SCOUTING THE SOONERS
It's not as if the Sooners have any horrible losses. It's just that they haven't won games against solid teams that they have usually come out on top of in previous years. Losing to Wisconsin, or Memphis or Wichita State isn't embarrassing, but it also isn't a way to make a run at postseason play either. In conference, losses to TCU and Kansas State speak as much to the improvement of those opponents as to OU's slide. The Sooners also broke a four-game conference losing streak with a home win over Texas Tech on Saturday, perhaps signaling a bit of improvement as newcomers attempt to blend with a couple of holdover stalwarts.
OU has been hampered by the absence of Jordan Woodard (6-0, 190 lbs.), who missed the first three Big 12 games of the year. He played 24 minutes against Kansas and then started against against Texas Tech, and makes the Sooners much better than they were with him on the sidelines. He poured in 27 points to help OU break a seven-game losing streak in the win over the Red Raiders, and makes OU a much better team that its record would indicate.
Woodard's return makes OU more versatile in the backcourt. Sophomore Rashard Odomes (6-6, 210 lbs.) averages 9.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, while freshman Kameron McGusty (6-5, 190 lbs., 7.5 ppg) and junior Darrion Strong-Moore (6-1, 180 lbs., 17 minutes) provide good depth. Christian James, who slid into a backup role recently, still averages double figures at 10.8 per. Up front, junior forward Khadeem Lattin (6-9. 210 lbs.) hasn't been quite as productive as hoped, but still averages 8.4 points and team best 5.5 rebounds per contest. Freshman Kristian Doolittle (6-7, 235 lbs.) has been good in his initial season, pushing his way into a starting role while averaging 7.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest.
Oklahoma is still very much a work in progress. Ten different players have started this year, with seven different starting fives featured, and the Sooners go 11 deep in their rotation. They are still trying to figure out their best combinations, but could well be on an upward arc as they try to rally from their tough start in the league.
Many will look at OU's record and figure this is an easy win for WVU. There are only two problems with that: 1) there are no easy games in the Big 12, and 2) the team WVU faces will look much different that those that lost to TCU and K-State.
|WVU (15-2 / 4-1) vs. Oklahoma (7-9 / 1-4)||Wed Jan 18||7:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: OU 8-4|
|RPI: WVU - 23 OU - 145||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM: 134/199|
We've discussed the return of Jordan Woodard, an addition that figures to provide a ripple effect through the OU rotation. Just like Nathan Adrian and WVU, Woodard's presence benefits in multiple ways. His return takes scoring pressure off some of the newcomers on the OU roster. They'll be able to play off of Woodard's primary game, and that could set them up to be even more effective.
This game could be a battle of backups, as both teams excel in getting contributions up and down the lineup. OU has eight players averaging more than five points per league game, so WVU can't depend on finding weak links that aren't at least a threat to shoot and score.
Defensively, this game will likely be different that the Baylor and Texas contests. Those schools used big wings and forwards to cut down the halfcourt passing lanes, but OU isn't built in a similar fashion. They will rely on their guards to harrass WVU in the halfcourt, and will try to push the ball upcourt early for quick shots. Again, the question of experience comes into play. Will McGusty, James and Jordan Shepherd remain composed against the press, with the few veterans like Woodard and Doolittle able to serve as steadying influences? Can OU make threes on the run? WVU will no doubt look to keep the ball out of Woodard's hands with immediate traps and double teams.
The Mountaineers must also improve their post game on offense – especially passing between the high and low posts. This has functioned well when Nathan Adrian has been in the game, but it suffers mightily when he goes out. WVU has at times snuck guards into the high post to receive passes and look for quick low post feeds, and that could be another option to attack the steady diet of zones that foes have thrown at them recently.
West Virginia continues to work strongly on the offensive glass, but isn't doing nearly as well on the defensive end. The Mountaineers are getting just under 69% of the available rebounds on that end of the floor. OU, by way of comparison, snares almost 74% of the available defensive rebounds it sees.
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WVU's free throw shooting is the subject of much angst, but so far it has been offset, at least for the most part, by mediocre accuracy by its opponents. The Mountaineers are making just 64.7% of their tries (306th nationally), but opponents are making only 66% against WVU. How much of that is the effect of weariness brought on by constant pressure? It's almost impossible to quantify, but many WVU opponents do shoot worse from the line against the Mountaineers than their season average. OU is making 71.4% of its attempts to date.
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For the second consecutive game, the Mountaineers face an opponent that holds an 8-4 series advantage. Texas lead the series by that same margin before WVU narrowed the gap with a win in Austin.
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Oklahoma has held the lead at halftime in six of its nine losses this season.