College basketball futures: Grab the value with West Virginia

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Remember when I said I wasn’t planning on adding another college hoops futures — until a buy-low opportunity came about?

Change of plans. Let’s break down West Virginia, which is sitting at a consensus 20-1 in the title futures betting market.

No. 1 Gonzaga was set to match up against No. 13 Tennessee in the Jimmy V Classic on Wednesday, but the game was cancelled because Volunteers coach Rick Barnes tested positive for COVID-19. Now, the No. 11 Mountaineers will square off against the Bulldogs, and their odds would see a dip on the oddsboard with an outright win.

Gonzaga opened as a 7.5-point favorite, and the line is ticking up. But what makes West Virginia so intriguing in this matchup — and especially in March — is their ability to gut its opponents with a slow tempo (17.7-second average possession length). The Mountaineers also produced the highest offensive rebounding rate (OR%) in the country last season (40.1%), and their ability to create second-chance opportunities limits the opposition from speeding up the tempo.

Bob Huggins’ team boasts an elite defense, finishing with the third-lowest Adjusted Defensive Efficiency on KenPom a year ago, and Huggins still throws in his patented full-court press to disrupt a fast-paced opponent and generate turnovers.

Junior big Derek Culver has been one of the main triggers for West Virginia’s success, ranking No. 18 in DR%, No. 104 in OR%, No. 216 in block percentage last season, as well as tallying a 15.1% assist rate. His enhanced mid-range jumper allows the Mountaineers more of an opportunity to spread out their attack, too.

Pairing Culver with fellow forward Oscar Tshiebwe, a dominant rebounder in his own right (No. 1 OR%, No. 46 DR%), gives Huggins one of the top frontcourts in the country.

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Come the NCAA tournament, for better or worse, guard play usually takes center stage. West Virginia’s backcourt is improved — with Miles McBride already lowering his turnover rate (10.1%) against aggressive defenses in Western Kentucky and VCU. Despite the small sample size, look for that to continue, along with sharpshooter Sean McNeil showcasing a reliable handle (11.9%), and Taz Sherman giving the Mountaineers another capable lead guard off the bench.

The Mountaineers turned the ball over at a bottom-60 rate (20.7%) last season, so they’re poised to finish much lower in that department with improved guard play.

Huggins’ unit is the third-most experienced team in the Big 12. West Virginia has a strong chance of finishing top-two in the conference and grabbing at least a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Mountaineers’ offensive efficiency should continue their upward trajectory if McBride, McNeil and Sherman keep improving, making West Virginia a legitimate title contender come March.

It’s time to back “Country Roads” while there is still value at 20-1.