Oklahoma might have the best inside game of any opponent the Mountaineers will face this year, as well as one of the most balanced. Four OU starters are currently averaging double figures.
Forwards Taj Gray (Sr., 6-9, 235 lbs.) and Kevin Bookout (Sr., 6-8, 270 lbs.) provide an imposing challenge inside. Gray, the Big 12 preseason player of the year, averages 14.7 points, 7/7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, and is nicely complemented by the big Bookout, who tallies 12.7 points and 6.9 boards per outing. Gray and Bookout will look to use their big size and strength advantage against the smaller West Virginia frontcourt and make the game a physical one on the blocks. Both shoot better than 60% from the field, with Bookout leading the pair with a 68% mark.
The experience factor is almost as good in the backcourt, where Terrell Everett (Sr., 6-4, 190 lbs.) teams with Michael Neal (Jr., 6-3, 190 lbs.) and David Godbold (So., 6-5, 215 lbs.) in Kelvin Sampson's three guard attack. Like Gray and Bookout, the backcourt trio is solidly built, and not afraid to mix it up. The Sooners have been to the free throw line 153 times in their seven games, and look to pound the ball inside to Gray and Bookout whenever possible. Neither of those player s have as much as attempted a three point shot, and only Neal, who recently replaced Chris Walker in the starting lineup, is a legitimate three-point threat. Neal is a juco transfer who has hit 21 of his 58 three-pointers, while Everett tallies the majority of his 11.4 points per game on midrange shots.
Off the bench, Walker (Jr., 6-3, 190 lbs.) is more of a setup man than a scorer, and his subpar shooting led to his replacement by Neal in the lineup. Swingman Nate Carter (Jr., 6-6, 220 lbs.) provides solid support with 7.7 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
The handling of the layoff is likely the key point for the Mountaineers in this game. To a man, WVU's players said they were ready for a bit of a break after the Duquesne game, and although they did practice and condition on a couple of occasions, the pace was nothing like it had been over the previous couple of weeks. Whether that break (if studying for and taking final exams can be considered much of a rest) benefited West Virginia remains to be seen, but there's no doubt it will need all of the speed and energy it can muster to stay with the ultra-strong Sooners.
|Thu Dec 22|
WVU 6-3, 0-0
OU 6-1, 0-0
WVU - 161
OU - 99
The Mountaineers must also figure out a way to keep Gray and Bookout from having a field day in the lane. Both are good shooters who boost their scoring and shooting percentages by working the ball in close for high percentage tries. Both will have an extreme strength advantage inside against WVU, which can't allow the pair to set up on the blocks or get position in the halfcourt game. If that happens, both will likely record double-doubles and send the Mountaineers home with their first December loss in three years.
The one advantage for WVU is the steals/turnover matchup. OU has been sloppy with the ball this year, while West Virginia has excelled at getting steals and protecting the ball on its possessions. WVU could eke out seven or eight additional possessions in this area, and if it can turn those chances into points, would be in much better position to earn a win.
If there was ever a stat that loomed menacingly for WVU, this one is it. OU has outrebounded each of its seven opponents, and has grabbed 125 offensive boards 17.9 per game) while its foes have just 55 (7.9). The Sooners are second in the nation in rebounding margin at +15.6.
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West Virginia has recorded an assist on more than 70% of its baskets this year. The Mountaineers have made 248 shots, and have assists on 175 of them.
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Although Patrick Beilein needs just four more three-pointers to tie the school record of 200, set by Chris Leonard in 1989-92, he hasn't gotten off to the kind of start he hoped for. WVU's designated marksman has hit just 21 of his 66 tries, for a percentage of 31.8%. Mike Gansey, Kevin Pittsnogle and J.D. Collins have all bettered that mark to date. For West Virginia to be successful, Beilein must boost that percentage by at least six or seven points.
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Despite Beilein's struggles from the field, WVU has made 13 three-pointers in each of its last three games. The Mountaineers figure to have to hit double figures again in that category to have a chance against the Sooners.
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OU has allowed opponents to make 41.2% of its three-point attempts so far this year. If the Sooners give up a similar percentage to WVU, the Mountaineers might wind up with 40 points or more from beyond the arc – a number that would put them in position to win the game.