UPDATING THE LONGHORNS
The ‘Horns have continued a season of disappointment in Austin since their narrow loss to WVU on Jan. 14. Since then, Shaka Smart’s squad has gone 3-7 overall, including defeats in their last three contests. Barring a win in the Big 12 Championship, UT isn’t going anywhere in the post season, unless it plays in one of the buy-in tournaments at the lower end of the spectrum.
It’s not as if UT has been playing horrifically, however. It just hasn’t been able to come up with those handful of plays that can turn close losses into wins. The Horns were within striking range in most of their games, but are just 3-7 in those that have been decided by three points or less – including the two-point loss to the Mountaineers. Turn that number around, and they are on the NCAA bubble. Still, that’s a tale that many teams can tell, and for this year at least they haven’t been able to turn that corner.
Freshman Jarrett Allen (6-11, 235 lbs.) has been outstanding in his initial season in Austin, sparking speculation that this might be his only year on campus. He leads the team in both scoring (13.2) and rebounding (8.4) and has actually upped his numbers during the tougher Big 12 portion of the slate. Fellow freshman Andrew Jones (6-4, 190 lbs.) and sophomore Kerwin Roach (6-4, 175 lbs.) are the other double figure scorers at 11.3 and 10.1, respectively. Both move the ball well, combining for more than seven assists per game.
Big senior Shaquile Cleare (6-8, 275 lbs.) gave WVU fits in the first meeting, and is putting up 8.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, while third guard Eric Davis (6-3, 195 lbs.) adds 7.6 points per contest. The Horns have gotten little from their bench, getting around 12 points per game from the subs.
A pair of role players had huge games in their last outings for their respective teams – which one might continue to produce on that level?
|WVU (21-6 / 9-5) vs. Texas (10-17 / 4-10)||Mon Feb 20||9:00 PM EST|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: UT 8-5|
|RPI: WVU - 28 UT - 162||TV: ESPN||Sirius/XM/SXM: 84/84/84|
For West Virginia, Elijah Macon continued on an upward arc. His double-double against Texas Tech was a huge factor in avoiding another home upset, and gives West Virginia the inside presence that has been a hit or miss proposition for much of the year. On the Texas side, transfer Mareik Isom was termed “the best player in the game” by Smart in the loss to Kansas State. While he didn’t approach Macon’s 17 and 12 totals, he played a season-high 16 minutes, contributed eight points, four rebounds and two blocks while generally injecting Texas with energy it had been missing. That’s a huge factor for a team that could have been on the verge of folding its tent on the season. The question now is, can either back up Saturday’s performance with another solid outing? And will another narrow loss finally wear down the Longhorns' resolve and effort level?
Although not as big as in the past, UT’s size is again a problem for the Mountaineers. Allen and Cleare can dominate via length and strength, respectively, and Isom, along with freshman James Banks, gives UT even more bigs to roll through the middle and take advantage of match-ups in the post. West Virginia must be smart on defense and avoid the foul trouble inside that plagued it in its physical battle at Kansas State. It also can’t shy away from taking the ball at those big men on offense, even though the ‘Horns are expected to again employ a lot of zone. WVU took 18 3-point pointers against Texas that in the first meeting, and made just four.
The fatigue factor could also play a large role in this contest. Both teams played tough games on Saturday, and the Mountaineers had ten extra minutes in their double overtime win. WVU got to stay at home, though, so that’s offset by Texas’ travel for the contest. Which team will be able to fight through that? This is UT’s second Saturday-Monday swing of the season, while WVU is ending the regular campaign with three consecutive such weekend series.
Texas has not won a game away from home this season. The Longhorns are 0-12 outside of the Frank Erwin Center in 2016-17.
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WVU is shooting to become the third Big 12 school to sweep UT in football and men’s basketball this year. Kansas State and TCU has already achieved that, while Kansas could join the group with a win at home this Saturday.
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James Bolden and Lamont West get playing time for the offense they can bring, and it usually doesn’t take them long to participate. Bolden averages a shot on one of roughly every four WVU possessions, which leads the team in that breakdown. West is third in that metric, behind Teyvon Myers.
Bolden’s results justify his shot rate – he is second on the team in true shooting percentage at 63.3%.
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As the season winds down, minutes played, wear and tear and rotations become a bigger part of the conversation. That’s definitely in the considerations of the coaching staff, but it also brought up a quick look back through Mountaineer history, revealing a stat that will likely never be broken. In 25 games in 1974, Wonderful Warren Baker was credited with 991 minutes played in 25 games – an average of 39.64 minutes per contest. Kevin Jones came close in 2012, averaging 38.33 minutes in 33 outings.