Through the first half of the season, West Virginia's fearsome guard foursome of Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip have garnered plenty of praise from opposing coaches and players.
With good reason, too, as the group has been instrumental in helping Bob Huggins team to a 15-2 record and a spot in the top-10 at No. 6 in the AP Poll.
But that group will be put to the test tomorrow night when the Longhorns roll into Morgantown. Featuring an uber-talented and experienced backcourt of Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix, Texas’ guard-play is the best thing it has going right now.
“They’re a good, athletic team. They have good guards, but their big – (Cameron) Ridley – is out this year so they’re playing more perimeter oriented. They’ve got good guards, and they’ve been together for three years now so they’re experienced,” said senior Jaysean Paige.
Ridley’s absence is certainly notable, as he has given the Mountaineers fits under the basket in the past, but with his absence has come a change in style of play that Paige said has the potential to make taking down Texas much more difficult.
“It makes them a little more dangerous. They’ve got more playmakers out there instead of more bigs. They play a more up-tempo game than a slow game, regarding the bigs,” he said.
Taylor, a starter since his freshman year, is a third-year player who has taken a big jump in his junior season. His scoring average has risen each year, from 12.7 points per game as a freshman, to 13.1 last season, to 17.2 through 17 games this season.
Taylor provides the speed and flash for the Longhorns, and senior Javan Felix brings dependability and good decision making.
Felix will never blow you away with his quickness, but he is the type of player who picks you apart over the course of the game, and has no problem taking and making a shot in a clutch situation. Earlier this year he hit the game-winner against No. 3 North Carolina just before the buzzer.
It has been Texas’ best win during its 11-6 start, but by no means has it been the only instance of a top-10 team falling to a massive underdog.
This has not been lost on West Virginia, which recently earned its first top-10 ranking since the Final Four season in 2010. Paige said the team, although disappointed that it wasn’t able to close out Oklahoma over the weekend, is appreciative of the climb it has been able to make this season after starting out unranked.
“It’s a blessing to be where we’re at now. We’re happy with where we’re at, but we’re not satisfied yet. We feel like we’re better, and we feel like we could have won both of those games; the Virginia game and the Oklahoma game. We’re not satisfied, and we’re going on keep working,” he said.
West Virginia’s climb to the top-10 is just one of many examples we’ve seen across the college basketball landscape this season about how wide open the field is. Paige said the opportunity is there for West Virginia to make history this year as a result.
“I feel like it’s up for grabs. Whatever team goes on a run at the end has a chance of making it. There’s a lot of teams capable of doing it, and honestly I feel like we’re capable of doing it. If we play our game and stay focused I feel like we could win a national championship,” he said.