Just two weeks ago Oklahoma State was sitting at 10-8 overall and 0-6 in Big 12 play and it appeared as if Brad Underwood's team was at least another year away from consistently competing in the Big 12. Fast forward to Monday when the Cowboys went on the road and defeated in-state rival Oklahoma and the tune has changed quite a bit. With the win the Cowboys have now won four straight and if they can win their next two, they could rise as high as No.4 in the Big 12 standings, not bad for a team that was completely written off six games in to the conference slate.
Before winning a thriller against Oklahoma, the Cowboys had won their previous three games by margins of 19 (Texas Tech), 13 (TCU) and 28 (Arkansas). So what led to the big turnaround? According to West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins it's a combination of rebounding, shooting the ball well and Underwood's decision to switch to a pack line defense.
"They're playing great," remarked Huggins. "They're out-rebounding their opponents; they have about 15 more offensive rebounds than their opponents in their last five games and their shooting 47 percent form three over their last five games.
"They have pack lined it (on defense) so they don't get so spread out. They were playing more the way we play and we put an onus on our ability to guard the ball and I think they got back to that some so they're packing it in and playing inside the three."
And while Juwan Evans and Phil Forte have become known around the league for their respective abilities to score at will and hit three pointers, Huggins has come away impressed with the play of small forward Jeffrey Carroll, who is averaging hair over 17 points per game and is leading Oklahoma State in rebounding. Huggins implied that the Cowboys are one of the best offensive teams in the Big 12 and broke down OSU's talented trio.
"Jeffrey Carroll has had a great year," said Huggins. "He's played power forward and small forward and is leading in the team in rebounding. But I think Evans and Forte are terrific. If they're not the best pair (of guards) then they're certainly in the top two or three duos in the league."
The triumvirate of Carroll, Forte and Evans is averaging nearly 50 of the Oklahoma State's 87 points per game, so if the Mountaineers hope to improve to 19-4 and inch closer to Kansas and Baylor in the Big 12 standings they will have to at least slow down the talented group of Cowboys. While the Mountaineers are competing for a Big 12 championship, Oklahoma State is trying to continue to build on its momentum and add to a resume that could potentially lead to an NCAA tournament birth. Combine those intangibles and Saturday evening's contest had the potential to be very entertaining.