Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma Sooners

Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma Sooners

The offense/defense battle of OU’s Trae Young vs. West Virginia’s Jevon Carter grabs the spotlight in this top ten match-up, but there’s much more to watch and track as the Mountaineers and Sooners clash in a battle for positioning at the top of the Big 12 Conference.


Oklahoma has been electrified by the play of Young (6-2, 180 lbs.), who has the ability to either score or distribute the ball with equal aplomb. Between putting the ball in the hoop or setting up others, he accounts for 54% of Oklahoma’s scoring.

Young isn’t all that OU has, though. The Sooners play fast in a three-guard, two forward set that emphasizes speed and explosive play. They move the ball quickly and average fewer than 14 seconds of possession time before getting a shot away – the third-fastest mark in the nation.

Fellow guards Christian James (Jr., 6-4, 210 lbs.) and Rashard Odomes (Jr., 6-6, 215 lbs.) join Young in the starting lineup, with the former averaging 13 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Odomes is getting just a bit more time than three others off the bench, and averages only 5.4 points per outing.

On the inside, freshman Brady Manek (6-9, 210 lbs.) pairs with experienced senior Khadeem Lattin (6-9, 220 lbs.) to give the Sooners offense both inside and out. Manek, who is also one of the best freshmen in the league, is a 3-point threat (39%) who lives off dishes from Young, and averages 11.8 points and 5.6 boards per contest. He’s first among the supporting cast that can’t be ignored. Lattin, an underappreciated worker throughout his OU career, adds 7.9 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game, and excels at slicing to the rim for offensive rebounds and protecting the paint as a secondary defender.

With nine players averaging at least 14.7 minutes per contest, Oklahoma is well-suited to the punishing pace it creates that wears down foes, and also could make it less susceptible to the uptempo discomfort West Virginia uses to disrupt opposing offenses. The other strength for the Sooners is their overall shooting. Buoyed by the number of open looks they get, they are making 50.6% of their tries from the field, including 40.5% from beyond the arc. Those numbers are almost impossible to overcome, as they result in an average of 95.8 points per outing.


OU often runs the simplest of offensive sets for Young, stationing a screener above the key in the middle of the floor and then spreading its other three players wide on the wing and deep corners. That allows Young to work off the screen, drive and either shoot or pass, depending on the number of defenders he attracts, and has made the right decision so many times that the Sooners are the top-scoring team in the nation. How does WVU combat him?

WVU (13-1) vs. OU (12-1) Sat Jan 6 7:15 PM EST
WVU Coliseum Morgantown, WV Series: OU 9-5
RPI: WVU – 21 OU – 3 TV: ESPN2 Sirius/XM: 132 / 199
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A couple of different options present themselves. First, West Virginia could try to depend on Carter to slow him, and use minimal help (perhaps no more than one additional defender) on him when he drives. That might give him more scoring opportunities, but cut down on the open looks that the rest of the Sooners get. WVU could also try to trap him or send additional defenders at him further from the hoop in an effort to make him give up the ball early, and then deny passes back to him, but that’s not a surefire solution either. He is so elusive and quick with the ball that he is able to dribble past multiple defenders, and if he splits a double team out high, he’s going to get to the rim or find an an open teammate for a great shot. Playing off him isn’t a great option either, as he has outstanding shooting range, and often pulls up 2-3 feet behind the 3-point line for shots, or when defenders go under screens rather than over the top.

In short, playing against Young might be similar to playing a football offense that both runs and passes the ball equally well. Can West Virginia make him one-dimensional, and either limit his setup opportunities or keep him from getting so many drives into the lane? No team has succeeded in doing that yet, and it’s certainly not fair to heap all that responsibility on Carter, but that’s the task for West Virginia’s defense. As a side note, WVU simply cannot send Young to the line eight or ten times. He has scored 107 points there so far this season, and not giving him those free chances is the best way to at least limit his scoring a bit.

West Virginia must be as sound and quick with its defensive rotations as it has been all year. As good as Young has been scoring the ball, his passing has perhaps been even better, and his teammates are good enough to take advantage of the options he sets them up with. WVU must make the right choices on rotations, cover stand-still shooters on the wing and corner on the ball side when Young penetrates, and especially check the screener from up high as he rolls to the hoop following a Young drive. The Mountaineers have been hit and miss on rotations this year, and have to be especially sharp in this play phase. WVU must also be very active in pressuring the ball, especially when it is out of Young’s hands. This doesn’t just mean in double teams, either. In the halfcourt, defenders have to get up on the other Sooners and make it difficult to get the ball back to Young, or to make a second pass to another teammate. That will allow rotating teammates to recover and prevent the open shots that OU lives on.


West Virginia’s current 13-game winning streak is its longest in three decades. The Mountaineers won 22 games in a row in the 1988-89 season, when it finished the year 26-5.

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How much does OU’s lineup simply spot up and wait for Trae Young passes? Consider that Young, with 124 free throw attempts, has 31 more than the rest of the starting lineup combined. Young has taken 41% of the total number of free throws attempted by the Sooners this year. That’s not a negative, though – in OU’s primary rotation, six of its seven members are making at least 40% of their 3-point shots.

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OU piles up points by maximizing its possessions — the Sooners are among the top teams in the country in both raw possession numbers and effective field goal percentage. This sets up another prime battle to watch. OU is second in the country in field goals per game, as they send 33.5 per contest through the hoop. WVU is fifth in preventing that outcome, allowing foes to make an average of just 20.5 per outing. If OU is successful on 30 or more of its shots, it will likely leave the Coliseum with a win. If WVU can hold that number in the low or mid-20s, it will be advantage Mountaineers.

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Both team also excel in blocking shots, and that battle could have an outsized effect on a game where stopping scoring chances will be paramount. OU features Lattin and Jamuni Mcneace, both of whom have 25 rejections on the year, while WVU’s Sagaba Konate has 35. OU is swatting 8% of its opponents’ tries per game, while WVU, which faces fewer total shots, is sending back 9.8%.