Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma State Cowboys
West Virginia will go for its third consecutive sweep of a Big 12 foes when it hosts Oklahoma State in a high noon showdown on Saturday at the WVU Coliseum.
UPDATING THE COWBOYS
Any team with victories over Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas might be expected to reside near the top of the Big 12 Conference basketball standings, but losses to (relatively) lesser opponents have left OSU tied for ninth in the league. At peak playing performance, the Cowboys have made tough shots and executed in key situations to grab those impressive wins, but early problems with defense and a lack of scoring support across the board has made them vulnerable. Since losing to WVU to open the league slate, OSU has those three wins plus a victory over Iowa State, but it also is blemished with a pair of losses to Baylor and setbacks to TCU, Texas Tech, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Senior forward Jeffrey Carroll (6-6 220 lbs.) continues to lead OSU with 15.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, and is supported by junior running mate Mitchell Solomon (Jr., 6-9, 245 lbs.), who adds 8.1 and 6.3, respectively. Third frontcourt starter Cameron McGriff has elevated his play recently and was key in the win over Kansas. He’s boosted his totals to 7.6 points and 5.2 rebounds per outing, and along with Solomon (86.4%), is one of the team’s top free throw shooters (82.8%).
Point guard Kendall Smith (6-3, 190 lbs.) and two-guard Lindy Waters (6-6, 205 lbs) hold down the starting backcourt positions, with the former averaging 11.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, while the latter chips in with 8.6 per contest. OSU’s rotation there has been hampered by the loss of Tavarius Shine (Jr., 6-6, 200 lbs.), who was a starter for most of the season. He’s missed the last four games with a wrist injury, and is termed to be out indefinitely. The loss of his double-digit scoring and all-around solid play has been a big hit for the Cowboys to absorb. They are 1-4 in the five games in which he did not play.
At this point OSU is playing to try to get out of the bottom four spots in the league and avoid the Wednesday first round in the Big 12 Championship. That’s still achievable, as it sits just one game behind sixth-place Texas, but the team that emerges from the current bottom four (OSU, TCU, Baylor and Iowa State) will need to get a win or two over upper-tier league teams in order to do so. The Cowboys have already shown they have the ability to do just that, and with an NIT bid also awaiting should they stay above .500 on the season, they still have motivation left as the season unspools.
West Virginia’s chemistry and rotations will be items to track as the Mountaineers go for their third season sweep.
|West Virginia (18-6 / 7-4) vs. OSU (14-10 / 4-7)||Sat Feb 10 12:00 PM ET|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 7-5|
|RPI: WVU – 24 OSU- 107||TV: ESPN||Sirius/XM: 81 / 81|
With Daxter Miles getting back toward full strength, the first question in this area is one of starting assignments. Does Beetle Bolden, who has played very well in his two starting assignments, remain there? If so, how well will the mercurial Miles, who has started 112 times in his WVU career, respond? (This latest break ended any chance he had of breaking Joe Herber’s WVU record of 128 starts.) If that is not an issue, the move might prove beneficial overall. Bolden can help boost WVU’s shooting from the start, and Miles, teaming with Lamont West off the bench, could give Huggins the scoring and energy punch he is always looking for in his second wave of players. Bringing Miles on in place of Jevon Carter for a few minutes can also keep Bolden off the point and at the two-guard spot, which is better suited for his 3-point shooting abilities. Miles could also add more penetration from the perimeter — when he chooses to drive he has the leaping ability to get shots off in the lane that no other Mountaineer guard possesses.
Against Oklahoma, WVU showed it has the ability to stay with opponents in man-to-man defense when another player drives. That may sound simple, but it was the key against the Sooners. Even when Trae Young beat his man off the dribble, there wasn’t automatic help. In fact, there often wasn’t help at all, as West Virginia chose to limit his assist chances and his teammates’ 3-point opportunities by not giving him a place to pass.
Is such an option relevant against Oklahoma State? Not to that extreme, but perhaps in spots. While OSU doesn’t light it up from 3-point distance as a team, guys like Thomas Dziagwa and Kendall Smith are always threats, and Jeffrey Carroll isn’t shy about firing away. The difference here is that West Virginia’s defenders must recognize who they are guarding and know when they should go help and when they should stick to their primary assignment. In the heat of the game, that’s more difficult to do than executing one hard and fast rule such as “Stay with your man at all times. No rotations.”
One other thing that West Virginia wants to do is limit fouls and avoid putting OSU in the bonus. Over the last three games, performance there has been good. Mountaineer opponents have averaged just 18 trips to the line, as opposed to the 20s and 30s that were prevalent earlier in the season. The Cowboys average 75.5% for the line as a team, and the Mountaineers dodged a bullet in the first game, as they sent OSU to the stripe 36 times. The Pokes made just 25 (69%), where just a few more makes could have made a difference in the outcome. Also worth noting is that the Cowboys aren’t living off high percentages from a few low volume shooters. Every Cowboy with at least 25 free throw attempts is shooting 72.9 percent or better on the year.
West Virginia’s defense in the lane has been improving over the past few games, and that shows in opponent’s shooting percentage. Mountaineer foes are making just 44.8% of their tries inside the arc, putting WVU 22nd in the nation in that metric. One of the keys to this is that it hasn’t just been Sagaba Konate defending the rim. On several occasions against Oklahoma, Esa Ahmad, Logan Routt, and Wes Harris prevented close-to-the-bucket scores.
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When Oklahoma State wins in league play, it has been by dint of making plays late. Seven of OSU’s last 10 games were decided by two possessions or less or in overtime. In all this season, the Cowboys have won six games decided by two possessions or in overtime, including its three wins over ranked opponents.
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West Virginia is getting off 65.5 shots per game, which ranks fourth nationally. Oklahoma State, which wants to play uptempo and push the action, is 30th at 62.1 per contest.
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Stat to track: Oklahoma State is 80th nationally in field goals per game with 27.4. WVU is 13th nationally in limiting success in that area with 21.8. That doesn’t seem like a big gap, but it figures to be telling. If OSU gets to 26 or 27 field goals, it will have a solid chance of springing an upset.