West Virginia Travels To Oklahoma With First Place in the Big 12 On The Line

In addition to pressure and ball handling, bench scoring figures to loom large as West Virginia visits Oklahoma in a battle for first place in the Big 12 Conference.


Any analysis of Oklahoma has to start with its loaded backcourt, but the Sooners also feature a very underappreciated weapon up front that has a huge impact on their success. The former group includes the trio of Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins, all of whom can score, but that’s not the limit to their games.

Hield (Sr., 6-4, 215 lbs.) averages 26.6 points per game and is a contender for league and national honors. While he takes far more shots than any other Sooner, it's justified by his percentages from the field (52.4% / 51.8%) and free throw line (90.1%). He also works hard on the boards (5.7 per) while playing nearly 34 minutes per game. That last is a theme that’s common for OU starters. Woodard (Jr., 6-0, 185 lbs.) shoots nearly as well (47.5% / 55.1%) to generate 15.3 points per contest, and he also takes advantage of his free throws at an 84.6% clip. He moves the ball well along with Cousins, as the duo has accounted for 126 assists against just 51 turnovers so far. Cousins (Sr., 6-4, 200 lbs.) adds 12.1 points and 4.3 rebounds, but isn’t nearly as efficient as a shooter.

The often-overlooked member of the OU squad is forward Ryan Spangler (Sr., 6-8, 235 lbs.), who fills up the box score with 11.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He’s another solid shooter who can range out to the 3-point line (17-40 on the year) and provide whatever the Sooners need in a particular instance. While the guards grab the spotlight, he’s a true anchor for head coach Lon Kruger. Sophomore Khadeem Lattin (6-9, 210 lbs.) rounds out the starting lineup, and adds 6.6 points and 6.9 rebounds in 22 minutes of court time per contest.

The top four OU starters average more than 30 minutes per game each, which might appear to be a negative when matched up against West Virginia’s frenetic press. However, the Sooners are used to playing up-tempo: they are ninth nationally with 77.8 possessions per game, so conditioning isn’t likely to be a factor. WVU will attempt to get into the OU bench, where only one player, senior Dinjiyl Walker (G, 6-1, 205 lbs.) averages more than 9.5 minutes per game, but Kruger has managed to give his big four enough rest to keep them effective so far.

If the Sooners have one weakness, it’s in ball protection. They have 200 turnovers this year (a -29 deficit), which would seem to put them at a disadvantage against the Mountaineer pressure game, However, that hasn’t stopped them from crushing #9 Villanova or piling up a +16.2 scoring advantage so far this year, so like West Virginia’s occasional struggles shooting the ball, it’s a problem they have found ways to overcome.


Oklahoma’s experience (combined with a lot of nicely-meshing talent) accounts for much of its stellar play this year. Hield, Cousins, Woodard and Spangler have started every game over the past two-plus seasons (83 games) which makes them one of the saltiest teams in the nation.

WVU (15-1/4-0) vs. OU (14-1/3-1) Sat Jan 16 4:00 PM EST
Noble Center Norman, OK Series: OU 6-3
RPI: WVU – 15 KU - 4 TV: ESPN2 Sirius\XM: 84/84

Of course, we saw Kansas, with similar veteran savvy, surprisingly get frustrated in their 74-63 loss to the Mountaineers on Tuesday, so it’s not out of the question that WVU could force the same reaction against OU. Still, it’s not something that can be counted on, especially away from home. West Virginia will have to execute in the same manner it did against KU – with strong attention to getting back in transition and fanning out on open shooters.

Both teams spread the floor well offensively to create openings, but take advantage of them in different manners. West Virginia tries to exploit that space by either driving the ball to the hoop or clearing to isolate Devin Williams in the post. OU is more of a drive and dish squad (although Hield, with 91 free throws, certainly pushes the ball at the rim. Which team can switch or adjust against screens and weaves on the perimeter to limit what its opponent wants to do? Which squad can adjust if its primary options are limited? That’s likely to tell the tale in this contest.

A final area to watch is free throws, and not just because OU hold a 71%-66% success rate advantage over WVU. The Sooners haven’t been able to take as much advantage of that as one might think, because OU doesn’t get to the line nearly as much as other teams. They get to the line on just 24.8% of their possessions (WVU gets there more than a third of the time), and as a result WVU has scored 101 more points from that location this year. Of course, West Virginia’s fouling comes into play here, so those totals will be critical in this game. The Mountaineers simply can’t afford to put OU on the line 30 or more times and expect to come away with a win.


For the second consecutive game, WVU faces a team that can light it up from the field. Oklahoma currently ranks second nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (.461) by hitting 160-347 of its shots from downtown, and has connected on at least 10 treys in 10 games this year. OU’s starting five is averaging a combined 49.1 percent shooting from long distance, with Jordan Woodard and Buddy Hield currently ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in 3-point percentage nationally.

The teams traded blowout wins on their respective home courts a year ago, and one of the keys was in bench scoring. WVU ran up a massive 55-8 margin in that column in its 86-65 win at the Coliseum, while OU held the Mountaineer reserves to just 13 points in its 71-52 win in Norman.

OU head coach Lon Kruger is the only Division I boss to take five different programs to the NCAA tournament. He’s guided Kansas State, Illinois, Florida, UNLV and OU to a total of 16 Big Dance appearances.

West Virginia has four players in the top 275 nationally in a metric calculated by Value Add Basketball, which quantifies the offensive and defensive impact of a player on the floor relative to its overall performance. Not surprisingly, Jaysean Paige (142nd), Devin Williams (174th) Jevon Carter (202nd) and Jonathan Holton (274th) comprise the quartet. OU’s Buddy Hield is third nationally with a value add of 14.86 points per 100 possessions.

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