Wounded Mountaineers, Longhorns, Fight For Position In Coliseum Collision
This was supposed to be another mark in a West Virginia winning streak leading in to the heart of the Big 12 schedule. Instead, it will be a fight for survival in the mid-pack scramble.
WVU, coming off a totally deflating beatdown at heretofore league winless Kansas State, has to shake off all of the negatives of the loss and try to fend off Texas, which is also coming to the Coliseum off a loss. The Horns are one game behind a quartet of league teams, including WVU, that stand at 3-2 in the conference.
|WVU (14-3/3-2) vs. Texas (12-5/2-3)||Date: Mon Jan 20||Time: 7:00 PM ET|
|Venue: WVU Coliseum||Loc: Morgantown, WV||Series: UT 11-8|
|NET: WVU-9 UT-59||TV: ESPNU||Last: UT 75-53 (2019)|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
The Longhorns have had a series of high profile big men over the past few years, but this season much of their productivity comes from the backcourt. Matt Coleman (Jr., 6-2, 185 lbs.) leads the team in scoring at 12 points per game while running much of the half-court action. He has a better than two-to-one assist to turnover ratio, and also heads the Horns with 28 steals. Sophomore Courtney Ramey (6-3, 185 lbs.) is right behind at 11.1 points per outing, and he also chips in with 4.6 rebounds per.
The insipring Andrew Jones (6-4, 185 lbs.) is back to full playing status after a bout with leukemia that kept him out of action for a year and a half. He’s third at 10.5 points per contest while playing 24 minutes per game, mostly off the bench. Jase Febres (6-5, 195 lbs.) is the designated deep shooter, with 121 of his 153 attempts coming from beyond the arc. He’s made 43 this year. (By way of comparison, Sean McNeil leads WVU with 22.)
Inside, Jericho Sims (Jr., 6-9, 240 lbs.) is averaging 9.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and has ramped up in league play, averaging a double-double for the Horns in those five outings. He is coming off a 20-point showing in UT’s 66-57 loss to Kansas.
West Virginia will be doing some soul-searching as it returns home, coming off the rout at the hands of Kansas State. (The fact that Texas dominated the Wildcats just more than a week earlier should also be the cause for some reflection.) One question is, should a starting lineup change be a topic for consideration? The Mountaineers have been up and down early in games, and while the advatange of bringing some scoring punch off the bench is a tried-and-true tactic, perhaps the simple fact of a change could give WVU a jolt.
On the other hand, Deuce McBride, who is coming off the bench, is actually getting more playing time than any other WVU guard in conference games. He’s seeing 22.4 minutes of court time, trailed by Chase Harler (19.4), Brandon Knapper (14.4), Jordan McCabe (13.0), Sean McNeil (11.0) and Taz Sherman (9.8). Jermaine Haley, playing multiple roles, has been on the floor for 18.2.
Those numbers make for an interesting debate. Make the switch to see if it provides a spark, at the risk of upsetting chemistry that has resulted in 14 wins in 17 games? Or do so to see if it helps some players who are struggling? It’s one of the age-old issues of coaching that doesn’t have a right or wrong answer — at least until the results are seen.
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Part of the reasoning for shaking up the starting lineup is the fact that WVU has gotten so little production recently from several players in that group. Emmitt Matthews has scored just 16 points in his last seven games, and is 0-11 from 3-point range after starting the season 12-25 from distance. Jordan McCabe’s first job isn’t to shoot, but he is 8-37 since the Wichita State game, and has had 16 turnovers against just 10 assists in his last nine games. Jermaine Haley has played some good defense that can’t be ignored, but is averaging just more than five points over his last six games, and has suffered 15 turnovers in the same span.
There’s no doubt that this trio, as well as other Mountaineers going through some trials, can play. It’s been on display this year. But WVU needs more contributions from them, either with increased scoring or better ball protection, if it is going to make a push in the league and in the postseason.
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Is UT head coach Shaka Smart on the hot seat? Brought in to inject the Longhorn program with energy, he’s fashioned a desultory 83-71 mark in his four-plus seasons in Austin. Texas would love to create some more buzz around its basketball program, especially with a new arena on the way, and if more success isn’t in the cards, a new coach might be the only alternative path. Smart has two NCAA appearances and a NIT championship last year — is that enough to keep him in place if future results don’t improve? UT has missed the NCAAs twice in his tenure. It failed to go dancing just once in the prior 17 seasons.
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Texas sophomore Kamaka Hepa was born and raised in Barrow, Alaska, which is the northernmost point in the U.S. and only accessible by plane. With a combination of Hawaiian, Filipino, Inupiat (Eskimo) and Caucasian heritage, Hepa is looking to become the first Inupiat to play in the NBA.
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Oscar Tshiebwe has learned many lessons and been an excellent performer for WVU so far, but he has won just six of 17 opening game tip-offs. Is this a huge deal? It does put a team one-up in possessions, and also sets it up to be no worse than even in held-ball situations throughout the game. Also, the Mountaineers are 5-1 in games in which they have won the opening tip.