West Virginia Meets TCU on Thursday in Big 12 Championship, But Mountaineers Prepared

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- West Virginia assistant coach Erik Martin noted that "you can never assume" when scouting tournament games in preparation for upcoming foes. His recollection of WVU's run to the Big East title in 2010 proved prescient when #10 seed TCU upset #7 Texas Tech in the opening round of the Big 12 Championship on Wednesday, setting up a Mountaineer - Horned Frog battle on Thursday.

Martin, discussing the ways in which West Virginia prepares for and scouts opponents that it is playing for the third time in a year, emphasized, "you can never assume".

"The year we won the Big East Tournament, the first round it was Louisville and Cincinnati, and we were pretty locked in that Louisville was going to win, but Cincinnati won," Martin remembered of the team that went on to play in the Final Four.

That upset might have helped WVU back then, but there's no guarantee of the same thing happening in 2016. The Mountaineers expect to play well on Thursday, but TCU is probably a better team than its 2-16 conference record would suggest. Also, a quick look back shows that the Horned Frogs did the same thing in the opening round a year ago, knocking off Kansas State as a #9 seed to move on to the next round. That's their only Big 12 Championship win to date, but they have to be a bit more confident, not to mentioned warmed up, in their bid to continue an improbable tournament run.

While some will say that TCU's win proves the old adage "it's tough to beat a team three times in one season, Martin and the rest of the coaching staff doesn't buy it. Martin recalled that Cincinnati defeated Memphis four times in one season when it went to the Final Four, so he believes it's more about executing the game plan and getting through to the players that two wins (or losses) don't mean anything once the ball goes up.

Most observers figured the Red Raiders, who are still thought to be on solid ground for an NCAA bid, would move past the Frogs and into the second round. WVU, though, had assistants watching the game and creating more notes for review, just in case the expected didn't play out. When it didn't, the Mountaineers were still covered for their final preparations on Thursday.

No matter which team came through, though, it would set up a third game between the two squads. That's where the nuances of a scouting report enter. After all, how much more can be learned from watching the teams again. And if there are differences, how are they communicated to the team?

Assistant coach Larry Harrison provided great insight in the way West Virginia scouts, and what it emphasizes, when facing an opponent for a third time. Noting that these later scouts may focus more on opponents than on they system being run, he describes tendencies that he and his fellow assistants will try to isolate, and the process by which it helps formulate what WVU wants to do.

"It is more personnel driven, and we make sure guys understand what we need to do," Harrison noted. "We look at individuals, where they are comfortable, going left or going right, or what hand they want to use. Then we look to see how we scored against them to try to take advantage of mismatches."

While every scouting job includes a highlight of any changes or tweaks made since the last meeting, Harrison notes that they aren't all that prevalent.

"[TCU head coach] Trent [Johnson] has been coaching for 17 years, and he pretty much does the same thing," he observed.

West Virginia will hope to do its own thing by putting the notes and observations made by the coaching staff on TCU to good use in its quarterfinal appearance. 

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