Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma State Cowboys
West Virginia begins the Big 12 conference season with its usual pair of road games, but that’s something the Mountaineers have turned to an advantage during most of their time in the Big 12. Can they start the league trek off again with a win over a foe that has played much better than expected?
SCOUTING THE COWBOYS
It’s something of a different look for Oklahoma State after a year under head coach Brad Underwood. After he left in a messy salary dispute, assistant Mike Boynton has taken the reins and pushed the Pokes to a 10-2 record. Like WVU, OSU lost to Texas A&M, and they also have a defeat to Wichita State on their resume. Neither of those is an issue, as both are sure-fire NCAA teams, and one is offset by a win over Florida State. Coming into the season, this looked like a game that could be ticked off as a win, but now it’s a much more difficult prospect. OSU, like WVU, also downed Pitt earlier this year, so on paper this looks to be a fairly even match-up coming in, even though the Pokes are unranked.
OSU has returned to a more up-tempo style of play, and is averaging 79.4 points per contest. Also helping that scoring average is an 80.5% mark from the free throw line (second nationally). Defensively, Oklahoma State has turned up the pressure, forcing 17 turnovers per game. Matched with WVU’s force rate of 21 per contest, that’s an obvious item to watch in the contest.
A lineup loaded with experience has also helped the Cowboys weather the coaching change. Senior forward Jeffrey Carroll (6-6 220 lbs.) leads the team with 15 points per outing and is second on the boards with 6.2 per, while fellow forward Mitchell Solomon (Jr., 6-9, 245 lbs.) adds 8.8 points and a team-best 6.7 rebounds. The Pokes still feature a three-guard attack, with with two of them standing 6-6, they have presented match-up problems defensively for some teams. Tavarius Shine (Jr., 6-6, 200 lbs.) averages 10.8 points, while Lindy Waters (6-6, 205 lbs), the sole underclassman in the starting lineup, is good for 7.8 per game. Point guard Kendall Smith (6-3, 190 lbs.), a graduate student, is both a scoring and a distribution threat with 11 points and four assists per outing.
Balanced scoring across the primary three subs off the bench comes from guards Brandon Averette and Thomas Dziagwa and forward Cameron McGriff. All average between 7.6 and 7.8 points per game, and make OSU difficult to defend, as none can be left alone in the halfcourt.
After starting 2-0 on the road in its first three seasons in the Big 12, WVU went 1-1 a year ago in the two road openers. Some of those early games in the first years in the league were against teams at the bottom of the league, but it was still very good to get a pair of road games out of the way (and secured with wins) early in the season.
|WVU (11-1) vs. OSU (10-2)||Friday December 29||7:00 PM ET|
|Gallagher -Iba Arena||Stillwater, OK||Series: WVU 6-5|
|RPI: WVU – 31 OSU- 81||TV: AT&T Sportsnet||Sirius/XM: 138 / 199|
This year, the opportunity is there again, but the challenge is tougher. Oklahoma State, losing a veteran starting backcourt, was picked at or near the bottom of the league by most observers, but they have surpassed expectations so far with a balanced offensive attack and harassing defense that pushes up in the passing lanes and traps in the halfcourt. It’s a different pressure approach that West Virginia’s fullcourt style, but just as effective in forcing the ball away from the basket and getting steals on the perimeter that lead to transition opportunities. Which team will respond better to the pressure? WVU will have to get good passing from its forwards, who will need to be strong with the ball on the wings and find post players or cutters working to back cut the pressure in the passing lanes.
On the opposite end, Oklahoma State will try to defeat the press with quick ball movement, and just as quickly get into its offense by driving the ball and kicking it to trailers and shooters. They don’t figure to pause and reset when the ball gets across halfcourt, so WVU’s recovery from full court pressure will be very important. If the Mountaineers aren’t running the floor hard, OSU will try to take advantage of four-on-three or five-on-four chances for a quick shot.
Both teams have faced Top 25 opponents, and won. OSU hasn’t played a true road game, although it did defeat Florida State in Sunrise, Fla., in the Orange Bowl Classic. The Cowboys have an edge in overall experience, while WVU has the looming presence of Bob Huggins. For every plus on one side, there seems to be a countering advantage on the other, For West Virginia, the key probably lies in the ability of its starting guards to stay on the floor and play well. The Mountaineers won’t be able to weather long stretches with Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles on the bench, so that duo must play smart, avoid fouls, and continue to provide the leadership that will allow this team to gather the first of what would be two very important road wins.
WVU has won the last three meetings in Stillwater, which trails only Iowa State (four straight wins) for the longest current win streak in Stillwater. The road team won both games last season.
* * * * * *
This is a stat that won’t last, mostly due to the increased level of competition, but for much of the first month and a half of the season, WVU forced as many or more turnovers as it allowed field goals. Currently, WVU has forced 251 turnovers while yielding just 245 field goals. Some of that
* * * * * *
OSU’s Mitchell Solomon is making the most of his shot attempts inside the arc. He is fifth nationally in such tries, with a
2-point field goal percentage of 78.4 on the year. He probably should stick to that range, though, as he is just 2-17 from 3-point distance.
* * * * * *
WVU’s Teddy Allen has gotten the nickname “Teddy Buckets” for his ability to score and get shots away. He’s averaging 7.4 points per game, but is doing so in an average of just 11.6 minutes of playing time per contest. Beetle Bolden already has a nickname, but he’s also providing scoring at a similar rate in a backup role. He leads the team in 3-pointers while averaging just 18.8 minutes per outing, and is at 11 points per contest this season.