Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers – Texas Longhorns
The Texas game has become a “must win” for West Virginia — at least if it wants to stay in contention for a Big 12 regular season title.
SCOUTING THE LONGHORNS
Texas underwent a huge shock when guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia in early January. His treatment, health and recovery are obviously the most important items to the team right now, but the remaining players have apparently been handling the situation as well as possible. (BlueGoldNews.com sends its best wishes to Jones and his family as he begins treatment, and hopes for the best of all possible outcomes for all involved.) UT has recorded two wins over ranked teams since the announcement of Jones’ illness, and has made adjustments to its lineup that have worked reasonably well.
The Longhorns got a huge boost when junior Kerwin Roach (6-4, 180 lbs.) returned to the lineup a bit earlier than anticipated and tossed in 20 points in the win over Texas Tech. Roach averages 10.8 points per game, and is a great addition to a lineup that has had problems scoring. He’s joined in the backcourt by freshman Matt Coleman (6-2, 180 lbs.) who averages 8.8 points and more than five assists per game.
Texas, like Baylor, throws lots of length at opponents, led by one-and-done forward Mo Bamba (6-22, 225 lbs.). He scores most of his 11.9 points per outing on dunks and offensive rebounds, and completes a double-double average with 10.5 boards per game, to go along with a second best nationally 4.5 blocks per outing. Junor Dylan Osetkowski (6-9, 245 lbs.) and freshman Jericho Sims (6-9, 240 lbs.) bookend Bamba with even more length, and while Sims has just recently moved into the starting lineup, he makes Texas even more imposing defensively inside.
Off the bench, guards Eric Davis (6-3, 190 lbs.) and Jacob Young (6-2, 185 lbs.) combine to contribute almost 14 points per contest, but there’s little productivity from any of the other backups. Freshman Jase Febres (6-5, 190 lbs.) has mixed things up a bit with starting assignments in each of the last four UT games, but is still not listed as a projected starter. He has helped from 3-point range, where the Longhorns have been shorthanded since Jones illness.
Stung by that loss, as well as by absence of Roach, head coach Shaka Smart has had to shorten his rotation, and has relied on a seven-man plan since being forced to shuffle his lineup. Even with the very difficult Jones situation, as well as other unavailabilities due to injury, UT has only one “bad” loss on its resume, a recent one-point setback on the road at Oklahoma State. Three of its six losses have come to ranked teams, with two of them (Duke and Gonzaga) in overtime.
A pair of teams that struggles to score at times will clash on Saturday. Is it their play on that end, or their defensive works in keeping the offenses down, that will determine the victor?
|West Virginia (15-3 / 4-2) vs. Texas (12-6 / 3-3)||Sat Jan 20 2:00 PM ET|
|WVU Coliseum||Morgantown, WV||Series: UT 8-7|
|RPI: WVU – 21 UT- 45||TV: CBS||Sirius/XM: 84 / 84|
Texas hasn’t passed the ball well this year, and has relied on individual efforts and free throws to score. UT is 329th nationally in assists per field goal made, but, like West Virginia, has a defense that holds opponents down. Texas blocks shots, changes more and forces opposing offenses out of the lane, and that’s a place where WVU would like to get more chances after a second half of terrible offense against Kansas. Can it do so, however, against a team much taller and longer, and that blocks 6.1 shots per game (and probably changes or forces misses on twice that number)?
In order to score anywhere from other than distance against Texas, WVU must make the interior defense move and get it away from rim protection. Sagaba Konate, Maciej Bender, Esa Ahmad and Lamont West must make a mid-range shot or two, and more importantly, must extend screens and block their foes away from the hoop when a teammate makes a drive. That’s not something that has been apparent in West Virginia’s execution this year, but if it allows Bamba and Sims to come from off the ball to block shots, it will make even fewer than the four buckets in the paint it tallied in the second half against Kansas. Driving, and making Texas defend on the move, will be a big key for the WVU offense.
Defensively, West Virginia has to get more pressure on the ball, and not necessarily in the full court. When Texas sets its offense, WVU defenders have to put ballhandlers under stress by forcing them to their off hands, keeping them out of the middle of the court and making it difficult to see teammates or get them the ball quickly. That has been quite lacking as the Big 12 season has unfolded, and if WVU can’t execute that part of “Press Virginia”, it’s going to have to start looking for a new nickname.
Much has been made of the Sagaba Konate – Mo Bamba “showdown”, but Konate must avoid getting caught up in that hoopla. While West Virginia’s sophomore big man admitted that going up against other shotblockers in the Big 12 is a challenge that motivates him, he can’t allow that to devolve into a one-on-one personal confrontation. That would likely lead to more fouls or forced action that gets him away from what he does best. Konate must continue to wall up defensively, not reach or swing at blocked shots, and not try to force offensive plays that he is unlikely to complete. In short, he has to keep his cool, which has been the most difficult challenge for him to overcome to this point in his collegiate career.
With three wins in a row against the Longhorns, WVU is within one victory of tying the all-time series between the two teams at 8-8.
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Texas has already played four overtime games this year, including two in Big 12 play. The ‘Horns won both of those league contests, against Iowa State and TCU.
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West Virginia has forced only 13 turnovers in each of its last two games. That is its lowest back-to-back total of the season.
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Texas’ game notes brag that the Longhorns have reached 20 wins 16 times in the last 18 seasons, and that it has made the NCAA Tournament 17 times in the last 19 years. Those are notable achievements, but no mention is made of the fact that they apparently weren’t enough to save the of previous coach Rick Barnes,