As the Big 12 enters its final two weeks of regular season play, items of scheduling, who will and won’t complete their regular seasons and how the packing of games over the three weeks prior to the NCAA Tournament are gaining increasing attention. While those topics are worthy of discussion (and we’ll have more on that in the coming days), the breaks in action can definitely serve as distractions for teams vying for good finishes and better seeding.
Prior to the season, head coach Bob Huggins noted that the team that avoided player losses due to COVID-19 would have a leg up in the league race, and that was true as far as it went. Now, though, you can add the teams that handle cancellations, down time and disorder the best to the mix.
Which leads us to Texas, which has seen all of those things since edging the Mountaineers 72-70 back on Jan. 9 at the WVU Coliseum. The Horns have had three league games postponed and its SEC Challenge game against Kentucky canceled. They followed the WVU win with a 1-4 stretch, but have most recently put up two wins in a row, albeit against Kansas State and TCU, the latter of which came one week ago.
|West Virginia (14-6/7-4) vs. Texas (13-5/7-4)||Sat Feb 20 3:00 PM ET|
|Erwin Center||Austin, TX||TV: ABC|
|NET: WVU-16 OU-19||Series: UT 13-9||Last Game: UT 72-70|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
Meanwhile, WVU has also been off for a week due to further postponements of two games against Baylor. Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins said he has lessened practice time and intensity over that week with an eye toward the avalanche of games to come, which includes four games over the next eight days. Which squad will be able to shake off any potential rust, which has undeniably been a factor for many teams who haven’t maintained regular game schedules?
Texas hopes to do so by spreading the court and shooting well from deep. UT has taken 451 3-pointers, which has accounted for 42.3% of their points this year. When the Longhorns shoot it well overall – they have a 52% effective field goal percentage rate – they are difficult to contain. The Mountaineers will have to close out on four players who have the green light from beyond the arc – Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey, Matt Coleman and Greg Brown – who are a combined 108-332 from distance. That’s right at 33% – not outstanding, but there is enough volume in total shots to build point totals.
With both teams able to score effectively, getting off to a good start and closing out the game will also be important factors. UT is 34th nationally in first half scoring at 37.4 points per game in the opening 20 minutes, and interestingly averages the exact same number in the second half, which has them 143rd. WVU, as most teams, does better in the second half, backing up 36 points per game in the opening 20 minutes (67th) with 40.6 in the second half (35th).
In a game that figures to feature back and forth play with scoring bursts on both sides, the team which can keep its pace up for longer stretches will have a good chance of coming out on top.
“(Texas head coach) Shaka (Smart) has more confidence in his bench and is relying on it more,” Huggins noted. “But I think we all are.”
Texas has been quite strong at home in the Frank Erwin Center, which will soon go the way of the wrecking ball. UT is 533-139 (.793) in 43+ years in the facility, and an even better 261-56 (.823) over the last 19 seasons. Much of the credit for that goes to former coach Rick Barnes, however, as UT is 70-30 at home (.700) during the Shaka Smart era.
* * * * * *
Another bit of evidence in West Virginia’s more diverse offensive game is that fact that the Mountaineers have had three different players earn Big 12 Player of the Week honors this year – Deuce McBride, Derek Culver and Sean McNeil. That’s the first time WVU has had a trio of players earn such conference player of the week notice since 1994.
* * * * * *
Bad reminders: Going into West Virginia’s last game with Oklahoma, the series record between the Sooners and Mountaineers stood at 13-9 in favor of OU. Those numbers are identical in the Texas-WVU series.
* * * * * *
Derek Culver is one of just two players in the last decade of Big 12 play to average more than 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. WVU’s junior star is averaging 15.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, putting him next to Kansas’ Dedric Lawson, who tallied 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game in the 2018-19 season.
* * * * * *
Taz Sherman, recovering from a groin injury, “looked very good” in practice on Thursday, according to Huggins. “He shot the ball well.”