West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Purdue Boilermakers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

West Virginia Mountaineers (11-0 SU, 4-6 ATS) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (12-0 SU, 5-6-1 ATS), 2:30 p.m. EST, Friday, January 1, 2009, Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind. TV: ESPN
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: West Virginia +5/Purdue -5
Over/Under: 137

There are six undefeated teams remaining in college basketball. After Friday, there will be no more than five, as undefeated West Virginia and Purdue face off at Mackey Arena in what should be one of the best matchups of the college basketball season.

Come March, this game will have strong implications towards the seeds of these two teams in the NCAA tournament. The way West Virginia and Purdue are playing right now, both teams look like they will be competing for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, so both teams should be fired up for this incredible matchup.

Purdue’s resume thus far isn’t quite as impressive as West Virginia’s, but both teams are undefeated and that’s all that counts right now. The Boilermakers got a down-to-the-wire one-point win over Tennessee on November 23 in the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam that really got them rolling in the right direction. In the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on December 1, Purdue got an 11-point win at home over Wake Forest. On December 12, the Boilermakers found themselves down by 16 points in the second half at Alabama but found a way to battle back for an eight-point victory. Purdue’s stifling defense held Alabama without a field goal for the last 8:45 of the game. On Tuesday, the Boilermakers opened Big Ten play with a tough 67-56 win at Iowa.

Purdue has an experienced team that has been together for a few years and is well-coached by Matt Painter. The trio of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson leads the Boilermakers. Moore (16.4 ppg) is a scoring guard with the ability to create his own shot, Hummel (14.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) is a combo forward with the ability to post up down low or shoot from the perimeter, and Johnson (13.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.1 bpg) is a 6-foot-10 center with long arms who can dominate around the rim.

West Virginia has faced some tough competition this season, earning wins over Texas A&M, Portland, Mississippi, Seton Hall and Marquette. The last two weeks have been especially interesting for the Mountaineers. In their first true road game, they played at Cleveland State and needed a layup by Da’Sean Butler with 1.2 seconds left to break a 78-78 tie and get the last-second victory. Four days later, on December 23, they got their only win over a ranked team thus far over Mississippi by 10 points. Last Saturday, they opened up Big East play on the road at Seton Hall. The Mountaineers blew a 10-point lead with 45 seconds left after a couple of miraculous 3-pointers by Jeremy Hazell, and they needed overtime to hold off Seton Hall. On Tuesday, the Mountaineers found themselves engaged in a tough battle with a much smaller Marquette team. It was Butler once again saving the day, as he made a crazy fade-away jumper with two seconds remaining to get his team a one-point victory.

West Virginia is led by the talented trio of versatile, long forwards Butler (16.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg), Devin Ebanks (14.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and Kevin Jones (15.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg). The three of them are combining to average 46.2 points and 22.5 rebounds per game.

Statistically, Purdue’s biggest strengths this season are its defense and its turnover margin. The Boilermakers are holding opponents to under 40 percent from the field. They are turning the ball over less than 12 times per game while forcing almost 19 turnovers per game. West Virginia’s biggest strength is its rebounding ability, as the Mountaineers are out-rebounding their opponents by nearly nine boards per game. Both of these teams are very tough defensively and score the large majority of their points around the basket. Purdue’s biggest advantage will be Johnson, as West Virginia doesn’t usually play a real big man. It could be tough for Ebanks, Butler or whoever else may guard him to stop Johnson. Neither team is particularly great from 3-point territory, so if either team can knock down some outside shots it will be a key to which team wins the game.

Purdue is 1-4 ATS in its last five games. West Virginia is 9-4 ATS in its last 13 games following an ATS loss. The over is 4-0 in West Virginia’s last four road games and 4-1 in WVU’s last five games following an ATS loss.

Ryno’s Pick: This game will be an intense physical battle at both ends of the court. Purdue is great at forcing turnovers and forcing opponents to attempt tough shots. The Boilermakers have a strong advantage in the turnover and rebounding department, plus they play better defense, so it’s hard to pinpoint any advantage that the Mountaineers have. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble, that’s another advantage that the Boilermakers can exploit. Plus, the Mountaineers have had some tough games in the last two weeks that they were lucky to win. Purdue is at home and the crowd should be wild for this huge matchup, so expect the Boilermakers to play their best basketball and win a low-scoring battle. Take Purdue to cover the spread.