Preview: WVU - Texas

West Virginia holds an 8-2 all-time record in the state of Texas, but face a tall (and weighty) challenge in getting number nine.


Start your sides of beef jokes now. Texas is big. Reeeeellllly big. The Horns start 6-8, 240-pound Jonathan Holmes and 6-9 240-pound Connor Lammert as bookends to massive Cameron Ridley, who is listed at six feet, nine inches and 285 pounds, and who probably hasn't weighed that little since middle school. And if that's not enough, head coach Rick Barnes can call on Prince Ibeh (6-10, 260 lbs.) and Myles Turner (6-11, 240 lbs.) to bolster the frontcourt.

Holmes, the lone senior with appreciable playing time, averages 11.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, while Ridley muscles his way to eight points and 4.8 boards. Lammert is often overlooked in a supporting role, but he grabs more boards than Ridley (6.1 per) and seems to contribute big shots when defensive attention becomes to focused on others. Then there's Ibeh and Turner, who would be no-doubt starters at most schools. They've gotten a combined five starting calls in 16 games this year, with the latter, a freshman, putting up an outstanding 11.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per appearance. Ibeh's numbers aren't great, but he's yet another big obstacle to overcome inside.

As might be expected, this group dominates in big man categories. Texas owns a +12 mark in rebounding differential, and has rejected 210 opponent shots this year, a number that places them second in the nation. That intimidation factor contributes heavily to their overall defense, where they allow foes to make just 35% of their shots.

The backcourt is nearly as good, as the recent reintroduction of injured guard Isaiah Taylor has given Barnes a deeper rotation there. Taylor (6-1, 170 lbs.) is averaging 12.2 points and 3.2 assists in his six games this season, while Demarcus Holland (6-2, 190 lbs.) adds 8.1 points per outing. That duo has pushed Javan Felix (5-11 195 lbs.), who owns 48 career starts, to a backup role, but he still gets plenty of minutes, and adds 10.4 points in 26 minutes of action per game. Kendal Yancy (6-3, 200 lbs.) gets additional backup run with 5.3 points per outing, while Jordan Barnett (6-6, 205 lbs.) is the swingman of the group, adding a hoop while playing 11 minutes per contest.

Yet, with all that talent, UT hasn't quite lived up to expectations in conference play so far this season. Oklahoma crushed the Longhorns at home in Austin, and a moribund effort at Oklahoma State led to an 11-point loss. Holmes, among others, did not play well in those losses, but it's not likely that stretch of sub-par performances will continue.


In games featuring teams of very contrasting styles and elements, the key becomes a simple one -- which team can impose its will on the other?
Game Info
Sat Jan 17
6:15 PM E
Erwin Center

Austin TX
WVU 15-2, 3-1
UT 12-4, 1-2
UT 5-3
WVU - 16
UT - 38
West Virginia, of course, wants to play the game with a lot of pace. If it can force UT's bigs to run the court, help against the press and get them away from the blocks and out of the lane, it has the advantage. Texas wants to allow its front line to take root close to the basket and at the elbows of the lane, where they can screen for guards, play high-low with a double post set and get the ball close. That also sets their offensive rebounding in gear (they average 14 per game -- not far behind WVU's 18) and lets them bring their strength to bear.

West Virginia will try to keep the ball out of the hands of Taylor and Felix, and force frontcourters to come up and help against the press. While the Texas towers will provide nice targets for passes (WVU's not likely to outjump Holmes or Turner for balls up high) the big men will then have to do something with it. Can they advance the ball under a bit of pressure? WVU can again be looked to try to deny return passes to the guards and test that ability. That will also put WVU's front court into the limelight, as they will have to stay in front of their opponents and not yield unopposed advancement of the ball.

One other item to watch: While West Virginia's scoring in transition is sketchy, WVU does push the pace and force opposing defenses to run the floor and get back. If Texas' frontcourt fails to do so, the Mountaineers could get a few early shot opportunities without having to face a forest of shot blockers. The Mountaineers might also be able to tire UT some, but that's likely something to look for late in the game as the cumulative effect of "Press Virginia" manifests itself.

The one outlier in this match-up is Texas' shooting and shot selection. Given its size, the expectation would be that the Horns pound the ball inside. However, that's not the case. In the frontcourt, only Ridley (52.4%) owns a shooting percentage above fifty, and UT has take two more 3-point shots than its opponents this year. While their percentage there is solid (34.7% as a team), every try from there is one less possession for the frontcourt. It's true that those shots can set up rebound opportunities, but with that roster of inside ability many coaches would pound the ball inside relentlessly.


Might it be a break for WVU that Felix has been relegated to a non-starting role? While he still gets a good bit of court time, Felix was the Mountaineer killer last year, piling up 53 points and hitting nine threes in the Longhorns' three wins. Granted, having such an experienced player come off the bench is a plus, but every minute he's not on the court might be just as important for WVU.

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Texas sports a +12.3 rebound margin (42.9-30.6) through the first 16 games this year and has outrebounded its opponent in 13 of its first 16 contests. UConn and Oklahoma have been the only two teams to win the rebound battle against UT; Texas was even at Oklahoma State. The rebound margin ranks second nationally through games of Jan. 14. UT has posted double-digit rebound margins in 11 of its first 16 games this season.

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WVU leads the nation in wins away from home this year with nine. While that does include the two games in Charleston and four neutral site contests, it is still illustrative of the fact that the Mountaineers can still execute their game plan with the distraction of travel thrown in. The Mountaineers have seven road games remaining on their schedule.

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The Longhorns are very good from the free throw line, making 72.5 % of their attempts. All of their bigs, outside of Ridley, make at least 75% of their tries. However, they haven't taken advantage of that in their recent conference games, having attempted just eight free throws against Oklahoma and 15 against Oklahoma State. The 3-point launching noted above is one factor, but can WVU avoid the silly fouls that have put teams in the bonus early in halves this year? The Mountaineers can't back off, but they have to be smart and not let the Horns parade to the line.

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As noted previously, the two teams appear evenly matched on the offensive boards, but Texas has a whopping advantage on the defensive side. While WVU gets just 21.1 defensive rebounds per game (324th nationally), UT collects 29 (3rd). West Virginia must have all five of its players on the floor hitting the defensive glass, even if that might affect its transition game somewhat. If Texas is allowed to play volleyball on the offensive end, its going to come away with a decisive win.

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