Who: Texas Tech (12-5, 2-4) vs. West Virginia (15-3, 4-2)
Where: Lubbock, Texas, United Supermarkets Arena
When: Saturday, January 23, 12:00 p.m. (CT)
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network
Notable: West Virginia guard Daxter Miles played his high school ball at basketball factory Baltimore Dunbar. This high school sent Sam Cassell, Keith Booth, Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues, and David Wingate, among others, to the NBA. Lewis, Williams, Bogues and Wingate were all on the same Dunbar basketball team, a squad commonly regarded as the greatest high school basketball team of all time.
Quotable: “He’s playing all experienced guys and they know what he wants. They’ve done a great job of executing what he wants and it’s not a surprise because anybody who knows Tubby--and I’ve know Tubby for a lot of years--and everybody says, ‘What about Tubby and Texas Tech?’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about Tubby, he’s going to be fine.’ They’re a good basketball team.”—West Virginia coach Bob Huggins on Tubby Smith and Texas Tech
The West Virginia express was rolling along just fine until recently. The Mountaineers were 15-1 (their only loss coming to Virginia at a neutral site), and looking for all the world like they would be a No. 2 or maybe even a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Then things quickly headed south.
WVU lost by two at Oklahoma—no big deal, right? The Sooners are a great team and playing them that tough in Norman speaks well for anybody.
But then came the shocker. The Texas Longhorns went into Morgantown and beat Bob Huggins’ team by seven. Heck, the runnin’ and gunnin’ Mountaineers didn’t even crack 50 against the Horns, settling in at 49 instead.
Now there’s a bit of concern in the WVU camp. The Mountaineers are on a two-game slide, played easily their worst game of the season in their last outing, and are facing a pretty tough Texas Tech club on the road. If nothing else, West Virginia will be very intense and all about business in Lubbock.
Two traits define the Mountaineers. First, they force turnovers. Lots of turnovers. Twenty per game, to be precise. Their full-court pressure can be overwhelming and is rarely relenting. If a team cannot handle full-court pressure, it will be unlikely to beat West Virginia.
Thing is, the Mountaineers also turn it over quite a bit. Fourteen times per contest, to be exact. Therefore, if a team can pressure WVU into sloppy play, it can perhaps negate the advantage the Mountaineers usually gain through their pressure.
The second characteristic is simply surrounding one very good interior player—Devin Williams—with a pack of very quick and disruptive guards. In terms of interior scoring, Williams is to the Mountaineers what the injured Norense Odiase was to Texas Tech. He is their physical presence inside, and their post-up scoring threat. If the Red Raiders can somehow negate Williams, West Virginia becomes a one-dimensional, guard-oriented team. But that is easier said than done.
The absence of Odiase will certainly increase the intrigue of this game. How much will the lack of a true post scorer hurt the Red Raiders? How will Tubby Smith compensate? In what ways will Texas Tech be different than they were with Odiase?
But truth be told, the West Virginia game will be a poor test case for answering those questions. The fact that the Mountaineers run and pressure so much means that Odiase probably wouldn’t have been a huge factor in this game, even had he played.
Still, not having one of your better players in uniform is a setback under any circumstance.
As the season progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Tubby Smith does not have a dominant scorer. Contrariwise, he has multiple players who, on any given night, are capable of jumping up and dumping in 16 points.
Those players are, in order of scoring average, Devaugntah Williams, Toddrick Gotcher, Zach Smith, Justin Gray, Aaron Ross and Keenan Evans. All of those players average at least 7.6 points per game, with Williams leading the way at 13.2
The most telling team stat for the Red Raiders is that they’ve shot almost 100 more free throws than their opponents thus far on the season. Specifically, the numbers are 410 to 312. And once they get to the line, they knock down a strong 73 percent of their attempts.
And that’s what this game could come down to: free throw shooting and comparative turnovers. But no matter how this game unfolds, expect the tension to be high, and the sparks to fly.