Big 12 Basketball Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers - Baylor Bears

Another day, another Top 25 match-up in the Big 12 as West Virginia hosts Baylor in a conference nightcap.


Four of Baylor's five starters gobble up a great deal of available minutes, and produce at a very high level. Backed by one sub who averages double digits in scoring and a three other role players, the Bears are again an NCAA tournament team whose fight, like many others in the league, is now for conference positioning and tournament seeding.

Senior forward Rico Gathers (6-8, 275 lbs.) is again dominating inside for the Bears, averaging 13 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, and he's joined by fellow final-year performer Taurean Prince (F, 6-8, 220 lbs.) who actually holds the team lead at 15 points per outing. The combination of bulk and athleticism has allowed the duo to play off each other’s strengths, and makes them very difficult to handle inside. The fact that Prince can step out to the 3-point line, where he has made 34 shots this year, helps create space and gives both room to operate in the half-court, but he's probably taking a few too many shots (266, tops on the team) given his 42% mark from the field. Swingman Ishmail Wanright (Jr., 6-5, 230 lbs.) is respectable in a supporting role, averaging 5.0 points and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Lester Medford (Sr., 5-10 175 lbs.) and Al Freeman (So., 6-3, 200 lbs.) form an underappreciated duo in the backcourt. Medford deals out 7.1 assists per game, while also finding time to add nine points per outing, while Freeman scores at an 11.8 points per game clip. Johnathan Motley (F, So., 6-9, 230 lbs.) provides primary support off the bench, adding 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds in fewer than 20 minutes of action per game.

In addition to outstanding rebounding, which is discussed further in the next section, the Bears are also very good in passing and protecting the ball. They are seventh nationally in assist to turnover ratio, and while they might not pass it as well as Iowa State, they are solid with the ball up and down the lineup.


West Virginia has had tons of trouble with Baylor in previous seasons, as the Mountaineers haven't been able to match up to the onslaught of height and athleticism of BU in the lane and on the wings.

WVU (18-4 / 6-2) vs. Baylor 17-5 / 6-3 Sat Feb 6 8:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: Baylor 7-1
RPI: WVU - 13 Baylor - 26 TV: ESPN2 Sirius/XM: 84/84

That match-up will play out in many areas, but perhaps none so strongly as on the boards. WVU , with 364 offensive retrievals and 888 overall usually holds an advantage, but Baylor counters with 309/852, setting up what should be a fierce battle on both ends. The rebounding margins are almost identical, with WVU holding a +10 mark against opponents, while Baylor has a +9.6 edge. Without Jonathan Holton, who according to WVU remains indefinitely suspended, the Bears might be expected to push their way to a win in this important confrontation.

Also in the spotlight will be West Virginia’s use of its press. Against Iowa State, it was merely token in nature for much of the first half. While that didn’t produce many turnovers, it also kept WVU out of foul trouble for the most part, and even though the whistles blew more frequently in the second, the Mountaineers were able to keep players on the court when they were needed. Might WVU mix up the press again in this game, and try to use it tactically rather than in an all-out assault? Also of importance is the way in which WVU presses. Is it the 3-1-1 with pressure on the ball and immediate traps, or a softer 2-2-1 with fewer run and jump traps as the ball moves up the floor?

WVU must also have one of its best games in the defensive halfcourt to combat the strength of Baylor inside. Gathers is the obvious focus, but Motley, who started most of last year, is just as dangerous. Add in Taurean Prince, who is also effective in the lane, and West Virginia faces a tough task. The Mountaineers aren’t strong defensively in the post, and must deny entry passes and keep Gathers and company from posting up deep inside. If the Bears get the ball within a couple of feet of the rim, it’s likely going to be a score or a foul, so the Mountaineers have to stop that offensive action before it can develop. It won’t be a surprise to see some zone mized in with WVU’s typical man-to-man/


Following his monster effort at Iowa State (17 points and 18 rebounds), Devin Williams again leads the Big 12 with 10 double doubles. The total of 17 and 18 was the highest such outputs in those two categories in one game since 1997, when Gordon Malone went 24 and 18 against Bowling Green on March 12, 1997.

Baylor is the only WVU opponent to have won in Morgantown each of the past three seasons. If it hopes to extend that streak, it might want to grab a lead in the second half. BU is 17-0 this season when it has taken the lead at any point in the second half of a game.

Both teams have ramped up their scoring defenses in second halves of games this year in comparison to national averages. WVU yields 31.9 points per first half (92nd nationally), but jumps up to 14th in second half allowances with 32.7 points per period. Baylor likewise makes a big jump from 151st in the first half to 32nd in the second, as they allow 33.2 and 34.1, respectively.

Since 2011, Baylor has won more games than any Big 12 school other than Kansas. Such a record is often built on road success, and the Bears are trying to extend a current three-game winning streak on the road in Big 12 play. A win would give them their longest such streak in 26 years.

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