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BYU-West Virginia Preview: Cougars Open as Road Favorites

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Kansas v West Virginia Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

After a week off, BYU travels across the country to Morgantown to take on a dangerous West Virginia team Saturday evening. BYU is currently an 8-point favorite as West Virginia looks to have their first back-to-back wins of the season.

BYU and West Virginia by the Numbers

WVU Record: 8-13

KenPom: 131

NET: 145

Best Wins: Kansas (H), Texas (H), Cincinnati (H)

Losses: Monmouth, SMU, Virginia, St John’s, Pitt, UMass, Radford, Ohio St, Houston, Kansas St, Oklahoma, UCF, Oklahoma State

BYU KenPom: 9

Net: 6

Record: 15-5

Best Wins: San Diego State (H), NC State (N), Arizona State (N), UCF (A), Iowa State (H), Texas (H)

Losses: Utah (A), Cincinnati (H), Baylor (A), Texas Tech (A), Houston (H)

KenPom Prediction: BYU 79, WVU 68— BYU 84% win probability

West Virginia Overview

The Mountaineers might be the most difficult team in the league to forecast. Their lineup and roster has fluctuated all season, but they are finally at full strength. WVU was in on absolute fire in the transfer portal in the offseason, but things went south once head coach Bob Huggins was fired. Many of those transfers stayed, but weren’t eligible for much of the season. Kerr Kriisa missed the first 9 games. UConn transfer Akok Akok missed the month of November after a heart scare. Leading scorer Raequan Battle is one of two transfer guards that wasn’t eligible until late December. Star big man Jesse Edwards broke his wrist December 16 and just returned last week, albeit at less than 100%. That is a LOT of good players that are all playing now. Edwards had 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks in Wednesday’s win over Cincinnati.

WVU is a completely different team on their home court versus on the road. Away from home they are 0-8 this season. In Big 12 play, WVU is 3-1 at home with wins over Kansas, Texas, Cincinnati and a loss versus Kansas State.

One key in this game is the foul line. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in free throw rate. They got to the line 41 times versus Texas, 28 times versus Texas, and 21 times versus Kansas. Big man Jesse Edwards is a load to handle inside and leading scorer RaQuan Battle is one of the nation’s leaders in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. I expect BYU to lose the free throw battle, but they need to avoid a massive discrepancy and limit WVU from the three-point line.

Turnovers will be another thing to watch. Offensively, WVU is dead last for Big 12 only games in turnover margin — their top 4 players all average 2+ turnovers per game. Defensively, they are the fourth best at forcing turnovers and are at their best when that leads to fast break points. West Virginia had 22 points off 13 turnovers in their win over Cincinnati.

West Virginia Players to Watch

Jesse Edwards, Center — Edwards is on the top big men in the country and probably the second best in the Big 12 behind Hunter Dickinson. He is dominant on both sides of the floor, averaging 14.8 points, 8.4 boards, and 1.8 blocks per game. Edwards missed 7 games after breaking his right wrist in mid-December, but has played the last two games and dominated on Wednesday versus Cincinnati. Edwards isn’t much of a threat outside of 5 feet, especially since his wrist isn’t 100% yet, but he is a big-time threat on the boards and protecting the basket.

RaeQuan Battle, Guard — Battle was ineligible WVU’s first 10 games but is the team’s leading scorer since his return. The Montana State transfer averages 15.7 points and 40% shooting from the floor and 26% from three while averaging 6 FTA per game. Battle is shooting just 35% from the floor in Big 12 play and has never averaged more than 1 assist per game in 5 college seasons, but he’s a volume shooter that can be dangerous when he’s on.

Quinn Slazinkski, Forward — The 6-foot-9 stretch 4 is one of the few WVU players that has appeared in each game. The Iona transfer averages 13.7 points per game on 42% shooting from the floor and 35% from deep. Slazinksi attempts 4.5 three pointers per game.

Kerr Kriisa, Guard — BYU was involved in the point guard’s recruitment before he went to Arizona and when he was in the transfer portal this offseason. Kriisa leads the mountaineers with 4.7 assists per game and shoots 42% from 3.

Prediction

West Virginia is healthy and tough to beat in Morgantown. They have some really good individual talent, but oftentimes the individuals are better than the whole. Noah Waterman’s performance is something I’m watching. In his three true road games he has zero total points and is 0-11 from the field. He is averaging 17 points in his last three games and played well in neutral site games versus ASU and NC State, but BYU will need his shooting and rebounding on the road.

Offensively I think BYU will have some success. West Virginia isn’t a great defensive team and outside of Edwards aren’t a great rebounding team. West Virginia will test BYU’s defense with big man Jesse Edwards, their ability to draw fouls, and propensity to hit threes at home. BYU will need to limit at least one of those things if they want to win. If they limit two of the three, I think BYU can win by double digits. If West Virginia forces BYU to 14+ turnovers and scores in transition, they have a great chance to pull the upset.

BYU may be short handed in the front court and will need a team effort to slow down Edwards.

West Virginia is playing with a lot of confidence and has some great talent, but I think BYU will be focused after a week off and come away with a close road win.

Prediction: BYU 80, West Virginia 78