UPDATING THE COWBOYS
Oklahoma State expected to be competing for at least an upper division finish in the Big 12 this season, but those reasonable hopes have been crushed by injury, starting with the preseason loss of Phil Forte. Since then, the Pokes have been plagued by the unavailability of six players for multiple games, including another season-ender to point guard Jawun Evans. With just three league wins to date, OSU is assured of a spot in one of the two first-round games in the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday, and might be playing for nothing more than the right to face cellar-dwelling TCU in the opener in Kansas City. And the path to get even one more win in the regular season is difficult, what with three ranked teams remaining (WVU, Iowa State and Texas) in the final trio of opponents.
The Cowboys aren't really a bad team, but the cumulative effect of injuries, combined with the strain of the Big 12 schedule, have left them with a 3-10 record since facing the Mountaineers the first time. That did include a home win over Kansas and a road win at Auburn, but that lone Big 12 outlier has been the highlight of their season to date. The Cowboys suffered just a two-point loss to Florida on a neutral court in December, playing a much better short-handed game than the Mountaineers managed a month later against the same foe in the SEC\Big 12 Challenge.
During the tough conference road, OSU has been competitive in a number of games. It lost to OU and Texas Tech by two, Baylor by four, and Texas and Iowa State by five. While comparative scores can be misleading, it doesn't look like the Cowboys have quit on the season, so WVU can't pin its hopes on a laydown by the home team.
In recent games, senior guard Jeff Newberry has picked up the scoring and rebounding load, with junior forward Leyton Hammonds providing a good bit of support, as he has averaged 11 points per contest over the last six.. Sophomore guard Tavarius Shine, who only played in one of OSU's first eight games due to injury, has been thrust into a starting role, and has responded well, averaging nearly ten points per outing. Tyree Griffin continues in the playmaker role despite a nagging ankle sprain, averaging 3.7 assist per outing.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins appears to be sticking with a modified starting lineup that doesn't include Jonathan Holton, Daxter Miles or either of his super-subs, so that puts the onus on the first group to get off to a good start.
|WVU (21-7 / 10-5) vs. OSU (12-16 / 3-12)||Sat Feb 27||6:00 PM EST|
|Gallagher-Iba Arena||Stillwater, OK||Series: Tied 4-4|
|RPI: WVU – 14 OSU - 149||TV: ESPNU||Sirius/XM: 81/81|
That has been an issue in some games, and it will become even more important in postseason tournaments, where there's no room for error. One bad start, one early 12-2 deficit, and it can all be over. Thus, the first five can't fall behind early.
There are weapons available. Devin Williams can obviously score, Nathan Adrian has been very efficient in picking up points, and Teyvon Myers has hit a hoop or a couple of free throws each game. What needs to happen though, is for all five to work seamlessly in those first few minutes before the subs begin to make their way to the scorers table. The Mountaineers can't just try to pound the ball inside to Dev all the time, even though that's not something to be ignored. Esa Ahmad needs to be aggressive from the start, and Jevon Carter has to figure out a way to break out of the shooting funk he finds himself in, whether its by driving or getting back to the mid-range jumpers that used to be a part of his game.
The same group must also figure out different ways to be effective in the press. This group isn't as good as some other combinations in all-out trapping, so it needs to get turnovers in other ways. Pursuit from the back must get better (teams have been beating WVU down the floor for quick shots after deep traps), and the bigs in the back must defend more aggressively, even at the cost of a foul or two. Facing OSU is a great place to get the kinks worked out, but again, this isn't a practice session. The Cowboys home court can get rocking when the home team has success, so a solid early start to keep things quiet is a big key for the Mountaineers in pursuit of their 11th conference win.
The team-oriented nature of West Virginia's success is borne out by a look at its statistical spread. Jaysean Paige leads the Mountaineers in scoring, while Devin Williams leads in rebouding. Jevon Carter is tops in assists and steals, with Nathan Adrian heading the list of turnover avoidance. On a per minute basis, the leaders change up, with Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip making appearances. The takeaway? WVU needs six or seven of its current nine-man rotation to play well in order to get wins.
West Virginia's win over Iowa State gave it a perfect 5-0 record on Mondays this year. WVU has three losses on Tuesdays and another three on Saturdays. A hopeful note for early round postseason action this year: the Mountaineers are a combined 5-0 on Thursdays and Fridays.
Jeff Newberry is the only Oklahoma State player to start every game this year. Nine different Cowboys have drawn starting assignments.
With a win, Bob Huggins can move past Lefty Driesell and secure a place in the top ten of the winningest All-Time Division I men's basketball coaches. Cliff Ellis of Coastal Carolina is also currently tied with Huggins and Driesell at 786 wins, but Huggins can be no worse than tenth as he and Ellis continue to duel. When Huggins gets win number 787, that will be his last move up this year. Eddie Sutton current sits in eighth place with 806 wins.