and Rhode Island. WVU then started 0-5 in Big 12 play before upsetting No. 7 Kansas in mid January. By then, the Mountaineers had no real shot at the Big Dance as an at-large team and ultimately settled for a CBI berth. WVU will look for a much stronger start this year.
Head coach Bob Huggins was unimpressed with his team's 78-70 exhibition win over Duquesne last week, lamenting their shooting and rebounding effort. WVU, one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the nation last year, made just six of 23 attempts, but the rebounding was superb -- the Mountaineers won the margin on the glass 48-35. WVU returns Derek Culver, the top rebounder in the Big 12, and adds star freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe.
Guard play will likely be the biggest concern for the Mountaineers. WVU ranked last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage, turnover margin, and assist/turnover ratio. WVU needs a big senior year from 6'7 guard Jermaine Haley. Haley missed the Duquesne game with a back injury, so it's questionable whether he'll be at full health.
- Mountaineers are 0-4 ATS in their last four Friday games.
The top supporting trends for this game, found on Covers.com, are:
- Zips are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games overall.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
The Akron Zips, led by former Illinois head coach John Groce, play a lockdown defense that excels at limiting good looks from the outside. West Virginia was one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the Big 12 last season, so don't expect the Mountaineers to light it up shooting the ball. Akron will look to keep WVU into playing a slow, low-possession game which will result in the Zips remaining competitive throughout. Go with Akron here.
Prediction: Akron +11
Full-Game Total Pick
West Virginia's offense struggled to produce points for much of last season. The Mountaineers should be improved offensively, but I don't expect them to come out firing Friday, especially with senior guard Jermaine Haley still regaining full health. Akron was a solid defensive team last season and should force the Mountaineers into some tough looks. The under is 12-2 in the Zips' last 14 road games (covers.com).
Prediction: Under 144