A West Virginia men’s basketball team looking to remake its image on the offensive end and find better play on the defensive side visits an Oklahoma State team coming off a huge win on Big Monday.
The 9 p.m. tip is one of four on WVU’s remaining schedule, and that number could increase as the Mountaineers still have three games to be set in terms of start time.
Of much greater concern than the late starts (something that WVU head coach Bob Huggins has mentioned several times) is West Virginia’s search for consistent shooting and offensive play. After the loss of two post players in the past week, WVU tried to spread the floor more against Oklahoma on Saturday, with widely varying results. The first half was a disaster, as West Virginia couldn’t run much effectively, but in the second half ball movement was better, with the Mountaineers finishing the game with 14 3-pointers.
The question is, are WVU’s guards good enough to continue at that pace? In 11 games this year, they have been blistering twice (Richmond and Oklahoma) and pedestrian or worse in nine.
|West Virginia (8-3/1-2) vs. Oklahoma State (7-2/1-2)||Mon Jan 4 9:00 PM ET|
|Gallagher-Iba Arena||Stillwater, OK||TV: ESPN2|
|Rank: WVU-16 OSU-49||Series: WVU 9-8||Last Game: WVU 65-47|
|Twitter: @BlueGoldNews||Facebook: BlueGoldNews||Web: BlueGoldNews.com|
West Virginia can’t just throw away its post game even though it has just one big who is a threat to score there. That’s Derek Culver, who Huggins maintains is the best big man in the league, and rightly so. However, he’s going to have to adjust to a different way of getting the ball and scoring. One method may be starting him out on the perimeter, then having him duck down for a quick inside hitter before opponents can set up double teams. Driving the ball from the midrange isn’t one of his strengths, but he has improved in that area, so perhaps more work when he gets the ball higher up the lane could help get him more shots.
Huggins also noted some better technique when he throws the ball out, including stepping back toward the hoop and sealing defenders at the rim rather than on the blocks, could help.
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Facing the Mountaineers is a Cowboy team that is coming off a big 82-77 road overtime win over 13th-ranked Texas Tech. OSU started of the season with six consecutive wins, including decisions over Marquette and Wichita State, but then a pair of league losses to TCU and Texas set them back. Refreshed and with some momentum after the victory over the Red Raiders, it’s hard to imagine the Pokes will be intimidated by a Mountaineer team that is much less physically imposing that it appeared to be just a couple of weeks ago.
Hyped freshman Cade Cunningham (6-8, 220 lbs.) has played as well as advertised, leading the team with 18.4 points per contest while seeing almost 34 minutes of action per game. He’s a tough match-up for anyone, and who WVU puts on him initially will be interesting. Derek Culver has the size and mobility to do so, but will the Mountaineers risk foul trouble for their big man? Jalen Bridges is the other option, but even after his encouraging start that’s a big ask. Cunningham ranges the court and can score from anywhere. Gabe Osabuohien is also an option when he makes his appearance.
OSU stalwart Isaac Likekele (6-5, 215 lbs.) is a force from the wing, averaging 10.9 points and an impressive 8.1 rebounds per contest. The latter number is something WVU will have to limit if it hopes to get its first Big 12 road win of the year. Swingman Keylan Boone (6-8, 200 lbs.) comes off the bench to grab 6.2 rebounds per contest.
Back to Culver. He was clearly frustrated by some of Oklahoma’s tactics in the game, which included stepping in front of him, bumping him and elbowing him while running down the floor.
“It’s smart on their part,” Huggins noted, while also making the unstated point that it’s not exactly part of the game that should be tolerated by officials. “When you are coming down the floor and constantly trying to look for people jumping in front of him, he got really frustrated. “To a degree I sympathize with him, because he gets fouled a lot. But he has to learn to deal with it.”
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Oklahoma State lists 17 players on its roster this season.
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Huggins on his team’s inability to stay with OU’s Umoja Gibson, who made eight of 14 threes on his way to 29 points on Saturday in the Sooners’ 75-71 win over West Virginia.
“I know this is hard for you to believe, but I did tell them not to leave him. They still did it. We were not as mentally prepared for the game as we needed to be.”
Whatever the reason, closing out on perimeter shooters or adjusting to ones with a hot hand has been a particular problem this year. Huggins believes that a lack of intensity is part of the problem, but identifying that and getting players to execute as instructed are two different things. Without question, defensive efficiency has become even more important to this team, and without it Big 12 wins are going to be hard to come by.