Preview: WVU - Baylor

West Virginia heads west for the first contest of a two-game road swing as the Big 12 men's basketball regular season winds down. First up, the Baylor Bears in a test for the Mountaineer defense.


UPDATING THE BEARS

Since its visit to West Virginia three weeks ago, Baylor has cycled downward, then back up. It followed its win over WVU with losses to Oklahoma State and Kansas, but then rallied with a trio of victories over Texas Tech, Kansas State and Iowa State. The latter win, coming on the road, was an especially impressive one for a team building its NCAA resume. While standing just fifth in the league heading into the weekend, BU's strong RPI has it positioned well for high NCAA seeding -- provided it can win a couple more games down the stretch.

Taurean Prince (6-7, 215 lbs.) continues to lead Baylor in scoring despite playing in a non-starting role. He averages 13.3 points per game, and teams with starter Royce O'Neale (6-6, 215 lbs.) to give the Bears an ultra athletic front line. That duo bookends inside force Rico Gathers (11.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg), making Baylor a very difficult group to match up with in the front court. One hole that can sting - Prince and Gathers combine to make just 60% of their free throws.

Guard Kenny Chery paces the backcourt with 11.5 points per outing, and passes the ball well in addition to tossing in 11.5 points per contest. He's one of four Bears who are threats outside the 3-point line -- along with Prince, O'Neale and Lester Medford. That quartet has hit 171 of their 422 attempts outside the line (40.5%).


OUTLOOK

West Virginia will have to excel defensively in an area it has struggled in for much of the season in order to have a chance to knock off the Bears on their home court.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sat Feb 28
4:00 PM E
Ferrell Center
Waco, TX
Records
WVU 22-6, 10-5
BU 21-7, 9-6
Series
BU 5-1
TV
ESPNU
Sirius/XM
138/99
RPI
WVU - 21
BU - 13
While WVU has relied on its full court pressure for much of the season, it has shown some improvement in its half court defense over the previous few games. The Mountaineers were very good against Kansas, and went to a zone for parts of the second half to stifle Texas. The difference in this game, though, is that Baylor has more 3-point shooters than either of those teams, and can make foes pay that don't defend well at the arc. They spread the floor effectively and force teams to defend the entire width of the court.

In order to prevent another Bear mauling, WVU must recover quickly when pressing full court. It can't, as is the norm, simply retreat to the lane and then try to find perimeter shooters, because Baylor, like Iowa State, has too many to cover from the inside out. Mountaineer defenders must find Baylor shooters in transition, and be close enough to them to prevent open, step-in threes. Once in the half court, West Virginia must still remain conscious of the quad of Bears roaming the perimeter, and close out quickly when the ball rotates to a shooter.

All this sounds fine, but it also leads to the second part of Baylor's attack. Gathers, a rebounding machine, routinely defeats his opponent to get to the glass, and takes great advantage of the way in which his teammates spread the floor. While WVU did a good job on Texas' bigs in their most recent win, the Mountaineers must find a way to at least limit the damage Gathers records. He's going to score and get boards, but keeping him around his season average of 11 and 12 would be a win for West Virginia.


FAST BREAKS

West Virginia is the only Big 12 team with a winning conference record on the road. The Mountaineers are 4-3 with two road games left to play. Kansas, Oklahoma and Baylor are all 4-4 in league games away from home.

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While Baylor played effectively at an increased pace in the first game between the two teams, the Bears prefer a slower gait. They average just 63.5 possessions per game, which ranks 293rd in the NCAA. That's not necessarily a negative, as they are efficient in scoring. If West Virginia does speed up the game, it must finish the task by forcing turnovers and poor shot selection, then take advantage by converting those mistakes into points.

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West Virginia went against form by making 20 of its 23 free throw attempts against Texas -- a key component in that win. Free throw shooting could also be a factor in this game, as neither squad is ripping the nets from the line. On the season, WVU is shooting 65.8% (287th nationally), while Baylor is marginally better at 66.4% (266th).

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Baylor is one of only 12 schools nationally to play in the Sweet 16 in three of the last five seasons, and has the nation's second best winning percentage (.810) over the last six seasons.


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