Big 12 Basketball Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers - Baylor Bears

West Virginia is on a solid run to wrap-up the regular Big 12 basketball season, but getting a win at Baylor to cap it will be more difficult than many may think.

UPDATING THE BEARS

The Bears have gone 4-3 since their 80-69 loss to West Virginia in Morgantown on Feb. 6, but the losses included decisions to Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as a setback to (then) streaking Texas Tech. BU knocked off K-State, Iowa State, Texas and TCU during the the month, which has been enough to keep them tied for fourth place in the league, along with the Cyclones and Longhorns.

Forward Taurean Prince has continued to be an all-around standout for Baylor, and would be a first team -all conference pick in most leagues. He's averaging 15.3 points and 5.8 rebounds, and is stellar at the free throw line, making 80.7% of his attempts. Hulking Rico Gathers will just miss averaging a double-double on the season, as he currently stands at 11.5 points and 9.4 boards per game. His continued excellence won't land him first team honors this year either, but his combination with Prince gives the team an excellent inside and mid-range combination.

As has been the case most of the year, Baylor continues to go deep into its bench, with nine players averaging at least 12.6 minutes per game. Point guard Lester Medford, who sometimes gets lost in the standout group of guards in the Big 12, has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio to 3-1. He involves everyone up and down the rotation, as the backups all are capable shooters. The Bars hit 47.35 from the field as a team, and are making 37.5% from three and 73.4% from the free throw line. WVU can't count on them missing open shots, and must force a net positive in open shots vs. turnovers and missed chances in order to head off Baylor's solid shooting ability.

GAME OUTLOOK

What does each team have to play for in the regular season finale? With the Big 12 Championship and the NCAA tournament looming, this contest's potential effects on postseason seeding could be the key motivational factor.

WVU (23-7 / 12-5) vs. BU (21-9 / 10-7) Sat Mar 5 2:00 PM EST
Ferrell Center Waco TX Series: Baylor 7-2
RPI: WVU - 11 Baylor - 24 TV: ESPN Sirius/XM: 84/84

For West Virginia, it's strong. The Mountaineers would finish second in the Big 12 with a win, but will likely drop to third with a loss, barring a very unlikely TCU upset of Oklahoma. A win here would also be another step in the push to get a two seed in the NCAA Tournament, while a loss might end any such hopes. Baylor, tied with Iowa State and Texas, holds the tiebreaker over the Cyclones as it won both regular season meetings, but will need a win along with a Texas loss to move ahead of the Longhorns. Past that, multiple tiebreaker scenarios come into play, and BU doesn't come out on top in a lot of those, but it still shold be enough to keep the Bears attention, as they have as much to play for as the Mountaineers do in terms of seeding, even if it's a step down the ladder.

There's also the emotion of Senior Day, and the effects there are much more difficult to fathom. Sometimes players come out smoking on their final day in their home venue, but at other times it can be counter-productive if those involved are a bit too amped up. WVU certainly caught Texas Tech in something of a downward spiral on Saturday, and was able to ride that, plus the play of its seniors, to a win. The Mountaineers are playing well right now, though, so if the Bears are to benefit, it's all likely to have to come from their side of the court.

In the first meeting, WVU held Gathers to just five points, while other contributors such as Al Freeman and Lester Medford were well below their usual norms. WVU will again look to trap aggressively in the halfcourt to try to deny the ball inside to Gathers and Prince, and must work in combination to keep both off the boards. Playing without Jonathan Holton, West Virginia was outrebounded and outshot by seven boards and attempts, respectively, and it was only due to Baylor's uncharacteristically low shooting percentage (38.7) that West Virginia got its 19th win of the season. This time, the path to a win will likely be a bit different, as WVU probably can't weather such deficits again.

PRESS POINTS

Holton's absence obviously affected WVU on the boards in the first game, but Baylor hits the glass almost as well as the Mountaineers. WVU rebounds almost 42% of its missed shots, but the Bears are right behind at 40%.


This is a classic game of offense vs, defense, as the Bears hold the advantage in more offensive efficiency metrics in a head-to-head comparison, while WVU has a decided defensive edge.


Rico Gathers will take his football-sized body in that direction after completing his hoops eligibility this month. He plans to take a shot at the NFL, although it was initially reported that he would try to play this fall for Baylor before making that move.


We all know about steals and turnovers, but WVU also ranks highly in assist prevention. Why is that important? It tends to show that the Mountaineers are good at taking away passes and limiting ball movement, and in forcing opponents to score off the dribble. West Virginia is allowing just 10.5 assists per game (15th nationally) and is even better when measured in assists per possession. There, the Mountaineers are sixth in the nation at .144 per possession.


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