No. 1 Baylor Hosts No. 14 West Virginia in a Pivotal Big 12 Clash This Saturday

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 14, 2020

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins
West Virginia head coach Bob HugginsJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

Everyone loves a good unstoppable force vs. immovable object debate in the world of sports, but Saturday's men's college basketball battle between No. 14 West Virginia and No. 1 Baylor will be more like two immovable defenses against two offenses that typically don't shoot that well in the first place.

Spoiler alert: We're not expecting a ton of points.

As far as KenPom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency is concerned, it doesn't get much better than this. West Virginia ranks second in the nation while Baylor is close behind at No. 4. At least in that regard, this game holds a similarity to last year's national championship between Virginia and Texas Tech.

While Baylor doesn't begin its defense 94 feet from the basket anywhere near as often as "Press Virginia" does, both teams have been a nightmare to score against.

Each team forces turnovers on better than 22 percent of defensive possessions and ranks top-15 in two-point field-goal defense. And for both sides, the latter encourages more of the former. They do such a superb job of rotating and anticipating entry passes that even whiffed steal attempts rarely turn into clean looks at the rim.

Each defense has held 13 opponents under 60 points with a handful of quality foes on those lists.

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Baylor limited Butler to 52 and stifled Arizona in a 63-58 defensive war. West Virginia shut down both Ohio State (59 points) and Northern Iowa (55). And in three games against Kansastwo by WVU, one by Baylorthe Jayhawks have yet to eclipse 60. All five of those teams rank in the top 30 in adjusted offensive efficiency, yet they each looked helpless against the Bears and Mountaineers.

A swarm of Baylor defenders ready to swat away an Oklahoma State field-goal attempt
A swarm of Baylor defenders ready to swat away an Oklahoma State field-goal attemptRod Aydelotte/Associated Press

On the other side of that coin, both Baylor and West Virginia have left much to be desired on offense.

Baylor is No. 1 in the AP poll, but it is No. 177 in effective field-goal percentage. The Bears have had more games with a field-goal percentage below 35.0 (four) than they have had games above 50.0 (three), and they have only shot better than 45.2 percent once in their last 12 games.

To put those numbers in context with other title contenders, Duke has had just one game below 35 percent and 11 north of 50. Gonzaga is at zero and 15, respectively.

And our cautionary note before you tune in for this marquee game is that Baylor is easily the better of these two offenses. West Virginia's effective field-goal percentage rank is 273rd, and it commits a turnover on 21.0 percent of possessions, which ranks 293rd.

The Mountaineers get to the free-throw line a ton, but they rank among the worst in the nation at converting on those many opportunities, shooting 64.3 percent as a team. They have gone over the 80-point threshold eight times this season, but that's much more a product of their defense and frantic pace of play than any sort of proficiency at putting the ball through the hoop.

There is one thing both Baylor and West Virginia do extremely well on offense, and that's getting back their own misses. The 'Eers lead the nation in offensive rebound percentage. The Bears rank fourth. Both teams are relatively average on the defensive glass, too, so there should be quite a few second- and third-chance opportunities in this game.

Make no mistake about it, though: This is likely going to be a rock fight. Baylor only scored 52 against Texas on Monday. West Virginia was held to 49 by Kansas on Wednesday. Something along the lines of a 48-45 contest that ends with a never-had-a-chance brick at the buzzer is well within the realm of possibility here.

And while neither team desperately needs this low-scoring victory in order to make the NCAA tournament, it's much more of a must-win affair for the visiting Mountaineers.

West Virginia's Derek Culver
West Virginia's Derek CulverBrad Tollefson/Associated Press

Baylor has won 21 straight. It has been our projected No. 1 overall seed for more than a month, and it would still be comfortably on the top line even with a loss to West Virginia.

If it proceeds to take a few more Lsentirely possible with games remaining at Oklahoma, at West Virginia and at home against Kansas and Texas Techmaybe it slips to a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. But it is already locked in for a No. 1 seed for our next bracket projection on Tuesday morning.

West Virginia, however, has lost two in a row, three out of five and four out of eight. Its most recent win over a team anywhere close to the at-large conversation came over a month ago (Jan. 11 vs. Texas Tech). Its most recent win away from home was even longer ago (Jan. 6 at Oklahoma State).

The Mountaineers were sitting pretty at No. 8 overall during the NCAA tournament selection committee's Top 16 reveal last Saturday, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee them anything. Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed in the reveal two years ago, and the Sooners ended up dropping all the way to a No. 10 seedand arguably shouldn't have gotten into the tournament at all.

The situation is nowhere near that dire for the Mountaineers, but a loss in Waco would drop them to 0-3 since the reveal and would lead to some serious questions about how highly they deserve to be seeded.

Just look at Michigan State for proof of concept. The Spartans opened February with a three-game losing streakat Wisconsin, vs. Penn State, at Michigan—and all three losses were Quadrant 1 results. Prior to that skid, the Spartans were a consensus No. 3 seed. But after it, they dropped out of the AP Top 25 and were on the fringe of sliding down to a projected No. 6 seed.

Winning at Illinois on Tuesday night saved Michigan State's bacon for now, but it has a hellacious remaining schedule. The Spartans might be three more losses away from becoming this year's No. 8 or No. 9 seed that everyone talks about as a threat to win it all.

Even without suffering bad losses, it's possible for a team's seed to spiral downward in a hurry. And with a loss to Baylor, West Virginia would likely become a No. 4 or No. 5 seed as we enter the home stretch of the regular season.

Conversely, a road win over the No. 1 team would be a huge shot in the arm for WVU's tournament resume, "undoing" the recent losses to Oklahoma and Kansas and getting the Mountaineers right back onto the No. 2 seed line.

And I think those stakes will help propel Bob Huggins' guys to a critical road win.

Unless the 2019-20 season simply got all of its chaos out of the way in the first six weeks, we are overdue for a loss by the AP No. 1 team. Baylor has had it relatively easy for the past month, too, playing nine consecutive games against teams not currently projected for a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament and only boasting a 9.6-point average scoring margin in those games.

Dealing with an aggressive West Virginia team in borderline-desperation mode is going to be a drastic uptick in level of competition.

It won't be pretty. There might be a combined total of six made threes and 40 turnovers. But that slop-on-hardwood type of basketball has been right up West Virginia's alley for the past six years.

Prediction: West Virginia 59, Baylor 57

              

Advanced statistics courtesy of KenPom.com.

Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.