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850 Gang Preview: West Virginia vs. Murray State - NCAA Tournament - Round of 64

West Virginia's first round foe enters Friday riding high on a 13-game win streak. My buddies and I discussed the matchup.

It should come as no surprise to anyone at this point that West Virginia University athletics are a big part of my life. It should also come as no surprise, then, that around that world there are several well-established routines: where I watch our games, what I wear, what I eat, what I drink, even who I watch with. An extension of that last point are the text chains, and especially those with two of my ever-present GameDay companions, Andy Altemus and Jeff Lindsay. These guys are as die-hard as they come, and as such, our conversations are always fairly animated, continuous streams of unbridled enthusiasm laced with equal parts gripe and praise. I'd hate to hear what a shrink might say were they to read through some of them (especially as the adult beverages begin to take their toll), but I'm also sure that everyone reading this can identify with that to some extent. However, we’ve also watched A LOT of West Virginia sports between the three of us, so occasionally there’s some decently insightful comments sprinkled in with all the other craziness. Today we discussed Friday’s matchup...

Jeff: Some quick notes on Murray State - they are more of a complete team than you would think.. several players averaging double digits, but the two main guys are Stark and the big man Miller. Stark handles the ball, but doesn’t have to. Scores in a variety of ways either at the basket and obviously 3's (109 made this year). Very crafty. Look for us to throw Jevon and Dax at him depending on how much ball handling he will be doing. Big guy is a serious threat. Shoots over 39% from 3 with 65 made this year. Sags hasn’t had to guard too many big man shooters this year besides Wade so keep an eye on that. X factor for them is Morant. 6’3 freshman guard with similar athleticism to Dax. Not a great shooter but a ball player. Averages 12.6 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, and 6.4 assists per. Everyone on their team seems to have some bounce so we can’t sleep on their athleticism. They like to get out and run and dunk, so transition D is critical. They also take good care of the ball so it’ll be interesting to see if we can do our normal thing and get them playing sloppy. Haven’t looked into their defense much but as a top 20 offense I feel we shouldn’t have much trouble scoring. Work it through Sags and get some shooters good looks.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament Championship-West Virginia vs Kansas William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Andy: Nice. My answer to most of that is Ohio Valley Conference [OVC] play vs Big 12 play. If we can wear out Baylor like we did last week, I think we will overwhelm them in a way they haven’t seen at all this year. I'm going to imagine they won’t try to attack Sags unless they have a death wish, so I think we can cheat a little more towards the corners to force them in. Don’t think we will leave a lot of uncovered open threes. Harass them. Force them to the middle, and if we shoot halfway decent, I think we win 71-58.

Jeff: I was thinking 13-point victory as well.. but they are good at driving and dumping off so when Sags comes over to block we have to slide the next guy over or they will have a field day jamming in our face.

Andy: I think we scout really well. And we have 5 days to prep. The stage, the travel, it all swings in our favor. The farthest game they played away was at Detroit; the closest game we played other than Pitt was Iowa State.

Jeff: I said before the tourney the two teams I didn’t want to face were South Dakota State and Murray State. I see a lot of potential struggles they can present us. The one thing they probably haven’t seen too much of is big strong forwards like Esa. If he comes to play we won’t have any issues. We can probably dominate the boards too as long as we are hungry to win.. and JC should have us hungry.

Pinto: On my first pass the first thing I noticed is that they’re relatively small (nobody over 6’8 and only a handful over 6’5). We should be longer at almost every spot, and that size advantage should bode well for Routt’s ability to spell Sags if necessary. Just be big and in the right spots. Another thing - they had less blocks as a team this year (98, 211th nationally) than Sags did by himself (approx 8000), and nobody on the team averages more than 1 per game. If they can’t/don’t protect rim, it could be a Teddy Buckets X factor game - one of those 18 points in 14 minutes type of deals.

Jeff: I love the Teddy Buckets look.

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Pinto: Esa's a good look too - they don’t seem to rebound it too well either (165th nationally) so hopefully he/we can dominate there. Maybe even mitigate their transition game a bit by crashing offensive glass. To Andy's point, they do shoot 3's well as a team (38%) so I can’t imagine we cheat off too much.

Andy: I think also they might get in foul trouble more than we will because of our speed - they aren’t used to that. That is, if we actually move. We’ve been known to run the “let’s all stand completely still and do nothing til the shot clock is at 4” offense. If we run them though it might be tough for them to keep up. Big 12 speed. They only play 8 guys too, and against Auburn they played their starting 5 the whole game. Bench guys only got 29 minutes combined.

Pinto: Yea, was gonna say, you’d think we would have depth advantage.

Jeff: Depth advantage for sure.. but I think their speed might surprise us.

Pinto: Overall I think I agree - barring an outlier shooting performance on either side I think we win by 10 or so.

So there you have it. Murray State is one of the premier mid-majors in the country (if that makes sense), and are especially good on the offensive end of the floor. They’re in the top 50 nationally in FG% and 3P%, and average nearly 80 points per game. They’re also pretty good at forcing opponents into bad shots, ranking in the top 30 nationally in opponent FG% and 3P%. However, they haven’t played many, if any, teams like us. They’ve probably only seen one team with comparable size and athleticism (Auburn), and they haven’t seen anybody who came at them for 40 minutes like we’re about to. If JC and Dax can win their backcourt matchup with Stark and Morant, I expect us to cruise. LET’S GOOOO!