Huggins: Mountaineers Excited About Facing No. 2 Ohio State
MORGANTOWN W.Va.–West Virginia’s men’s basketball team returns to the court Sunday in what will be its toughest test to date this season … and maybe the toughest test it will have the entire season.
The Mountaineers, who are 10-1 and ranked No. 22 in the country, face off against No. 2 Ohio State (11-1) at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday at noon. The game will be televised on FS1.
It will be just the second game for WVU in a 15-day span, as final exams and the Christmas break have limited West Virginia to only one contest (a 75-64 victory last Saturday at Youngstown State) since Dec. 14. After the clash with the Buckeyes, the Mountaineers will have another six days off before opening Big 12 action at Kansas (No. 9, 9-2) on Jan. 4. After that WVU gets into a rhythm of at least two games a week for the rest of the regular season.
West Virginia has faced a competitive schedule through its first 11 games, as its foes have combined for a record of 103-33. That gives WVU the best opponent winning percentage (75.7) in the country.
Still, the Mountaineers haven’t met a ranked team yet this year, and the No. 2 Buckeyes will be the highest rated team West Virginia has played since it lost at No. 1 Tennessee (83-66) on Jan. 26, 2019. In all, WVU holds a 9-19 record against teams ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the country.
After winning at Youngstown State last Saturday, the Mountaineers had a few days off for the holidays and then returned to work Christmas night, preparing for the tough task ahead.
“We’ve had good practices since we got back,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said Saturday afternoon prior to a workout in West Virginia’s basketball practice facility. “They’re really excited about playing.”
The Mountaineers may be excited about the prospects of meeting the No. 2 team in the land, but Huggins cautioned that there is a reason Ohio State is rated that high.
“They really make shots,” said WVU’s head coach of the Buckeyes. “We looked at a deal the other day. When they get step-in shots, they make 72 percent of them. That’s pretty good, so we have to get them on the move.”
OSU takes nearly 23 three-point shots per game, making 40.9 percent of them. By comparison, West Virginia takes 17.5 three-pointers per game and makes 31.1 percent of them. The Bucks are fifth nationally in three-pointers made per game (9.3) and eighth in three-point percentage.
“They’ve just make shots,” continued Huggins. “The Villanova game (a 76-51 OSU victory) they made shots (9-of-16 from three), and Villanova didn’t (10-of-30). The (North) Carolina game (a 74-49 OSU victory), they made shots (10-of-26) and Carolina didn’t (7-of-23). If you make shots, you’re going to be good. It’s an easy formula. It’s hard to do, but it’s a pretty easy formula if you can do it.
“They spread you so much. They do a great job of spacing and spreading you.”
The only loss Ohio State has suffered this year, a, 84-71 setback at Minnesota, the shots weren’t falling for the Buckeyes (23-of-60 on field goals) but were for the Gophers (31-of-57).
Typically, through, OSU has been excellent not only offensively but also defensively. Minnesota is the only Ohio State opponent that has connected on better than 42.5 percent of its field goal attempts against the Bucks.
“They mix it up a little bit,” Huggins said of the OSU defense. “They play a little man and a little 2-3 zone. When you have good athletes, you usually are going to be pretty good defensively.”
Ohio State normally sticks with an eight-man rotation, which isn’t nearly as deep as the Mountaineers, who play 12. But each of the eight Bucks who sees action can score, as all average better than seven points per game. Only five Mountaineers top reach that average.
Duane Washington, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, and D.J. Carton, a 6-foot-2 freshman, provide OSU with a strong back court, as each averages 11.1 points per game.
The focus of most of the attention for the Buckeyes, though, is 6-foot-9, 270-pound junior forward Kaleb Wesson. The son of former OSU basketball player Keith Wesson (1983-87), Kaleb averages 13.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. And despite what some may think given Kaleb’s girth, like seemingly all the Bucks, he is very good from three-point land. The Westerville, Ohio, native is 18-of-39 this season from beyond the arc.
“He’s not normally just going to bully you,” Huggins said of Kaleb, whose older brother Andre (6-6, 220 lbs., Jr.) is a regular part of the OSU rotation as well. “He’s a very skilled guy. He not only can step out and shoot it, but he can also step out and pass it (2.1 assists per game). He really does a good job of passing the ball. He’s very, very skilled.
“I think we’re fortunate in that we have a couple big guys ourselves, but (Kaleb) will present a challenge.”
That goes for the Buckeyes in general.