SCOUTING THE LONGHORNS
Texas is staring at a gauntlet that includes three Top Ten teams – a challenge just made more difficult by the suspension of leading scorer Tevin Mack, who has now been put in timeout twice this season. With Baylor and Kansas following West Virginia on the slate, UT has to be feeling the pressure to get an upset win on its home court here to avoid a lengthy conference losing streak.
With Mack (14.8 points, 4.8 rebounds) out, Texas will likely have to lean on more minutes from its further-shortened rotation. Head coach Shaka Smart figures to be down to an eight-man rotation for this game, which could give WVU an advantage with its deeper bench. Sophomore guard Kerwin Roach (6-4, 175 lbs.) and big freshman Jarrett Allen (6-11, 235 lbs.) are the remaining double-figure scorers at 11 points per game each, while freshman guard Andrew Jones adds 9.6. Allen is the unsurprising leader on the boards with 7.7 per, while senior Shaquile Cleare (6-8, 275 lbs.) is grabbing more than five per game in fewer than 20 minutes of action. Conditioning could play a role here – can the UT bigs add more minutes to their box scores while maintaining their efficiency? Eric Davis (G, 6-3, 195 lbs.) is the likely candidate to get Mack's starting spot, and some of his minutes.
While the 'Horns have good athletes in the backcourt in the form of Roach and senior Kendal Yancy (6-3, 210 lbs.), ball security and playmaking have been an issue. Texas has fought to get its half-court offense on track, and with 30 more turnovers than assists to date, hasn't been able to get enough scoring chances to put together wins against Power Five schools. UT is 270th nationally in this metric, and until it can correct it, will continue to have problems getting enough points to compete in the Big 12.
A year ago, WVU lost two games against a Texas squad that protected the ball well and got great backcourt scoring. This year, the contest figures to play out somewhat differently.
|WVU (14-2 / 3-1) vs. Texas (7-9/ 1-3)||Sat Jan 14||4:00 PM EST|
|Erwin Center||Austin TX||Series: UT 4-8|
|RPI: WVU - 22 UT - 159||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM: 84/84|
The loss of leading scorer Mack puts the 'Horns in the unenviable position of finding more scoring support on an already short bench. UT won't be able to bring waves of good ballhandlers or big bodies at West Virginia, and could struggle without an experienced – some would say without a true – point guard. Combined, these factors give the Mountaineers an opportunity for a road win by bringing its primary weapons of pressure and high scoring to bear. WVU might be able to put up more points than the Longhorns can hope to match.
A key area to watch in that regard is first half scoring. WVU is averaging 43.4 points per opening half, which ranks as the fifth best mark in the nation, Texas is tallying just 32.4 (224th), while WVU has been allowing foes an average of only 27 points before the break. A Mountaineer hold on these stat lines would be a huge advantage in getting them back on the winning side of the Big 12 road ledger.
By no means, though, should this game be considered as an automatic win for the Mountaineers. How many times has a team facing such adversity rallied and produced a winning effort? Certainly WVU is a deserved favorite, but on the college level motivation and “want to” count for a great deal. If West Virginia is ready to go from the outset and can get out to an early advantage, UT might be in trouble in front of a fan base that is already restless with the season's results to date. The 'Horns don't enjoy a raucous home court advantage, and a good early start by the Mountaineers could limit that even further. But if the Mountaineers don't bring the same intensity they did on Saturday against Baylor, Texas could be in the position to get a sorely-needed win.
While Rollie Massimino has jumped a trio of wins in front of Bob Huggins on the winningest all-time Division I head coaches list, the Mountaineer mentor can make a step of his own with a win over Texas. A victory in Austin would be number 806 of his career, tying him with Eddie Sutton for ninth place. Massimino has 808. On the other end of the court, Texas head man Shaka Smart is making his third try for his 200th career win.
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Despite Texas' losing record, things haven't been all bad in Austin. UT has been playing good defense, holding opponents to just 40.6% from the field and under 30% from 3-point range. The 'Horns also protect the rim well, with backup James Banks (25 blocks) and Allen (24) cleaning up when the opposition gets into the lane.
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West Virginia's plus/minus leaders to date are Tarik Phillip (+306), Nathan Adrian (+294), Jevon Carter (+292) and Esa Ahmad (+255) . It's no surprise to see Adrian, Carter and Ahamd on this list, but as Phillip has struggled with his shooting at times this year, it's a bit of an eye-opener to see him in the top slot.. This does speak to his play on defense, which is light years from where it was when he came to WVU, and also to the Mountaineers' bench brigade in general which tends to beat up on its opponents. West Virginia's second wave averages 39.1 points per game.
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WVU head coach Bob Huggins proposed an interesting take on the recent shooting dip of Nathan Adrian – that his extended minutes had caused a bit of fatigue that could be affecting his lift on his shot. If that's the case, might it also be in play for WVU's free throw shooting? In the more rigorous games in-conference, only Tarik Phillip, Sagaba Konate and Lamont West are shooting better from the line than they did during the non-conference portion of the schedule.