The NCAA Tournament tips off with No. 8 Maryland battling No. 9 West Virginia on Thursday afternoon. The Terrapins are the higher seed, but the Mountaineers are the betting favorite. West Virginia enters favored by 2 points, with the over/under set at 137.5 points. The winner will likely face top overall seed Alabama.
Let’s make predictions for Thursday’s Round of 64 game and break down why Bob Huggins’ team has the edge.
Maryland vs. West Virginia Prediction
I believe West Virginia will win this game, though the line makes it a tough call considering a close game could be in order. I still see enough in the Mountaineers to side with them at -2.
Maryland’s offense has been consistently inconsistent this season, scoring under 60 points against Michigan, Purdue, Michigan State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and UCLA.
Most importantly, many of these disappointments have come on the road. The Terrapins are 16-1 in College Park and 2-9 on the road this season, the third-worst road record in the Big 12. Their only two road wins came against Minnesota and Louisville, two of the worst power-conference teams. This isn’t a true road game, of course, but Birmingham is not College Park.
West Virginia is battle-tested out of the Big 12, plays at a faster pace than Maryland, and has a pair of notable three-point shooters. Bob Huggins has had more success than Kevin Willard on this stage if that counts for anything. The Mountaineers’ offense should have enough in the tank to break through against Maryland’s defense and advance.
Maryland vs. West Virginia Prediction: West Virginia -2
Maryland vs. West Virginia Odds
West Virginia enters as a 2-point favorite, sitting at -130 on the moneyline. The over/under is 137.5 points.
This should be one of the tighter matchups of the Round of 64. Maryland’s struggles away from home and West Virginia’s Big 12 credibility may be what pushed the Mountaineers into the favored slot against the higher seed.
Maryland vs. West Virginia Matchups
Here are some key matchups that could decide Maryland vs. West Virginia.
Jahmir Young vs. Middling West Virginia Defense
Maryland has been an offensively challenged team at times this season, especially away from home. The path to a Terrapins win without at least a solid effort from Jahmir Young is extremely narrow.
Young averages 16.1 points per game, leading Maryland in field goal attempts and shooting an inconsistent 41.9% from the field. Maryland is 11-3 when Young scores 18+ points and 10-9 when he doesn’t.
Fortunately for the Terps, West Virginia’s defense has shown cracks in Big 12 play. Opponents are shooting 34.1% from three and 44.8% from the field against the Mountaineers, both below-average marks. Some of that may be the attrition of facing great Big 12 offenses – maybe Maryland is an easier challenge out of a defense-first Big Ten – but there’s no excuse for Young not to have a nice offensive showing against this West Virginia team.
Maryland Slow Pace vs. West Virginia Fast Pace
The Big 12 was generally a fast-paced conference this past season, with teams such as Kansas, Kansas State, Texas, and TCU top-100 in possessions per game. West Virginia was 122nd, which still comes in as an above-average mark. Maryland was 338th. The Terrapins are a defense-first team and like to slow the game down.
It’ll be worth monitoring early in this game whether the pace favors Maryland or West Virginia. Can the Terrapins keep up offensively if the Mountaineers start flying up the floor? Will West Virginia be thrown off its game if Maryland can successfully slow everything down?
Maryland is 26th in the nation with 63.2 points allowed per game, but some of that is due to the slow pace – the Terps are 122nd in opponent field goal percentage. We’ve seen Big Ten teams struggle on this stage for this reason. The defense might not be so intimidating if the pace is high, which is one reason for my Maryland vs. West Virginia prediction.