Who: Texas Tech (17-9, 5-8) vs. West Virginia (20-6, 8-5)
Where: Morgantown, West Virginia, WVU Coliseum
When: Saturday, February 18, 1:00 p.m. (CT)
Radio: Texas Tech Sports Network
Notable: West Virginia is a perplexing team when playing at home. They have often been dominant as seen from blowout victories over Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor, and TCU. However, they’ve also lost in Morgantown to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Which team will show up against Texas Tech?
Quotable: “Losing a game is like losing a day. There’s nothing you can ever do about it. You can’t get it back. It’s all gone. That’s what nobody understands. When you lose a game or when you lose a day, you’re never going to get it back.”—West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins
It is entirely possible that West Virginia will finish as the Big 12 runner up without having a single player make the conference’s first- or second-team all-conference squads. The Mountaineers are an uncommonly good basketball team, but it is comprised entirely of blue-collars and role players. There simply are no Josh Jacksons, Frank Masons, Johnathan Motleys, Monte’ Morris’ or Jawun Evans’ on the roster.
West Virginia’s leading scorer is Esa Ahmad who averages 12 points per game, but shoots at only a 51-percent clip as a big man, and averages a modest four rebounds per contest.
Jevon Carter also averages 12 points and four rebounds per contest, to go along with almost three steals per game, but shoots the ball at 44 percent.
Forward Nathan Adrian averages 11 points and six boards per outing, but shoots 45 percent from the floor.
The key to West Virginia’s success, however, lies in its depth. A full 11 players average at least eight minutes and five points per game. (Parenthetically, no Mountaineer averages more than 30 minutes per outing.) The fact that Bob Huggins can confidently go 11 deep means that his Mountaineers are rarely fatigued, and are fully juiced up to play the pressure defense for which his teams are famous.
West Virginia’s omnipresent pressure has served it well, but hasn’t destroyed Big 12 opponents anywhere near to the extent it did nonconference foes. Hence, West Virginia is only No. 3 in steals in Big 12 play, and No. 2 in turnover margin. Iowa State bests the Mountaineers in both of those categories. Therefore, while the WVU pressure is certainly formidable, it is not insuperable.
Texas Tech, which beat No. 7 West Virginia earlier in the season, is coming off an even more impressive 84-78 victory over No. 4 Baylor, which came only two days after a gut-busting one-point loss to No. 3 Kansas. The Red Raiders have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that they can compete with and defeat the best teams in America. What they have yet to show is that they can beat a Big 12 team on the road. Texas Tech is 0-6 in conference road games thus far.
The Red Raiders are led in scoring by Keenan Evans, whose 17 points per game in Big 12 play is No. 5 in the conference. He is rapidly developing into a “go-to” player who is capable of ringing the bell in the most critical situations. For the season Evans is a 49-percent shooter, which is outstanding for a guard.
Zach Smith has been remarkably consistent over the course of the season. He has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds per contest in both conference and non-conference games.
Niem Stevenson is Texas Tech’s “secret weapon.” If one looks only at overall statistics, one sees eight points and three rebounds per game, and moves right along. But in reality, Stevenson has clearly positioned himself of late as Tech’s No. 2 or No. 3 scoring option. He has good range and reliability on his jumper, finishes strongly on forays to the rim, and has the vision and passing dexterity of a true point guard. He is also 6-foot-5. Stevenson will be a huge determinant of Tech’s success from here on out, and should develop into a prime time player next season.
The Red Raiders will need him to continue his excellent play if they are to score their first Big 12 road win of the season in Morgantown.