SCOUTING THE COWBOYS
In a break from WVU's recent opponents, OSU features four players averaging at least 10.8 points per game, with a supporting cast that contributes a bit on the scoreboard, but strongly in other stat categories. All five starters average at least four rebounds per game, and all defend well, making the Cowboys a team that's tough to score on.
In the backcourt, Markel Brown (Jr. 6-3) and Marcus Smart (Fr., 6-4) average 14.4 and 13.2 points per game, respectively. They also hit the glass, combining for more than ten rebounds per game. Smart heads the team in assists and steals, and has teamed with Brown to block 31 shots. They are clearly the heart of the team, and often dominate other guards to give the Cowboys a strong advantage in those match-ups. Smart is the only player in the Big 12 Conference who ranks among the league's top-15 leaders statistically in nine statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, minutes, assist-to-turnover ratio, free throw percentage and defensive rebounding). With such a line, it's no surprise to see him on some mid-season All-America lists.
Of the bench, Phil Forte (Fr., 5-11) gets more than 26 minutes per game, and there's no appreciable offensive drop-off in guard play when he's on the court. He averages 10.8 per outing, with many of those coming on three-point shooting. Forty of his 56 field goals this year have come from long distance, so West Virginia will have to be aware of his whereabouts at all times. He's also second on the team with 23 steals. Kirby Gardner also sees double-digit minutes, with the majority of his contributions coming in playmaking and defensive roles.
The frontcourt is dominated by Le'Bryan Nash, a strong sophomore who averages nearly 14 points and more than four rebounds per game. At six feet seven inches, he doesn't tower over opponents, but does most of his damage from the mid-range and at the free throw line. He does launch the occasional ill-timed three-pointer, so look for WVU to sag off him defensively if he ranges beyond the arc.
Phillip Jurick (Sr., 6-11), is a rebounding force, averaging 7.1 boards per game, while Michael Cobbins (So, 6-8) is a steady contributor with 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per outing. Juric doesn't shoot a great deal, averaging fewer than three attempts each game, but he does snare offensive rebounds to give OSU more chances to get on the scoreboard. Kamari Murphy gets more time off the bench than Jurick does in his starting role, and adds 5.2 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest.
TCU holds teams down on the scoreboard by slowing the pace of play. OSU does it with good old-fashioned defense.
WVU 9-9, 2-3
OSU 12-5, 2-3
WVU - 99
OSU - 44
Second, the Pokes block shots at a tremendous rate. As a team, they average more than five per game, and the blocks don't come from just one position. Five players, including two guards, have at least 15 rejections per game. Getting tht number of blocks also shows that they contest a lot of shots. To block that many, defenders have to be close to shooters a great deal of the time, and OSU does that. They don't yield many open chances, get back on defense well and allow foes to shoot just 37.5% from the field.
Add all those up, and the overall defensive picture is a stout one. OSU gives up just 57.8 points per game, and has held seven opponents under 50 points this year. It ranks in the top three in the league in most major defensive categories, and plays with the intensity and technique that Bob Huggins would like to see from his team.
There's not much West Virginia can do to counter this other than to get the ball out in transition and shoot it early. If OSU doesn't allow that, then WVU is likely in trouble, as it will have a difficult time getting open shots. For a team that struggles to make even those at times, the likelihood of it making contested attempts consistently enough to win this game is small.
WVU will also be playing in another raucous environment, and it has to remain poised early if it is to have any chance of springing an upset. Over the last 25 years, OSU has an .875 winning percentage on its home court, and when it goes on a scoring run, the noise inside the venerable structure is deafening.
West Virginia has no player averaging in double figures in scoring. Juwan Staten leads the team with 9.9 points per game. The last time WVU did not have a player average at least ten points per game was 1944-45, when Earl Allara averaged 9.5 points per contest.
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Four players in the game share prep backgrounds. WVU's Voldy Gerun and OSU's Marek Soucek attended the Canarias Basketball Academy, while Mountaineer Keaton Miles and Cowboy Le'Bryan Nash played at Lincoln High School in Dallas, Tex.
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OSU is an ordinary shooting team, but they become marksmen at the free throw line. The Cowboys are first in the Big 12 and 18th in the nation on freebies, averaging 75.2%.
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Bench scoring has been an indicator of West Virginia's performance this year, as the Mountaineers have not won a game (0-5) in which they have been outscored by the opponents' reserves. Of course, identifying a WVU player solely as a substitute is difficult in a year in which the Mountaineers have more starting lineups than Lindsay Lohan has court appearances, but the point remains won to watch. With no "go-to" scorer, West Virginia has to get contributions from its substitutes to have a shot at winning.