West Virginia Looks To Defend Home Court, Remain Tied For Big 12 Lead

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - If familiarity breeds contempt, West Virginia should have it in spades when it plays host to Baylor.

The Bears have beaten WVU four consecutive times - including a triple-header sweep last season - all with the same formula: Protect the ball against the Mountaineeer press, utilize their length and strength to control the inside on both ends and sit in the zone to force outside shots. Of course, that could be the ideal for many teams, but Baylor has the athletes and skillset to actually execute the blueprint, as head coach Bob Hugins notes in the interview above.

The counters are just as obvious. Force Baylor into turnovers by trapping effectively and making the frontcourt handle the ball. Offset the zone and BU's size with ball movement and proper spacing and angles on the floor, as well as effective passing that exploits the look, while also being able to rebound against the set.

It's a fine plan for both sides. And last season, Baylor executed it more consistently, and as a result scored wins of 87-69 and 78-66 in the regular season and 80-70 in the Big 12 Tournament. It's not a coincidence that those scores became increasingly closer as the series progressed. Though all three games were played within a 34-day span, West Virginia learned and improved in the match-up each time. The Mountainers, in fact, were on the verge of a first-round conference tournament upset before multiple late turnovers sealed BU's season sweep.

What's changed now? First, West Virginia is more seasoned in its press, and has been able to build upon last season's development. Second, the Mountaineers are showing the late game savvy needed to win in the Big 12, and have close wins over Kansas State, Texas Tech and Iowa State, all on the road. The depth is better, and the frontcourt, down a pair of starters late last season, has emerged as a strength, especially in numbers with Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip. 

Still, West Virginia has to find a way to attack Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince with Devin Williams and Elijah Macon, and work BU's big men into foul trouble so West Virginia can begin to force substitutions, which will signifcantly lower the frontcourt size issue. Gathers, at 6-8, 275 pounds, is a clydesdale on the inside, and at 13 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, actually plays even larger than a 6-8 frame suggests. Prince averages a team-best 15.1 points per game, and has solid range to go with an 89.3 percetn average at the line. The backcourt has two players at or near double figures in Lester Medford (9.0 ppg) and Al Freeman (11.8 ppg), as well as a 6-5, 230-pounder in Ishmail Wainright. The junior plays the most minutes on the team, and has excellent outside shooting ability.

Still, the match-up looks better on paper than it did last season. But as Huggins notes in his interview, until West Virginia proves its abilty to not just play closer games with Baylor, but indeed close one out - especially in front of a sold out home crowd on Saturday night - all that analysis won't make much difference.

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