The No. 7 Mountaineers blew out OSU 92-75 in the Big 12 opener for both. But that was against a Cowboys team that hadn't much been tested, and thus largely didn't yet know what it couldn't do. It quickly found that out, as a 10-2 mark built against a middling nonconference schedule was quashed by six consecutive conference defeats as Power Five competition beat up and bruised the Cowboys, ego included. That led to a long look in the proverbial mirror for head coach Brad Underwood, who came to the realization that perhaps this couldn't be his typical uptempo, pressing team. That it might not even be that effective in getting up the line in the halfcourt, much less trying to apply 94 feet of pressure.
So Underwood decided to take Oklahoma State in a completely different direction. No more full court pressure, no more trying to create steals and turnovers within the halfcourt. Just pack it in, literally, and force foes to take jump shots. And thus, the Virginia of the plains was born, a team that sags inside, protects the paint and attempts to cut off dribble penetration. Underwood's application of the pack line has turned around OSU's fortunes, the Cowboys going from allowing an average of more than 85 points per game to just 69, with no opponent scoring more than 76 points in the four game winning streak.
The new approach clearly changes how West Virginia will attack the set, and a dose of film review against UVA, as well as applicable individual match-ups, would seem to apply. WVU was able to limit its miscues against the Cavaliers, turning the ball over just eight times to Virginia's 14. The Mountaineers also converted 16 of 19 free throws and managed a 26-14 edge in points in the paint in that game, which snapped UVA's 24-game home winning streak, at the time the sixth-longest in the nation. Oklahoma State lacks Virginia's polish and experience in the defense, but if WVU can come close to those numbers, they should have an excellent chance at a season sweep.
"You can't expect the same results because they understand us more and we understand them more," West Virginia forward Nate Adrian said. "They are also on a four-game winning streak right now. They are playing well. So we have to come out and get ready to play. I hope we all come out and play hard like we did on Tuesday. We got the win in Ames which is tough to do, so hopefully we can just continue off that.
"They play pack line defense now rather than trying to get up the line and take things away. They are just trying to make you shoot over them a little more because what they were doing wasn't working well. We have to find a way to attack it. It's similar to (Virginia) so we will probably run some of the same stuff. But it's different because they aren't quite as used to running it."
Oklahoma State would still like to press, and it has some of late. But the success of the defense has gotten the Cowboys to buy into it, and the results would indicate it will remain in place until the personnel changes for Underwood, which has shown the ability to adjust to his current roster make-up.
"You have to be on your P's and Q's all game," WVU guard Jevon Carter said. "You can't let up. When you let up, that's when they are going to attack, so you have to stay in attack mode. Everybody plays different. Nobody is the same. You watch film and try to see what you can do to stop them."
Over the last five games, Oklahoma State has 15 more offensive rebounds than their foes. The Cowboys are also shooting 47 percent from three-point range during the spurt, and have made nine threes per game this season while managing a 9.3 point scoring margin. West Virginia comes off one of its better performances of the season in the 85-72 win at Iowa State. It was the first double digit home loss for the Cyclones in four years and showed the Mountaineers' ability to wear down teams in the second half. Adrian matched his career high of 23 points in the game, to go with 11 rebounds in what was perhaps the best overall game of his career..
"That's how we should play every night. That's how we win games," Adrian said. "We have to play consistently and play consistently hard. As long as we do that, we will be all right."