UPDATING THE SOONERS
One shortsighted “analysis” of a WVU player on a national media site included the fact that better play from him was needed, as the Mountaineers were just 5-5 in their past ten games. Well, Oklahoma is 5-4 since knocking off the Mountaineers at the beginning of that stretch, and no one seems to be dinging the Sooners for that downturn. Of course, knowledgeable observers know that OU, and WVU, are both very good teams – it's just that they play in a league where even a “B” effort often leads to a loss.
The Sooners will be looking to move back into a tie with West Virginia Mountaineers in the Big 12 standings, and if they can get past this contest have a bit of an easier closing stretch. Home games against Oklahoma State and Baylor, along with road trips to Texas and TCU won't be easy, but it's probably the least difficult final four of the regular season of any of the contenders.
Despite the few stumbles of late, consistency in play continues to be a key for OU. Coach Lon Kruger has rolled out the same starting lineup in all 25 games, and with four proven scorers can weather an off night from one or two and still find a way to win. Despite constant attention, national player of the year candidate Buddy Hield continues to fill the hoop with 25.6 points per game, while Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler provide double-digit scoring support.
Whether fatigue is a factor for OU in some of its recent losses is an open debate. While the Sooners won't admit to such, its big four all average more than 30 minutes per game, which could be having a cumulative wearing effect. That's something that WVU would hope to prey on with non-stop pressure, but its own roster woes may prevent it from doing so to the fullest.
Oklahoma continues to be very reliant on 3-point shots, so West Virginia must run the Sooners off the line and prevent open looks.
|WVU (20-6 / 9-4) vs. OU (20-5 / 8-5)||Sat Feb 20||4:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: OU 7-3|
|RPI: WVU – 10 OU - 4||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM: 84/84|
The advantage that Oklahoma has piled up from beyond the arc is huge. It has taken 50 more attempts from distance than opponents this year, but has made 82 more. That's an average of more than three per game, which translates out to a bit more than ten points per outing. Overall, the Sooners are shooting 44.3% from three, which results in the same number of points as if they were shooting 66% from two-point range. No matter how you slice it, this is a massive advantage that WVU must minimize if it hopes to get the win.
West Virginia's first defensive job has to be forcing turnovers to limit OU possessions. In the absence of that, the Mountaineers simply can't let the Sooners have open shots from long range, as they did Texas last Tuesday. Doing so may yield holes in other defensive areas, but WVU must get on shooters quickly, even if it means opening up the floor for potential drives, because 20 open shots from beyond the arc equates to a loss for the home team, unless OU has an atypical shooting performance.
For West Virginia to achieve that, it will either need to have at least one of its two injured guards back or change its tactics to allow it to get back more quickly on defense. Of course, that limits chances for turnover creation, so it's a bit of a Hobson's Choice for the Mountaineer coaching staff. Look for WVU to again try to steal some minutes with Teyvon Myers, who has played reasonably well as the season has progressed, and to stay away from the four-big set that was a total bust against Texas. Outside of that, much of this game rests on the recuperative powers of Jaysean Paige and Daxter Miles.
Fouls and turnovers are often cited as keys for WVU, but the raw numbers in a couple of stats don’t bear that out in measuring wins and losses. The Mountaineers have yielded 28.3 free throw attempts per game in their six losses, but that number shrinks by less than one, to 27.4, in its 20 wins. The Mountaineers have committed 14.5 turnovers per game in the defeats, but give it away an average of 14 times in its 20 victories.
Not only has OU's big four started every game this year, but each member has started every game over the past three seasons – a string of 93 consecutive contests.. That's 372 games of combined starts – and experience factor that explains a great deal of their success.
Bob Huggins needs one win to tie Lefty Driesell and Cliff Ellis for ninth place all-time on the NCAA Division I winningest coaches list. Huggins’ record now stands at 785-318 in his 34th season as a head coach, in which he has moved past Lute Olson and Lou Henson on the all-time list this season. The battle with Ellis, the head coach at Coastal Carolina, remains an active one, so Huggins’ overall placement on the list has bounced up and down as Ellis and he accumulate more wins. Driesell is the last coach that Huggins can pass this year – up next on the list in eighth place is Eddie Sutton with 806 wins.
OU is well on its way to shattering individual and team 3-point records this year. Hield needs just one more three to become the school's single season record holder for three pointers (105). The team is also well on its way to the school proficiency mark, which is currently 41.4%, set during the 1986-87 season. This year's 44.3% mark is well clear of that standard.