UPDATING THE BEARS
Since losing to WVU on a Juwan Staten reverse lay-up with just three seconds to go on Jan. 28, the Bears have compiled a 4-2 mark. Two wins over Oklahoma State and victories over TCU and Kansas State have been countered by losses to Kansas and Oklahoma, leaving Baylor on the bubble just as the Mountaineers are. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who we'll put up against anyone as the top analyst of tournament selections, has both the Mountaineers and Bears on his "First Four Out" list, which highlights the critical nature of this game. While a win doesn't put either team in, a loss will be a huge blow to the loser's tournament hopes.
The Bears continue to feature an inside-outside punch that can be difficult to match. Inside, Corey Jefferson (Jr., F, 6-9) and Isaiah Austin (So., C, 7-1) combine for 24.1 points and 14 rebounds per game, and although Austin continues to catch some flack for floating outside at times and taking too many mid-range shots, there's no doubt that it's effective when he's hitting. Guard Brady Heslip (Sr., 6-2) is still the sniper of the team, and accounts for 11.5 points per game. Only 12 of his successful field goals have come from inside the arc, making him the primary target to watch from that distance. Kenny Chery (G, Jr., 5-11) is an overlooked mainstay, averaging 10.2 points and 4.9 assists per outing. Keeping him off the line is critical, as he makes 83.3% of his free throws. Head coach Bob Huggins singled out Chery as one of the keys to Baylor's improvement, noting that his recovery from injury and improved play has made the Bears much more difficult to guard.
After the WVU game, BU has contests with Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas State, so the Bears have to like their chances to improve their NCAA standing. a win here, and they could probably afford another loss before the tournament. However, if they drop this road trip, they might have to win all four of their remaining games to get in.
At first glance, this might appear to be another battle of the bigs where the Mountaineers are outmanned, but a few key differences give WVU hope to at least stay competitive when the ball goes inside.
|Sat Feb 22
1:30 PM E
WVU 15-11, 7-6
BU 17-9, 5-8
WVU - 66
BU - 41
First, as mentioned above, Austin isn't the most physical guy around. While he does get totally unfounded criticism for being soft, he does struggle at times to use his height to the best of his advantage. He has cut down on the number of 3-pointers he has hoisted this year, but he'll still get off the blocks at times to put up a jumper or two. That certainly works to WVU's advantage.
Jefferson had just six points and five boards in the first match-up, and played only 21 minutes. If WVU can get a repeat of those totals, it's going to have a great chance to win the game. Gathers, with his great size advantage, had eight points and 12 boards in 30 minutes in the first contest, but his minutes have dropped steadily since. He's averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game against Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State, and foul trouble was not an apparent reason.
Certainly BU will look to get the ball inside more against WVU, but the Mountaineers should be able to battle the Bears more effectively than other teams such as Texas and K-State. Remi Dibo and Nathan Adrian will be key in providing help to the three-headed center of Devin Williams, Brandon Watkins and Kevin Noreen, and if they can keep things reasonable close in the lane, West Virginia has a solid chance of getting the critical win.
Baylor has played three overtime games this year, and has won them all. Their last two games both took extra time, as the Bears downed Kansas State in double overtime and Oklahoma State in one extra period. WVU has won both of its overtime games this season.
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Brady Heslip has started each of the last seven games and played 30+ minutes in all of them. That's an increase of 11 minutes per outing over the time he accrued as a sub coming off the bench earlier in the season. He productivity has ramped up accordingly, as he has gone 28-61 from distance and averaged 14 points per outing in those starts.
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Players with big stats often pile those numbers up against lesser competition, only to see them fall when conference play begins. Among the long string of impressive stats recorded by Juwan Staten this year, the fact that he is averaging 19.9 points in Big 12 play, as opposed to 18.1 points per game overall, might be one of his most notable feats. He's also shooting 51.4% from the field in those contests -- demonstrating thta he's not just launching a ton of shots.
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West Virginia obviously has defensive struggles, but one of the factors that really causes issues in possesions per game. The Mountaineers yield an average of 1.04 points per possession, which is very close to the media of Division 1 schools (171st in the nation). Baylor, by comparison, allows 1.03 points per possession, placing it 146th nationally.
The difference comes in possessions per game. WVU allows 69.8 chances per game to its foes, while the Bears yield just 66.6. A difference of three possessions per game may not sound like a lot, but at the rate at which both teams scores, that accounts for a bit more than three points. Think WVU wouldn't like to have three more points in every game it played this year? Not only would it have meant another win outright, it would have made a number of losses play out much differently in the last couple of minutes.