West Virginia Looks To Start 2-0 In Big 12 Play With Road Clash At Texas Tech Upcoming

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia figures to be challenged on both ends of the floor by the skill set and raw physical size and athleticism of Texas Tech.

The best aspect of Tech's game? The Red Raiders are utilizing an efficient offense and intelligent spacing to create excellent looks, which has enabled them to shoot 51.5 percent from the floor this season under head coach Chris Beard. A former protegee of Bob Knight, Beard is in his first season heading the program in Lubbock after the departure of former Tech head coach Tubby Smith to Memphis. Beard has made small but significant changes to both the offense and defense, instituting some of Knight's ideals, including floor awareness and relation to one another, as well as a solid man to man concepts defensively.

The result has been an 11-2 start, which looked to be a win better during the Raiders' initial Big 12 game of the season. Texas Tech led by as many as 14 points at Iowa State before the Cyclones rallied back with a 21-4 run that segued into a 63-56 victory. It was just the second defeat of the year for Tech, which is 9-0 at home and averages 80 points while holding foes to 60. Eight players are shooting 50 percent or better from the floor, while forward Anthony Livingston and guard Keenan Evans provide a nice inside-out balance with each scoring 13 points per game.

"It's a different philosophy; it's different on offense and defense," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said of TTU's style between this last year and this. "Chris has spent a lot of time around coach Knight. I was only around him for 10 minutes and he has influenced me. I can't imagine 10 years. Their spacing is really good. Tubby just played different. But they are getting coached up pretty good right now. The other thing is those guys are a year older now, too. They have been through this league and understand the league. Having veteran guys, they have seven seniors, that's a lot of seniors.

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"They shoot better from the floor because they are shooting it better. Chris is getting them really good shots. I think they are getting really good shots and doing a great job off running their offense. Their length is more of a factor defensively than offensively. I think it (the Iowa State loss) a combination of things. They turned it over a little bit. They did shoot it well, but Iowa State shot it better. Iowa State got some transition baskets it didn't get in the first half."

Texas Tech is also helped by a sizable roster that includes seven players at least 6-8 or taller - including Livingston - and a dose of elite level athleticism from forward Zach Smith. The 6-8, 220-pound junior has hit a team-best 58.9 percent of his shots (good for third best in the Big 12) while leading the Raiders with eight rebounds per game. He also has 26 blocks this season.

"I think everybody else that has played against them has said he's one of the best athletes in our league," Huggins said. "It's hard to dispute them. He is really a factor around the rim. He made two blocks against Iowa State. His second jump is incredible. A lot of people have a first jump, then can't go right back up. He goes right back up. He's a terrific athlete."

West Virginia traveled back to Morgantown following the impressive win at Oklahoma State. In the past, the Mountaineers have chosen to remain on the road during their opening conference swing, but Huggins said the combination of the three days between games, as well as his desire to get his players additional practice and shooting, led to the decision to return.

"It's usually just one or two days (between games). The worst thing they can do is lay around all day," Huggins said. "Being able to get them in there, get them moving (is important.)

Huggins also noted WVU forward Elijah Macon, who missed the Oklahoma State contest with a knee injury, practiced on New Year's Day. Huggins did not say whether the junior will be available against Texas Tech.

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