Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – TCU Horned Frogs
West Virginia’s roller coaster ride through the 2017-18 Big 12 men’s basketball season continues with another late Monday night contest. This one, against TCU, will test the Mountaineers’ state of mind.
UPDATING THE HORNED FROGS
TCU has gone 2-3 since handling the Mountaineers rather smartly in Fort Worth on Jan. 22. Wins over Oklahoma State and Texas have been offset by losses to Vanderbilt, Texas Tech and Kansas, with only the first in that list being a major ding to the resume, as the Commodores stand 9-16 on the season. The Frogs have handled the loss of point guard Jalen Fisher as well as could be expected, with junior guard Alex Robinson (6-1, 175 lbs.) stepping in adroitly to average five assists per game in Big 12 play, including a school record 17 against defense-challenged Iowa State.
Vladimir Brodziansky (6-11, 230 lbs.) remains the best combo inside\outside player in the league, and that is saying something in the Big 12. Averaging 15.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, he scores efficiently with a series of moves and drives in the lane, but steps out to 3-point range to make 35.1% of his tries. Add in an 80.7% mark from the free throw line, and he is a handful for any defender. WVU faces a tough choice in making its defensive assignments there — go with Sagaba Konate, and risk having him pulled away from the rim, or rotate a series of forwards who aren’t nearly as defensively accomplished?
Swingman Kenrich Williams (6-7, 210 lbs.) rebounds as West Virginia wishes some of its forwards did, grabbing 9.6 per game and converting many of his 68 offensive snares into points.
While the loss of Fisher was a huge blow, in some ways it might have helped some other Frogs improve, or become more regular contributors. Five are averaging double figures in scoring, with J.D. Miller and Robinson adding 9.0 and 8.7 respectively, and as the team tallies almost 20 assists per game, ball movement and finding the open man haven’t been a problem.
It’s been on the defensive end where head coach Jamie Dixon’s squad has been lacking, but he has seen improvement over the past two games, as TCU held Kansas and Texas to 71 points each. Given West Virginia’s offensive discontinuity, that will be a major focus for the Frogs in Morgantown.
West Virginia remains in third place in the Big 12 after Saturday’s debacle against Oklahoma State, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that.
|West Virginia (18-7 / 7-5) vs. TCU (17-8 / 5-7)||Mon 12 9:00 PM ET|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: WVU 11-1|
|RPI: WVU – 34 TCU- 24||TV: ESPN2||Sirius/XM: 84 / 84|
Although league frontrunners, other than Texas Tech, have also been stumbling of late, the Mountaineers’ 7-5 Big 12 record and recent losing trend have the team, not to mention fans, grumbling and moping. A league title would take an epic turnaround by WVU as well as some help from other teams, but that can’t be the concern right now. West Virginia has dropped like a rock in potential NCAA seeding estimates and the RPI, and must figure out a way to halt the slide, or it’s going to be staring at some tough early round competition in the postseason.
One way it can do this is by not getting stuck in one aspect of the offense. When the Mountaineers have success in one area, they can find themselves repeating the same thing again and again onthe attack, even as the opposing team makes adjustments to try to take it away. While it’s good to keep exploiting something until it’s no longer there, WVU seems to get on a treadmill at times and keep going to the same well even after it’s dry.
Take the OSU game for example. Cowboy guards couldn’t stay with Jevon Carter, who continually beat the defense, and even double teams, to get into the lane. A personal scoring record resulted, but this also led to teammates standing and watching him rather than continuing to run the offense. Late in the game, when Oklahoma State changed up, it forced a turnover and kept the ball out of Carter’s hands, and the Mountaineers had no recourse other than a heaved 3-pointer under duress. Meanwhile, Sagaba Konate, who admittedly missed part of the stretch with foul trouble, went the last 9:54 without touching the ball on offense.
So, the key for this game is simple, yet one that has been unattainable for WVU on a consistent basis this year. Run offense, especially motion, and look for what’s available rather than forcing the action. West Virginia does need Carter to drive and penetrate, which he did very well while playing off the ball for much of the OSU game. However, teammates can’t stand and watch the show, or fail to rebound, otherwise another mark is going to to up in the loss column.
West Virginia’s decrease in defensive efficiency will be tested by TCU, which stands 1oth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.6. In the first meeting this year, WVU did force 16 turnovers, including five from Robinson, but the Frogs countered with 20 assists on 25 made shots.
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TCU has not defeated a ranked team on the road since Jan. 19, 1998 at No. 24 Hawaii. WVU will again drop in the national rankings after Saturday’s loss to unheralded Oklahoma State, but might hang on to a spot in the Top 25 to give the Frogs an opportunity to break that streak.
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In the tightly bunched Big 12, WVU is one game out of second place and two games out of first. Looking the other direction, the Moiuntaineers are one game out of a three-way tie for fourth (where they thankfully hold tiebreakers over Kansas State and Oklahoma) and two out of a sixth-to-ninth place mashup. Staying at sixth or above is crucial, as it prevents having to play on Wednesday in the Big 12 Championship first round.
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Credit has to be given to Daxter Miles for not forcing shots when they aren’t falling, but West Virginia desperately needs him to knock down a few, or drive the ball with more regularity. Over the last three games, Miles has attempted a total of just nine shots, with three of those coming from beyond the arc. He hasn’t made more than one three in a game since the Baylor contest, and has passed up several open shot attempts in recent outings.
Miles has always been a confident player, but it seems like that, along with his natural exuberance, has waned greatly this season. It has been a tough year for him in regard to shooting, but he has been WVU’s best interior passer from the high post, and his assist totals are by far the best of his career, even with at least eight games still to be played. He’s dished out 86 so far, topping his career high of 54 a season ago, but West Virginia needs him to show that same level of play when shooting the ball.