SCOUTING THE SOONERS
Oklahoma will provide the biggest challenge West Virginia will have faced on the front line this year. While WVU has seen several good defensive players and some offensive production in foes' frontcourts, they have not seen anything like the tandem of freshman Blake Griffin and senior Longar Longar, who have been dominant inside. Griffin (6-10, 240 lbs.) leads the team in scoring (13.2 points per game) and rebounding (8.3) while playing just 26 minutes per game. He also has team bests of 13 blocked shots and 17 steals – a remarkable stat for a big man. Longar (6-11, 235 lbs.) is right behind with 12.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest, giving the Sooners an outstanding punch in the lane. The pair's only weakness shows at the free throw line, where they barely break the 60% mark. However, that's a small chink in the armor the duo presents to opponents.
OU isn't totally dependent on its frontcourt game, as the three-guard rotation in the backcourt is also very productive. Sophomore Tony Crocker (6-6, 195 lbs.) also scores in double figures (12.3 ppg) and is a streaky three-point shooter. Twenty-three of his 26 threes have come in just six games, which partly explains his better shooting percentage from long range (51%) than overall (49.5%). He also chips in with the board work, averaging 4.5 per game. Junior Austin Johnson (6-3, 165 lbs.) is also expected to start alongside Crocker. His 8.9 points per game come from an almost even split between three- and two-point field goals, and he does a good job of protecting and distributing the ball as well.
The fifth starter could be either junior Omar Leary or senior David Godbold. Leary (5-10, 160 lbs.) is another three-point threat, who, when deployed with Crocker and Johnson, makes the Sooners very difficult to defend, as they threaten with scoring power from anywhere in the half court. Godbold (6-5, 220 lbs) is a physical player who averaged 5.9 points and 3.1 rebounds, and gives the Sooners more strength around the basket.
OU has nine players averaging at least 12 minutes per contests, so defensive intensity does not suffer due to extended minutes. The reduced playing time (no Sooner averages more than 30 minutes per game) also helps keep OU out of foul trouble. Taylor Griffin, Keith Clark and Cade Davis provide extended relief for Blake Griffin and Longar up front, and are certainly not liabilities. Taylor Griffin (6-7, 230 lbs.), a junior and the older brother of Blake, contributes 5.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in his nearly 18 minutes per game, while Clark (6-8, 240 lbs.) and Davis (6-5, 200 lbs.) combine for 8.7 points and 3.5 rebounds, as well as 18 blocked shots.
The Oklahoma game will not only test West Virginia's readiness for the looming Big East campaign, but also provide the Mountaineers with its final chance for an RPI-boosting out of conference win.
|Sat Dec 29
WVU 10-1, 0-0
OU 9-3, 0-0
|Sirius Channel: 114|
WVU - 39
OU - 46
It's not going to be easy, however. Only a mystifying loss to Stephen F. Austin, partly due to poor shooting and ballhandling, has marred Oklahoma's season to date The other two losses on the slate, to Memphis and USC, are certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Toss in OU's win over 18th-ranked Gonzaga, and the Sooners are more battle-tested that WVU at this point. West Virginia will have the advantage of crowd support in the state capital, but the Mountaineers have not shot well in the cavernous Charleston Civic Center, where the background behind the baskets appears to be the same distance as Sabraton sits from the WVU Coliseum. Combined with the uneven lighting, the CCC has not been a place where West Virginia's shooters have thrived, but they will have to do just that to knock off an Oklahoma team that could well be a Top 25 squad by year's end.
If nothing else, WVU head coach Bob Huggins is a master of psychology, and if he is aware of West Virginia's shooting issues in its home away from home, he will likely have a ploy or two up his sleeve to drive any lingering doubts from his players' minds. However, it will be important for West Virginia to get off to a good start and hit some shots early, as it can't afford to creep out of the gate as it did against Radford and Canisius. Huggins, of course, is also well aware that his team's mental focus wasn't 100% sharp against those squads – but it certainly figures to have it there against a nationally-respected opponent.
On the court, the game figures to come down to one key factor: Which team can impose its defensive will on the other? Both squads are tenacious on defense. Oklahoma is yielding just 59.8 points per game and allows a success rate of just 37.8% from the floor. WVU is doing even better at 57.2 points per game allowed and 36.8% shooting. The team that can approach those rates in this game figures to have a major edge in dictating the flow of the contest. Points could be at a premium, so items such as possessions, turnovers and second chance points figure to be magnified.
Although Oklahoma refers to itself as OU, right down to the logos it employs on its uniforms, the school's name is actually the University of Oklahoma.
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While West Virginia has used the same starting lineup in every game this year, the Sooners have already employed sever different starting grids in 2007. Nine different Sooners have started at least one game this season
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WVU's top seven scorers are shooting 46 percent or higher from the field. Four are shooting 55 percent or higher. What makes that stat even more noteworthy is the fact that guards Alex Ruoff and Joe Mazzulla, along with swingman Da'Sean Butler, are in the latter group.
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Joe Alexander's midrange shooting improvement has also extended to the free throw line this year. The bounding forward has an array of turnaround and high flying shots that he can make from all angles, but he has been at his best straight on from 15 feet away. Entering this season, Alexander was a career 63.5 percent free throw shooter. This year he is shooting 88.9 percent from the free throw line, ranking first in the Big East conference.