SCOUTING THE COWBOYS
New head coach Brad Underwood has provided just what the OSU administration was looking for when they hired him after a very successful run at Stephen F. Austin. Buoyed by the return of sharpshooter Phil Forte, the Cowboys are playing with a verve and enthusiasm that was missing in their past couple of seasons. The up-tempo style and pressure defense that Underwood brought to Stillwater were witnessed first hand by West Virginia in its opening round loss to the Lumberjacks in last year's NCAA tournament.
With wins over UConn and Georgetown, OSU has losses only to North Carolina and Maryland – the latter by a single point on the road. Like every other Power Five school, they've had their share of easy games, but they've taken care of business well, scoring 93.3 points per outing, which tops WVU's 91.8 mark.
The backcourt, led by Jawun Evans and Phil Forte, is OSU's strength. Evans (So., 6-1, 185 lbs.) averages 20.2 points per game from the point position, but still manages to deal out 4.6 assists per game. Forte (Sr., 5-11, 195 lbs.), who missed almost all of last season due to injury, is still a deadly shooter who's averaging 13.1 points while hitting 97.8% of his free throws. He'll wind up as the Pokes' all-time 3-point leader, and simply can't be left open in the frontcourt. Freshman Lindy Waters has elbowed his way into the starting lineup and is finding his comfort zone, adding 7.6 points per outing.
Up front, senior Leyton Hammonds (6-8, 215 lbs.) leads production inside with 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, while another true freshman, Lucas N'Guessan (7-0, 215 lbs.) has also made his way into the starting lineup by contributing 3.5 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. His addition there has given OSU more height inside, which was a concern for Underwood coming in to the season.
Junior Jeffrey Carroll has been instant offense off the bench, averaging 16.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He can play either guard for forward at 6-6 and 215 pounds, and is a tough match-up for opposing defenses. Freshman Brandon Averette has also been an instant hit, adding 7.9 points to OSU's prolific scoring attack.
West Virginia has started Big 12 play in each of the past three years with two road games, and will do so again this season. While that might sound a bit unfair, it's actually worked to the Mountaineers' advantage – something they hope to continue to work in their favor as the year closes and another begins while they are on the road.
|WVU (11-1) vs. OSU (10-2)||Fri Dec 30||4:00 PM EST|
|Gallagher – Iba Arena||Stillwater, OK||Series: WVU 5-4|
|RPI: WVU - 48 OSU - 39||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM: 81/81|
With an assist from the Big 12, which understands WVU's long travel issues, the schedule has been set up to get two of West Virginia's road games out of the way while the school is on its semester break. The Mountaineers, in turn, have taken advantage of that, winning all six of those road contests. With two road league victories under their belts, WVU has pushed on to successful conference seasons.
Granted, the opposition in those games hasn't been the best, as WVU recorded three wins over TCU, two over Texas Tech and one over Kansas State in those six games. Still, a running 2-0 league start is nothing to take lightly, especially with both of them away from home. That leaves the Mountaineers with 10 home games against just six roadies over the remaining schedule.
To make it seven straight wins against this early schedule, WVU will need to at least break even in the battle at point guard – and that won't be easy. OSU's Evans is leading the league in scoring and is second in steals per game. That's offset by WVU's Jevon Carter, who tops the conference in takeaways at 3.3 per outing. Carter, along with WVU's pressure, will try to deny Evans the ball in the frontcourt and disrupt the direction he has provided to the Cowboys' efficient attack.
There's also the battle of pressure defenses overall to watch – one that could be quite entertaining. Each team turns over foes at a high rate, and forces numerous possessions that never result in a shot. The squad that can execute its version better, and protect the ball while on offense, will likely end up the winner. In last year's NCAA game against Underwood and Stephen F. Austin, the Mountaineers suffered 22 turnovers while forcing just seven.
Underwood has the third-best ever winning percentage for a fourth-year coach. Only Buck Freeman of St. John's and Adolph Rupp of Kentucky have bested Underwood's .861 winning percentage. He will be shooting for head coaching win number 100 against WVU.
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In Big 12 play, WVU lost its first four meetings against OSU, but has since won four straight.
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Both teams are putting up big scoring numbers, but West Virginia's margin of victory (33.6) is more than twice that of OSU's (15.9). One reason for that is probably level of competition, but the Cowboys are allowing opponents to shoot nearly 46% from the field, while WVU is holding its opponents to under 39%.
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Both teams rely heavily on their benches. OSU is fifth nationally with 41.7 points per game coming from backups, while WVU is tallying 43.6. West Virginia's this year came in its only game in which its subs did not outscore those of its opponent.