Sweet 16: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Xavier Musketeers Preview and Pick

(7) West Virginia Mountaineers (26-10), -1, o/u 136 vs. (3) Xavier Musketeers (29-6), +1, o/u 136, U.S. Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona, 7:10 p.m. Eastern, Thursday
by Oracle of Predictem.com

In order for a No. 7 seed to get to a Sweet 16, they would
more than likely have to come up with a big upset along the way. Such is
the case with the West Virginia Mountaineers, who beat No. 2 seed Duke,
73-67, to get to the Sweet 16 under new coach Bob Huggins.

West Virginia will keep trying to stave off all the naysayers when they match up with No. 3 seed Xavier on Thursday in Phoenix.

Although, it does look like the books are giving WVU some respect, as they come into the game as favorites -1 according to most online bookies. The over/under is set at 136 as well.

The Musketeers needed a comeback win against Georgia, 73-61, in the first round and held off Purdue, 85-78, in the second round to get to the Sweet 16. Xavier, well known for its stellar defense, has given up an unusual 69.5 points in the first two rounds, but their offense has been consistent.

Led by a very well balanced team that includes three starting seniors, the Musketeers looked to be poised for an Elite 8 run. Stanley Burrell is a shut down defender who held Purdue’s leading scorer E’Twaun Moore to just 7-of-18 shooting.

Meanwhile, Drew Lavender is a crafty point guard who can dish (9 assists versus Purdue) and score (15.5 points in the first two rounds). Josh Duncan is the leader in the frontcourt. The 6-foot 9-inch senior is averaging 16 points in the tournament so far and has been to the free throw line 18 times, making 15 of them.

The Mountaineers are playing their best basketball of the year. After beating the likes of UConn in the Big East Tournament, they were basically underdogs heading into their first round game against the No. 10 seed Arizona Wildcats before putting them away, 75-65.

Joe Alexander has been huge for West Virginia, recording a double-double (22 points, 11 rebounds) against Duke in their upset win. They’ve also gotten huge contributions off of their bench. Joe Mazzulla was the X-factor against the Blue Devils, coming off the bench to score 13 points, grab 11 rebounds, and dish out eight assists.

Xavier’s Burrell was the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year, but as a 6’3″ guard, he won’t face up against the much taller Alexander (6’8″). Therefore, the match up to watch will be between Alexander and Duncan down low. Duncan did get into a bit of foul trouble against Purdue, committing four and playing only 17 minutes. Alexander also has the ability to spread the court with his three-point shooting touch.

The Musketeers covered both lines in the first two rounds of the tourney, and both point totals went over the set mark. Xavier is 15-16 ATS on the year and 4-2 ATS on neutral courts this season.

Xavier loves being the underdog in tournament games, though, going 6-0 ATS in their last six when dogs. They’re also 11-2 ATS on neutral sites as underdogs.

West Virginia is 16-13-1 ATS on the year, and 5-4 against the spread on neutral sites. However, similar to Xavier, they’re 8-0-1 ATS in their last nine tournament games and 4-0 ATS when they are favorites.

The Musketeers still have the bad taste of last year’s meltdown against No. 1 seed Ohio State, where they blew a double-digit lead in the second half. West Virginia, on the other hand, wasn’t even supposed to get this far, making them just as dangerous.

Oracle’s Pick: Take West Virginia at -1 to advance to the Great 8.