WVU Basketball’s Stellar Start Has Team Ranked And Thinking March Madness

Posted on December 27, 2019

The WVU Mountaineers basketball team is off to an incredible start this season. Through their first 11 games, coach Bob Huggins and his squad are 10-1 and on top of the Big 12 Conference standings.

After shaking off their only defeat in a tough game with St. John’s, the Mountaineers have won three straight in commanding fashion. WVU beat Austin Peay and Nicholls by 57 combined points in front of the home crowd in Morgantown.

It then took down Youngstown State in its latest game on the road, leaving with a 75-64 victory.

The Mountaineers’ hot start earned them a spot in the AP Top 25 last week as the 25th-ranked team in the nation. This week, they’ve moved three spots and currently sit at No. 22.

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While their play has been great so far, the schedule has certainly helped matters. That changes this week when WVU begins a very difficult stretch of games.

It starts with a contest against the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. They’re regarded as one of the best teams in the country and are coming off a six-point win against No. 6 Kentucky.

WVU will then start conference play with the class of the Big 12. On Jan. 4, the Mountaineers will celebrate the new year in Lawrence against the Kansas Jayhawks.

Besides KU, the conference is looking strong once again. Both Baylor and Texas Tech are also ranked in the top 25.

Although college football is wrapping up, sportsbooks are still seeing plenty of betting action. The three active retail books, as well as the online sports betting apps in West Virginia, are consistently generating over $7 million in weekly betting handle.

Let’s examine what’s been going right for the Mountaineers and take a look ahead toward the rest of 2020.

Oscar Tshiebwe’s Growth

Freshman Oscar Tshiebwe is one of the brightest parts of this team and a key contributor to its 10-1 record. The 6’9” forward from the Congo is growing into a leader and someone coach Huggins can rely on for production.

Tshiebwe leads WVU in scoring with about 13 points per game. He’s currently second on the team in rebounds with 9.3 boards per game. Tshiebwe only trails Derek Culver who averages 9.4.

The freshman also shows up big on the defensive end of the floor as well. He averages over a half a steal per contest and leads the team with 13 blocks.

A great sign for the Mountaineers is that Tshiebwe is starting to play as well as his statistics show more consistently.

He’s scored double-digit points in five of the last six matchups, all while shooting at least 43% from the field. In those six games, Tshiebwe’s totaled 61 rebounds and has only committed 12 turnovers.

Another part of his game that’s progressed is his ability to get to the free-throw line.

In the Mountaineers’ first five games, Tshiebwe shot just 11 free throws. However, in their last six, he’s connected on 26 of 42 attempts.

As a big man who does most of his damage from the paint, it’s crucial for Tshiebwe to get to the charity stripe and convert. By drawing more fouls, he’s able to get his opponents in foul trouble and force coaches to turn to their bench options much more often.

On the other end of the floor, Tshiebwe is playing smarter and committing fewer fouls himself. In WVU’s last three games, he’s only had three total fouls.

While guard play is extremely important in college basketball, having a reliable big in your frontcourt can create a lot of headaches for other teams. If WVU wants to contend for the Big 12 title this year, Tshiebwe will need to be a vital piece of the unit.

WVU Basketball Predictions

Even though the Mountaineers will be underdogs in their next two matchups against Ohio State and Kansas, they could be favorable options at WV sportsbooks as betting on college basketball in West Virginia becomes the focus.

According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, WVU has around a 28% chance to beat the Buckeyes and an 18% chance to take down the Jayhawks. While these percentages won’t excite WVU fans, it could be a good sign for those wagering on the team.

There is no direct correlation to ESPN’s percentage and what the point spread will be at WV sportsbooks, but the fact that they’re so low is telling. WVU should be decent-sized underdogs in both, with the road affair at Kansas seeing even more points.

In its last game against Kentucky, KU was four-point favorites at a neutral-site in Las Vegas. Based on that, it seems as though WVU will be receiving closer to 10 points in its game at Kansas.

As far as the OSU game is concerned, the spread should be somewhat similar.

Despite the game not taking place at the Buckeyes’ regular home stadium in Columbus, it is still being played in Cleveland, Ohio. This will create just as much of a home-court advantage as opposed to playing at an actual neutral location.

Though it will be two very difficult games, the Mountaineers have shown thus far they have a very capable team. Winning these games outright might be too tall of an order, but WVU can certainly cover a sizable spread.

If it could pull off the upset in either matchup, then WVU will be making quite the statement to the rest of the conference.

WVU Betting Odds

Although there are no lines out for either of the next two games, there are some updated futures odds available. Here are the current odds for WVU basketball according to both online apps available in the state:

 DraftKings SportsbookFanDuel Sportsbook
Big 12 Conference Champion+600+700
Final Four Appearance+900+900
National Champions+4000+3500
Updated: Jan. 6, 2019
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Chris Imperiale

Chris Imperiale covers sports betting and the online casino industries. He has a journalism degree from Rutgers University and was formerly on staff at Bleacher Report.

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