Texas has one of the best starting fives in the nation, and that includes ESPN poster boy Duke. It begins out front, where point guard Daniel Gibson (So., 6-2, 190 lbs.) directs the Longhorn attack. The conference freshman of the year has gotten off to a slow start in the shooting department, hitting just three of his 15 tries in UT's first two games, but his value goes beyond scoring. He distributes the ball to the myriad scoring options the 'Horns possess, and also helps on the boards, averaging 4.5 per outing. Kenton Paulino (Sr., 6-1, 185 lbs.) has gotten the call at shooting guard the first two games, but has scored just four points per outing.
The majority of the scoring punch is provided by UT's outstanding front line of LaMarcus Aldridge, P.J. Tucker and Brad Buckman. Aldridge (So., 6-10, 240 lbs.), who could have gone directly to the NBA, averages a double double, with 16.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. He missed part of last year with torn hip cartilage, but is showing no lasting effects from that problem with his start this year. Leading scorer Tucker (Jr., 6-5, 225 lbs.), who likewise suffered a season-ending injury last year, pours in 20 points per game on the strength of accurate mid range shooting, which he complements with a 92.3% success rate from the free throw line. Third option Buckman (Sr., 6-8, 235 lbs.) would be the first choice at many schools, but he still makes the most of his opportunities with 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. All in all, the UT court could be the best one West Virginia will face this year.
A number of backups have gotten time in the rotation in UT's two blowout wins, including A.J. Abrams (Fr., 5-10, 155 lbs.) and J.D. Lewis (So., 6-1, 180 lbs.) Abrams has 11 points this year, while Lewis is the team's best three-point threat, making four of his seven tries to date. Dion Dowell (So., 6-6, 205 lbs.) and Mike Williams (So., 6-7, 230 lbs.) provide much of the relief work on the front line.
At first glance, the matchup of UT's powerful front line against the Mountaineers' shakey interior defense looks like a major problem for WVU. If West Virginia can't figure out a way to keep the ball from getting in to Aldridge and Tucker inside, the score could get ugly.
|Mon Nov 21|
WVU 2-0, 0-0
UT 2-0, 0-0
WVU - 85
UT - 30
To combat that, expect UT to do a lot of screening on the backside of the WVU 1-3-1. Syracuse did this with deadly effect over the past couple of seasons, screening the sagging offside wing and sending high leapers like Hakim Warrick to the hoop for lob passes and dunks. The Longhorns could also make life tough for J.D. Collins and Darris Nichols on the bottom of the 1-3-1 by posting a player on each block, then relentlessly screening WVU's point guards while swinging the ball from side to side.
West Virginia must have a good shooting night in order to stay in the game. An opening half like the one they experienced against Wofford will result in a 20-point deficit, not the more manageable five-point margin they had against the Terriers. WVU's reputation as a three-point shooting team will precede them in almost any matchup this year, and a few early threes could result in some thoughts of "here we go again" from their foes. The Mountaineers are 16-2 in their last 18 games when making 10 or more three-pointers, and will likely have to hit double figures in three-point makes to have a chance against the Longhorns.
Along with their offensive presence inside, Texas also controls the lane on the defensive end. UT has a +22.5 rebounding margin so far this year, and has blocked 20 shots to boot. Numbers such as those might have some of the Mountaineers a bit apprehensive about going inside, but WVU can't worry about having a shot blocked or giving up size and strength on the boards. Although three-point shooting is West Virginia's chief weapon, it can't solely rely on it if it hopes to record another upset win.
WVU: Mike Gansey (Wrist) Will play
While the highly-ranked Longhorns will present one of the toughest challenges of the season for the Mountaineers, don't expect WVU to back down. West Virginia has won six of its last eight meetings with ranked foes.
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While WVU head coach John Beilein prefers to stick with an eight man rotation, Texas head coach Rick Barnes leans in the other direction. Every eligible player on the UT roster averaged at least ten minutes per game during the Longhorns' first two games in the Guardians Classic.
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West Virginia's dual rankings in football (13) and basketball (14) is quite impressive, but Texas goes it one better. UT holds number two rankings in the AP poll in both sports, and is one of just four schools to accomplish that feat. Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State are the others, combining to reach those heights six times.
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Guard Patrick Beilein will probably eclipse the WVU all time three-point attempt record while in Kansas City. Beilein is currently second all-time in career three-point field goals attempted with 487, trailing leader Lionel Armstead (1999-2002), by just six.
Beilein is also third all-time in career three-point field goals made with 182, but it will take him a few more games to catch all-time leader Chris Leonard, who has an even 200.He could pass Armstead, second on the list with 186, on the K.C. trip as well
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In addition to his many other career achievements, Joe Herber is zeroing in on the all-time WVU record for games started. Forward Chris Brooks holds the record with 118 starts in a WVU uniform, but Herber is currently seventh on the list with 97. Barring injury, Herber will break Brooks' mark on Valentine's Day at Seton Hall.