West Virginia and Texas Tech Look to Revers Recent Losses In Saturday Big 12 Meeting

Tubby Smith's Texas Tech squad ran off nine ten consecutive wins before hitting a skid in the Big 12. Just how much improvement has been made in his efforts to get the Red Raiders back to a competitive level in the league?

SCOUTING THE RED RAIDERS

While many of those wins came over lower-level foes, Texas Tech did snare victories over Mississippi State, Minnesota, Richmond and Texas during the double-digit streak, so there's no doubt that there has been improvement in Lubbock. A four-game losing skein in the league tempered some of that enthusiasm, but there's no doubt that the Red Raiders have the ability to play with anyone in the conference. Their ability to pack the house with 12,000+ fans, win or lose, is also a factor the Mountaineers will have to contend with.

As is often the case, the improvement is based on experience. Seniors Toddrick Gotcher (G, 6-4, 205 lbs.) and Devaungtah Williams (G, 6-4 205 lbs.) provide that foundation, and lead Tech in scoring (10.9 and 13.2 per game, respectively). Gotcher is the more efficient shooter and scorer, and will probably be the top defensive target for the Mountaineers in the halfcourt. Both also contribute in rebounding, which is largely a team effort for the Red Raiders. Seven players average at least 3.3 boards per game.

Behind that pair is a trio of sophomores which is steadily rising in terms of performance and experience. Inside, Zach Smith (F, 6-8 215 lbs.) and Norense Odiase (C, 6-9 260 lbs.) are solid offensive threats, averaging nine points per game each, but also are forces on the defensive end. They've combined for 39 blocked shots and altered many more, and will present a challenge to West Virginia shooters inside. Both are shaky from the free throw line (62%), so WVU might get some mileage by not permitting them uncontested looks at the hoop. Keenan Evans (G, 6-3, 180 lbs.) adds solid support in the fifth starting spot, averaging 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Off the bench, Justin Gray (F, So., 6-6, 210 lbs.), Aaron Ross (F, Jr., 6-8, 225 lbs.) and Devon Thomas (G, Jr., 6-0, 170 lbs.) get the majority of minutes. Gray and Ross each top eight points per outing in providing nice support along the front line, while Thomas is more of a minutes-eater and facilitator offensively.

GAME OUTLOOK

West Virginia gave away much of what it had earned in the Big 12 with its home loss to Texas, and now is faced with a must-win situation at Texas Tech if it wants to have any hope of competing for the Big 12 title. That statement shouldn't be extrapolated any further – WVU's season certainly isn't “over” or “ruined” – but teams that win league titles don't drop multiple games to foes in the lower half of the league.

WVU (15-3 / 4- 2) vs. Texas Tech 12-5 / 2-4) Sat Jan 23 1:00 PM EST
United Supermarkets Arena Lubbock, TX Series: WVU 7-1
RPI: WVU - 22 Texas Tech - 31 TV: ESPNNews Sirius/XM: 93 / 200

Until it happens again, the dispirited, no-energy loss to Texas has to be viewed as a one-off occurrence, but that makes the game against the Red Raiders that much more important. Winning on the road is difficult, but this is one of the games the Mountaineers must have to achieve even their most basic goals. Losses in games such as this – not to mention the home abomination against Texas – will push WVU down to a first-day appearance in the Big 12 tournament, and cost it multiple seed lines in the NCAA brackets.

With that in mind, it should be easy to gauge West Virginia's energy level and mental approach in the early stages of this game. The Mountaineers need to establish that edge early, and should have the opportunity to do so, as the Red Raiders can be loose with the ball. Gotcher and Evans have solid assists-to-turnover rates, but if WVU can force the ball elsewhere, it should be able to get its pressure game back into productive levels.

West Virginia must also change its approach to its shots in the lane. Recently, and notably against Texas, several shots were taken that were little more than prayerful heaves. The hope there, obviously, was that West Virginia's offensive rebounding would come into play, and turn some of those into points, but that's a terrible mental approach to take when shooting the ball. WVU shooters, especially its guards, must still attack defenders, but they can't just throw the ball off the board – they have to have a plan in mind to get a reasonable shot away. Texas Tech has a pair of players who can alter and block shots, just as Texas did, so this is a chance to get that play phase corrected.

PRESS POINTS

Texas Tech has started the same five players in every game this year, but depends on just three subs for the bulk of their minutes off the bench. Still, the minutes have been distributed evenly enough so that Tech has not had a single player foul out of a game this year, according to the school's official stats. That lack of fouls might actually work in West Virginia’s favor, given its recent struggles at the free throw line.


West Virginia made just 34.7% of its free throw chances against Texas, which was the fourth worst mark of this century. The Mountaineers last hit at such a poor rate against Notre Dame on Feb. 8, 2012, when it made just 33% in a 55-51 loss. That didn’t cost the Mountaineers the game against the Irish, however, as WVU was just 1-3 from the line. Ahh, the Big East style of officiating.


The other stat that haunted WVU against the Longhorns was failure to convert offensive rebounds. Despite hauling down 24 missed shots on their own end, the Mountaineers still figured out a way to lose the game. However, the juxtaposition of those two stats in a loss isn’t unprecedented. WVU lost to UConn four seasons ago while collecting 26 offensive boards, and the Mountaineers actually had a stretch of six consecutive losses from 1994-96 when it had a least 24 offensive retrievals.


WVU head coach Bob Huggins can move clear of Lute Olson in career Division I wins with a victory over Texas Tech. Huggins and Olson are tied at 780 victories each. Cliff Ellis, who is still active as the head coach at Coastal Carolina, also has 780 career wins, making for a nice on-going battle with Huggins for positioning on the list. The trio is currently tied for tenth all-time. The next target up is Lefty Driesell, who had 786 wins during his career.


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