UPDATING THE COWBOYS
OSU has had a week off since dropping a last-second decision to Kansas, so it should be well-rested for the Mountaineers' visit. OSU is still in good shape in the ultra-competitive Big 12, but the Mountaineers could move past them in the league standings with a win -- a demonstration of just how tightly-packed the league is through the first third of the schedule.
Marcus Smart continues to lead OSU in scoring at 17.8 points per game, but the NBA-bound star is receiving more balanced support from Markel Brown (16.6), Le'Bryan Nash (13.3) and Phil Forte (12.6). With seven players averaging at least 5.5 points per contest, the Cowboys can withstand a cold night from one or two of their top eight and still score enough to win.
Nash has continued to improve, having moved into the rebounding lead at 5.9 per game. He's playing more like the McDonald's All-American he was as a high-school all star, and is making OSU tougher on both ends of the floor.
The Pokes are also exerting defensive strength, much as Kansas State has done. Foes are making just 38.5% of their shots from the field against OSU, including a miniscule 29.3% from 3-point range.
This contest begins a four-game set where the Cowboys don't leave the state (three home contests plus the short trip to Norman to face Oklahoma), so it's clearly a stretch where they hope to make more hay in the league.
The Cowboys are one team that exceeds West Virginia's scoring pace, both in terms of traditional stats such as points per game, and in advanced metrics such as points per possession. As such, WVU must figure out a way to slow some of OSU's scorers.
2:00 PM E
WVU 11-8, 3-3
OSU 15-3, 3-2
WVU - 101
OSU - 13
There are a couple of different theories about the best ways to do this, ranging from the "let the star score and hold everyone else down" to the idea of "making someone else beat you", but the fact is that defense has to be played across the board. After the Texas Tech game, Kevin Noreen told us that the breakdowns in games mirror those in practice -- four guys will execute well, but one will make a critical mistake or have a lapse that causes the whole effort to go for naught. It's not the same guy each time, so there's work to be done across the board. It would be unrealistic to expect WVU to magically find a solution to this, but it has to improve in order to compete with the better teams in the league.
While WVU's defense will affect OSU's scoring, it will also have an impact on its own. How? Via the expedient of playing time. When big or repeated defensive lapses occur, head coach Bob Huggins invariably wheels to the bench for a replacement. And if that sub is coming in for Terry Henderson or Eron Harris, it's going to affect the Mountaineer offense. West Virginia simply can't afford to have either of those guys on the bench fo 20 minutes per game, because they need their shooting. It's a trade-off question at times -- do they score more than they give up -- but it's not a choice that Huggins wants to have to make.
One more item to watch - a change in West Virginia's rotation. Remi Dibo didn't make it off the bench against Texas Tech, which means more potential time for Nathan Adrian, Brandon Watkins and Gary Browne. If stapling Dibo to the bench is a sign of things to come, it will put more pressure on the first two to stay out of foul trouble and give the Mountaineers a bit more offense.
West Virginia's bench has been outscored by that of its opponents in the last five consecutive games. The Mountaineers have had to make up a deficit of 25 total points in those contests.
Granted, this stat can be a bit misleading, as teams sometimes hold a scorer or two in reserve to even out productivity over the course of the game. However, West Virginia employs the same tactic, and needs to get more consistent scoring from its subs. Recent productivity was fine against Texas (22 points) and Texas Tech (20), but lacking against Kansas State (six) and Oklahoma State (eight).
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Devin Williams has five double-doubles this year - the fourth highest total ever for a WVU freshman. He trails Warren Baker (17 in 1973), Devin Ebanks (nine in 2009), Willie Bergines (seven in 1953) and Mo Robinson (six in 1975). Second place might be reachable, but it's going to take a really special player to knock Baker out of that freshman top spot.
The career leader? Jerry West with 70. He would probably have had about 90 careers double-doubles had he been allowed to play as a freshman. Baker holds down the #2 spot with 54.
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OSU will honor the memory of the 10 players, coaches, administrators and staffers killed in a plane crash 13 years ago with a moment of silence prior to tip-off. The crash, which occurred in a snowstorm on a return flight from a game at Colorado, killed OSU players Daniel Lawson and Nate Fleming, Oklahoma City broadcaster Bill Teegins, OSU athletic media relations coordinator Will Hancock, student assistant Jared Weiberg, director of basketball operations Pat Noyes, athletic trainer Brian Luinstra, broadcast engineer Kendall Durfey, and pilots Denver Mills and Bjorn Fahlstrom.
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Oklahoma State's free throw rate (free throw attempts/field goal attempts) is one of the best in the nation. West Virginia's is one of the worst. That's a big reflection on where the teams get their shots and how they challenge the rim, and it's clearly an item to watch: