Big 12 Basketball Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers - Texas Tech Red Raiders

Everyone knows that Texas Tech has executed a remarkable turnaround in its season, but just how good is head coach Tubby Smith's squad? And how can West Virginia slow the Red Raiders' end-of-season momentum?

UPDATING THE RED RAIDERS

Tech went 2-6 in its first eight Big 12 games, but has roared back into NCAA Tournament consideration with a reversal, as it is 6-2 in league games since that start. The Red Raiders still have a reasonable chance at making the dance even if they drop their final two regular season games, but a road win at WVU or even a home win over Kansas State would likely be enough to push them into lock status.

Tech has been able to win games by outscoring foes (three wins with at least 83 points during the second-half stretch), and with defense (it held Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Baylor to an average of 63.3 points per game). It has also gotten improving performances in conference play from several team members, most notably sub Aaron Ross, who is averaging a team-best 12.8 points against Big 12 opponents, and Justin Gray, who adds 9.7 points in those games. Toddrick Gotcher remains the team's leading scorer at 11.2 points per overall outing, but Tech is getting better support across the board from its lineup. Seven players are averaging at least 8.6 points per game, and they all add at least three rebounds per outing, led by Zach Smith's 7.4.

A great deal of credit has to go to Smith for keeping the team together during the tough early weeks of Big 12 play. With a 12-8 record at the end of January, no one was picking them for an NCAA bid, but now they are right on the doorstep. Like West Virginia, the Red Raiders have built their squad on an acceptance of roles. They don't stand out statistically in any one area, but have kept working and made just enough plays to build their current run of success.

The first meeting with WVU exemplifies the difference in the “before” and “after” Texas Tech squad like no other game. Holding a five-point lead, Tech miscued on multiple chances to put the game away, and couldn't contain Tarik Phillip, who went on a binge to steal an 80-76 win in Lubbock. While they might not be one of the top teams in the league just yet, they aren't likely to suffer such a collapse again.

GAME OUTLOOK

While Gotcher probably deserves a bit of extra defensive attention, West Virginia must concentrate on covering Tech evenly across the floor. That's not an easy task given today's emphasis on spreading from sideline to sideline and using high ball screens to create open space for drives and dishes, but it's something that WVU must work to achieve.

WVU (22-7 / 11-5) vs. TT (18-10/ 8-8) Wed Mar 2 7:00 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: WVU 8-1
RPI: WVU - 13 Texas Tech - 23 TV: ESPNU Sirius/XM: 81 / 81

In the never-ending battle between offense and defense, we've seen several back and forth adjustments on the part of WVU and its foes this year. The Mountaineers started out with its hell-bent pressure, but a combination of high foul totals and new tactics, such as throwing the ball deep, forced a reaction. West Virginia backed off its pressure ever so slightly, and re-emphasized pursuit from behind and secondary traps at or just across the halfcourt line. Foes have since begun push the ball harder to the hoop and stationing a 3-point shooter in the opposite deep corner or wing, providing a skip pass or ball reversal target for open shots. The Mountaineers will be reacting to that, so keep an eye on Tech's alignment as it crosses the halfcourt line, and how WVU defends.

West Virginia will also be looking to reestablish its scoring advantage off the offensive glass – an area that has been lacking in some recent contests. While the Mountaineers have grabbed a number of offensive rebounds, they haven't been good on getting scores directly off them, and that reduces the positives of those offensive boards a great deal. Finishing through contact and completing old-school three-point plays are areas that need to be propped up, whether they come off boards or initial moves, so that's a nice stat to track. How many times does WVU have the chance for the and-one? How many scores does it get directly from offensive rebounds? Good percentages in both of these areas will likely lead to a Senior Night win.

As the season winds down, individual games have less effect on overall evaluations both unbiased (such as the RPI) and biased (like the eye test). While a loss wouldn't necessarily cost the Mountaineers a seed in the NCAA Tournament (especially given Tech's run), it could cost it multiple spots in the Big 12 Championship, where the standings are packed tighter than a Tokyo subway. So, while it's tempting to discount the overall importance of this game by saying a loss would not be a killer, there's no denying it would have an effect on WVU, especially in the short term. Conversely, WVU could lock up a three seed in the Big 12 Championship with a win.

PRESS POINTS

West Virginia continues to lead the nation in extra scoring chances per game – and by a considerable margin. The Mountaineers are averaging 11.8 per contest this year, while second place Wichita State trails with 9.6. Nationally, no one else has more than 6.7.


Each team is allowing its opponents to shoot exactly 42.4% from the field.


Senior Night at WVU includes home sendoffs for players Jonathan Holton, Jaysean Paige and Richard Romeo and also for four support staff members. Managers Justin D’Apolito, Ryan McIntrye and Joe Holland, as well as student athletic trainer Brady Lyles, will walk down the carpet just prior to 7:00 p.m.


 Nathan Adrian and Tarik Phillip are West Virginia's best 3-point shooters by percentage, with the former making 45.5% of his attempts while the latter trails only slightly at 42.3%. However, neither is close to their top three teammates in attempts – Phillip has fired just 71 times and Adrian 44. This shouldn't be a call, though, for them to put up more threes. In fact, it's likely their excellent shot selection, and lack of forced attempts, that have them hitting at such an excellent rate.


BlueGoldNews Top Stories