SCOUTING THE COWBOYS
With the loss of sharpshooter Phil Forte for the rest of the season, Oklahoma State has taken one of the biggest injury hits in the Big 12 basketball season to date. Travis Ford's squad still has talent, but removing a weapon such as Forte is a huge loss that can't easily be compensated for. The Cowboys won't abandon their primary tactic of spreading the floor and driving the ball, but without Forte they've lost their primary drive and kickout weapon.
OSU is still expected to go with a three-guard offense in most situations, and all three in the starting lineup are threats to score. Jeff Newberry (Sr., 6-2, 185 lbs.) averages nearly 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per outing, while swingman Jeffrey Carroll (So., 6-6, 205 lbs.) adds 9.1 points and another 4.3 rebounds. Freshman point guard Jawun Evans has been excellent in his first season, scoring 10.2 points and dishing out 4.6 assists per game. All three are also respectable threats from long range, so as a group they do have the ability to replace a good portion of Forte's productivity.
Inside things get a bit tougher. Forward Leyton Hammonds (Jr., 6-7, 215 lbs.) averages 10.5 points, but does so on less than 40% shooting from the field. Senior center Anthony Allen adds a couple buckets a game, but plays fewer than 15 minutes per outing as OSU rolls in multiple players off the bench, including several with starting experience. Anthony Allen, Tyree Griffin, Tavarius Shine and Mitchell Solomon are all expected to get substantial minutes, giving the Cowboys a chance to match West Virginia's depth, even without Forte. Ten players expected to see the floor of the Coliseum average at least 13 minutes per game.
OSU has typically been a strong rebounding team, but Baylor wiped the glass with the Cowboys on Tuesday. The Bears piles up a 44-18 rebounding margin en route to a 79-62 win, so OSU will be looking to show that was an exception, not a rule, against WVU. That deficit did slice OSU's season advantage on the glass to just 12 (515-503), but the Cowboys don't appear to have any rebounding liabilities on their team. Their guards retrieve the ball very well, so look for a battle with the Mountaineers when shots go up.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, along with 99.9% of the other coaches in the country, would not approve of the look-ahead nature of this item. However, with the doubleheader of Kansas and Oklahoma up next on the schedule, the importance of this game is magnified.
|WVU (13-1/2-0) vs. OSU (9-5/1-1)||Sat Jan 9||1:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: OSU 4-3|
|RPI: WVU – 27 OSU - 177||TV: ESPNU||Sirius: 84|
A loss in this contest would have WVU staring down the barrel of a potential 2-3 league start, and while that's not horrible in a conference as tough as the Big 12, the reverse mark of 3-2 would be miles better. Oklahoma State isn't an easy out by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a game, on their home floor, that the Mountaineers need to capture. One thing that might work against WVU mentally, however, is Forte's absence. When he plays, he's a scouting point emphasis – pick him up when he crosses halfcourt and never leave him. It's something that gets drilled into players over and over, and even if they don't always execute, it's a defensive priority that's always top of mind.
Now, with Forte out, will WVU relax a bit in picking up his replacement, or other 3-point shooters? That's something the Mountaineers will have to guard against (pun intended). And how many times have we seen a relatively anonymous substitute put up a big performance in game when filling in for a star? Granted, whoever OSU uses in Forte's stead probably isn't as good, but that doesn't mean he won't be capable of hurting WVU, or even sparking a road win. The Cowboys spread the floor well, and West Virginia will have to work in transition to stop the ball, then fan out to cover perimeter shooters.
After a respectable start in the fouling department, West Virginia has been hurt by whistles in its last two games. While a handful of those may have been questionable, many have not, so reinforcement of sound defensive principles has been on the practice agenda this week. That's not the only area to watch, though. WVU has gotten several offensive fouls on drives and the setting of screens, and those calls have also followed the new officiating guidelines. Screeners must be motionless and not take an exaggerated wide stance or use their arms, while drivers, especially in the post, can't lower their shoulders to dislodge defenders. West Virginia must be more subtle in the latter, and use leans with the full torso, rather than a shoulder lead, to create space. That's vital for a team that doesn't elevate a great deal on shots inside.
West Virginia's drives and post play also will lead it into the teeth of an OSU strength – blocked shots. The Cowboys are 23rd nationally with 5.6 blocks per game, and have rejected at least six in its last trio of games. Shooters can't back down in these instances -- that just lets the defenders extend their arms more and alter shots -- so the Mountaineers must be aggressive in challenging shot blockers such as Allen and Chris Olivier.
Jaysean Paige's scoring has gotten much-deserved attention, but the senior guard has also been hitting the glass – and it's paying off with points too. Twenty-five of his 55 boards have come on the offensive end, and he's now third on the team in rebounding despite averaging 18.4 minutes per game, mostly due to foul trouble. He's second on the team in that department (42) trailing only bad call magnet Nathan Adrian (43).
OSU has blocked at least six shots in each of its last three games, and has blocked at least one shot in every game this season. The Cowboys rank 24th nationally with 5.6 blocks per game, and are 8-2 when blocking at least four shots in a game this year.
With its spread the floor, drive and dish style, OSU might be expected to pile up assists, but that hasn't been the case this year. More drives have ended in shots than passes, leaving the Cowboys to average just 13.1 assists per game. WVU, not know for its accurate passing or shooting prowess, is averaging more than 17 per outing.
The Baylor loss was OSU's first true road game of the season. The Cowboys had played five neutral site games and eight home games prior to their trip to Waco. Their record away from home is 3-3.