WVU On Unfamiliar Ground As It Visits TCU
In its past visits to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the West Virginia men’s basketball team came in dealing from a position of strength. The Mountaineers were ranked higher than TCU on each of those visits, and all but once came away with a victory. For WVU, it was a matter of a business trip — rack up a win over a team that was below it in the standings and move on.
All of that is in the rear view mirror — except that of head coach Bob Huggins, who doesn’t possess one — as the Mountaineers face the Horned Frogs on Tuesday evening. This time, it’s the TCU squad of head coach Jamie Dixon who holds the upper hand, with an NCAA-worthy NET ranking and a 12-3 record, as well as Top-25-flirting status. The Frogs are likely to be well-motivated, having dropped their last two league games against Kansas and Oklahoma, and will be looking to protect their hopes for an NCAA bid.
At this point in the season, the WVU coaching staff hoped to have the majority of its lineup and rotational pieces established. For sure, there can be one-off instances where a little-used player jumps in with a bigger-than-expected contribution, but for the most part contending teams aren’t searching for answers the way the Mountaineers are.
There have been some advances — Jermaine Haley has brought some stability to the point, having committed just four turnovers in his last four games, which have included three starts and totaled 95 minutes of playing time. He’s also scored in double-digits in each of the past two games. Derek Culver has produced far above expectations, averaging nearly a double-double in his six games. Only the specter of foul trouble, and the hopes of protecting him for the second half, has kept him from also moving into the starting lineup.
Past that, however, inconsistency has reigned. West Virginia has used nine different starting lineup combinations this season with 11 different starters, and while that isn’t the be-all and end-all in terms of determining stability, the mixing and matching has continued throughout games themselves. It’s been more of a search for adequate play than it has been tactical moves, which head coach Bob Huggins and assistant Larry Harrison are known for, and it isn’t anywhere near completion.
|WVU (8-8 / 0-4) vs. TCU (12-3 / 1-2)||Date: Tue Jan 15||Time: 7:00 PM ET|
|Venue: Schollmaier Arena||Loc: Fort Worth, TX||Series: WVU 12-1|
|NET: WVU – 96 TCU – 31||TV: ESPNU||Last: WVU 82-66 (2018)|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
Shuffling the starting lineup is the change that gets the most attention from fans, and WVU has already done that aplenty. What it needs to find, though, are the combinations that can produce throughout the game and avoid lengthy scoreless stretches, and then a closing unit that can get the Mountaineers over the top at the end. Haley, Culver and Beetle Bolden are the top three in that group, but until WVU finds another three or four, it will continue to struggle.
TCU has made a massive improvement defensively from last season to this. The Horned Frogs’ 3-point field goal percentage defense of 28.1% ranks second in the Big 12 and 12th in the nation. They have been even better in their three league games to date, holding foes to 26.9% from beyond the arc. Last season, TCU finished 312th at 37.6%. The Frogs are also doing well overall, yielding just a 41% field goal success rate to its opponents.
* * * * * *
Since the Pitt game, Beetle Bolden has made just 11 of 37 3-point attempts. That success rate of 29.7% has dropped his career figure to 40.4%, which is still third-best all-time at WVU, behind Chris Leonard (41.7%) and Kevin Pittsnogle (41.4%). However, with Jermaine Haley solidifying the point, Bolden could be freed up to play more off the ball, where he is far more effective. It also should be noted that Bolden has had to fire up some less than optimal threes in closing stages of some games when WVU is in desperation rally mode.
* * * * * *
TCU guard Alex Robinson (Sr., 6-1, 180 lbs.) ranks second in the nation with 8.1 assists per game, and stands second all-time at TCU with 539 career dishes for scores. That’s helped the Horned Frogs to a #2 national rankings in assists last season, and the number five spot in this campaign.
* * * * * *
Yes, it’s just a half-dozen games. But Culver is averaging 9.3 rebounds per contest in that short span, which puts him 11th on WVU’s all-time rebounding list, ahead of such luminaries as Devin Williams, Maurice Robinson and Kevin Jones. This doesn’t appear to be one of those “hot streak” starts, such as many shooting marks encompass. Culver pursues the ball relentlessly, and as long as he continues to do that, he’ll continue to pile up the rebounds.