UPDATING THE RED RAIDERS
It's been awhile since the Mountaineers and Red Raiders faced off, and in the ensuing 12 games Tech has been 5-7. A recent uptick in results, buttressed by a home win over Baylor on Monday, is keeping faint hopes of an NCAA berth alive in Lubbock, but at least three wins, and possibly four, over the final five games will be required to get head coach Chris Beard's team into the NCAA tournament. Another victory over a Top 25 team (WVU) would also be a big help to Tech's shaky RPI.
Junior Keenan Evans (6-3, 185 lbs.) has continued to maintain leadership in the backcourt, and has stepped up his scoring to become the team's leader in that category at 15.2 points per game. Fellow junior Zach Smith (6-8, 220 lbs.) follows at 13.2 points per outing, and is also the leading rebounder at 7.6 per game. He's supported on the boards by yet another junior, Justin Gray (6-6, 210 lbs.), who is pulling down 5.5 per contest. The latter pair has combined to block 62 shots on the season. Anthony Livingston (Sr., 6-8 220 lbs.) is another versatile force to watch, as he's bumped his scoring to 10.7 points per game.
For the visitors, this is another great chance to enhance their bubble status. Unless they sweep their final five games, they'll also probably need a win or two in the Big 12 tournament to add to their resume, so every game is critical here. They've continued to play hard, but haven't been able to put back-to-back wins together since defeating Richmond and Longwood in mid-December. That has to change if they want to dance with the big boys, as there aren't any resets left on their game console.
Some may look at WVU's loss to the Red Raiders more than a month ago as a motivating factor, but in truth the Mountaineers have far more recent disappointments to deal with. Monday night's soul-crushing loss to Kansas will have everyone looking for signs that this West Virginia team is crumbling.
|WVU (20-6 / 8-5) vs. TTU (17-9 / 5-8)||Sat Feb 18||2:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 9-2|
|RPI: WVU - 29 TTU - 86||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM/SXM: 84/84/84|
For the most part, WVU has been able to bounce back after disappointing performances and bad beats, so there's not really a thought of the Mountaineers simply falling apart. However, the converse is also still in play – for whatever reason, the Mountaineers haven't been able to win some games it should have, and have simply given away games against Oklahoma and Kansas. It also hasn't been able to figure out how to win overtime games, although that is probably as much due to the circumstances of how it lost the leads in regulation of those contests as to any specific deficiencies in extra time.
It's at this point that there are usually some keys to highlight, some match-ups to watch, or some tactics to examine to get an idea of how the game might play out. For this one, though, it's a matter of wills. How important is getting a high seed for WVU's players? Is it enough to listen to the coaches all the time, or will they still go their own way at critical junctures? Will those that do so finally get their minutes cut permanently, or are there so many that do so that there's no option but to play those who continue to make the same mistakes? These, unfortunately, are the biggest issues that the Mountaineers have to answer at this point in the season.
There is one disturbing health note to consider and watch: the status of Jevon Carter. The junior guard has battled pain in his knees for some time, and can often be seen icing them during and after games. Huggins mentioned that the pain limited Carter's minutes and availability against Kansas, and that's a huge issue if it continues going forward. The fact that Carter couldn't get the ball (and at some points wasn't even on the floor) against the Jayhawks was a monstrous factor in the Mountaineers' collapse, and while WVU can get by with other players for short stints at the point, it would be an entirely different (and far worse) team without Carter's 30 minutes per contest.
West Virginia's rebounding advantage is now down to +2.6 per game. In Big 12 play, the margin is a barely discernible +1.8. Last year, WVU finished with a +8.6 rebounding edge. Texas Tech is 301st nationally in rebounding per game.
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The Red Raiders continue to be very efficient with its offensive possessions, and while it doesn't hurry the pace it converts on an excellent number of its opportunities. The Red Raiders are making 48.3% of their shots from the field, which equates to an effective field goal percentage (which adds into account the difficulty of making longer shots) of 54.7%. They also average 1.115 points per possession, which puts them in close proximity to WVU's 1.133.
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West Virginia's ball handling is a feast or famine proposition. The Mountaineers are ninth nationally in assists per game with 17.2, showing that they have the ability to move it, create openings and find the right recipients on offense. WVU is creeping back up the turnover charts, however, and now stands 97th (12.4 per game) after the horrid showing at Kansas.
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WVU has outscored its Big 12 foes by 113 points. That should, in most instances, result in a better record than the 8-5 league mark the Mountaineers now show. Those five losses have come by a combined 18 points. Whether that illustrates how close WVU is to a really great record, or highlights a missing capability, is as much up to the viewpoint of the observer as anything.