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Big 12 Basketball Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers - TCU Horned Frogs

The return of West Virginia forward Jonathan Holton will be the highlight of this game for many, but it's getting the win, and addressing a few areas of concern, that will be the bigger storylines of Saturday's noon clash against TCU.


It's been an uphill battle for head coach Trent Johnson as he tries to get TCU to a competitive level. There have been the outlier wins – Texas and Tennessee this year, for example – but on many occasions the Frogs fall behind early and simply can't make up enough ground to get them back into contention.

Since giving up 95 points to WVU to fall to 0-2 in the early Big 12 going, TCU has the aforementioned two wins, as well as a home victory last Monday over struggling Oklahoma State. Around those wins, though, are seven losses, including five in a row with the closest margin being seven points. With no postseason play on the horizon, the Frogs will have to get their enjoyment from knocking off upper-tier Big 12 contenders, and they have four more chances at such wins beginning with the Mountaineers.

Since facing WVU, the Frogs have shuffled their stating lineup. Forward Karviar Shepherd is now coming off the bench, replaced by Devonta Abron. That has reduced Shepherd's minutes somewhat, and has also cut his productivity, as he has only broken into double digits in scoring once in his previous seven games. Malique Trent (11.0 ppg), Chauncey Collins (10.5) and Vlad Brodziansky (10.4) top the Frogs in scoring, while Shepherd retains the team lead in rebounding at 5.8 per game.

Shooting struggles continue to define TCU. They've made just 41.1% of their attempts from the field and 32.8% from distance. When they can hit a few shots and stay in contact with their foes, their solid defense can give them a chance to spring the upset, but more often than not their inability to score puts them in a hole too deep to climb out of.


This is not time for an effort letdown, and if West Virginia's players want to avoid a lengthy postgame speech from head coach Bob Huggins, they'd be advised to come out for this game with the same intensity they have for league heavyweights.

WVU (19-5/8-3) vs. TCU (11-13/2-9) Sat Feb 13 12:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: WVU 7-0
RPI: WVU - 9  TCU - 160 TV: ESPNU Sirius/XM: 145/199

One item that could have an effect on this is WVU's modified tactics concerning its press. Over the last few games, the Mountaineers haven't employed the fullcourt, all-out trapping tactics from the start that they did prior to that stretch. Whether that change was made due to foul concerns or the absence of Jonathan Holton really isn't important at this point – what does matter is its effect on West Virginia's team as a whole. Does not playing that style from the outset make WVU a bit more passive, or help its opponents get settled in? And will the return of Holton put WVU back into full-trap mode when he enters the game?

There's no denying the positive effects of the move to less pressure in the first half. West Virginia has been able to keep more players available for longer stretches due to fewer fouls (or at least by spreading them out more). There's also the effect of suddenly amping up the pressure at key moments, and making foes uncomfortable after they felt like they had weathered the early storm and gotten into a rhythm in the game. Offsetting that, though, has been a dip in the number of turnovers forced. It's tough to tell whether or not this approach has made the Mountaineers less aggressive, and that's something to try to judge here. If TCU is able to settle in early, does that help them stay competitive?

Another item to watch is the way in which Jaysean Paige is used in the offense. Head coach Bob Huggins noted that “there wasn't anywhere else we could put him” after running him through various sets at various spots against Kansas – a move that was prompted by his perimeter teammates' inability to score. Watch Paige when he's in, and note that WVU doesn't just run him off screens. They'll post him up on defenders, where his fadeaway jumper is effective, and they'll put him at the high post, from where he can either pass or drive the ball. If he can get just one or two teammates on target, he'll be even more effective, as opponents won't be able to pay quite as much attention to him as they do when he's the only outside offensive threat.


With Jonathan Holton in the lineup, the Mountaineers have averaged 16.7 offensive rebounds per game. Without him, that number dips to 13.3. The same drop is evident in second chance points. With #1 on the floor, the number is 18.3 per game. Without him, it's 13.

TCU guard Brandon Parrish is on a hot streak, as he has connected on 50% of his shots while leading TCU in scoring the last two games. He's also something of a barometer for team success. In the Frogs' 11 wins, he makes 53% of his shots, but in losses that number drops precipitously to 38%. Parrish is the only player on the roster to start all 24 games this year.

West Virginia has no individual leaders in Big 12 statistical categories. Jonathan Holton is second in the league in offensive rebounding (4.05 per game) and Devin Williams is third on the defensive end (5.50).

WVU is shooting just 31.1% from 3-point range in conference games. Nathan Adrian's 9-18 (50%) tops the team, with Tarik Phillip (9-23, 39.1%) second. Daxter Miles, who has been criticized for his low success rate (31%), is actually a notch above Jaysean Paige (30%).

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