Guard play will be key when West Virginia faces Oklahoma State on Saturday, as the Mountaineers'…
UPDATING THE COWBOYS
OSU's win over West Virginia on Jan. 26 marked the beginning of a seven-game win streak, which was snapped Wednesday night with a tough overtime loss to Kansas. That defeat knocked the Cowboys out of a first place tie and into third in the Big 12, but that's about the only intangible West Virginia has going for it in this game. OSU has built itself into a serious contender for the league title, despite the loss to the Jayhawks, and have a manageable remaining league slate down the stretch.
OSU has ridden freshman Marcus Smart (6-4, 225 lbs.) for much of the season, but he's not the only Cowboy that WVU will have to contain. LeBryan Nash (So., 6-7, 230 lbs.) and Markel Brown (Jr., 6-3, 190 lbs.) are consistent double-digit scorers who can get points in a variety of manners, and sniper Phil Forte (Fr., 5-11, 195 lbs.) is just one of many outside shooters that the Mountaineers have failed to account for this year.
Those four players combine to make Oklahoma State the only team in the Big 12 Conference that has three different players ranked among the league's top 10 in scoring and four among the top 20. That balance has served OSU well this year, and allowed them to weather stretches where one or more of the players have gone through bad games.
One of the big reasons for OSU's scoring success has been its efficiency at the free throw line. The Cowboys make 74% of their charity tosses, and all four of their leading scorers exceed the 72% mark. That leaves defenders with a difficult choice -- try to match them step-for-step without contact, or bump and bang and risk sending them to the line. Neither strategy has been very successful this year, as OSU has been held under 61 points just once while outscoring opponents by 110 points from the line.
West Virginia obviously plays much better at home than it does on the road, and it's on that fact that it will have to pin its hopes for an upset.
2:00 PM E
WVU 13-13, 6-7
OSU 19-6, 9-4
WVU - 97
OSU - 30
On the court, West Virginia has to deny Smart the ball, and try to keep him on one side of the floor when he does get it. The freshman isn't just a scorer -- he passes the ball extremely well and gets it to teammates for good shots, and can drive the ball to break down defenses. The Mountaineers aren't going to shut him down, but they must make him work to get shots and force him away from the basket when he puts the ball on the floor.
West Virginia will also be at a huge disadvantage in trying to match up with some of the lineups the Cowboys can put on the floor. While the Mountaineers can pound the ball inside to Deniz Kilicli, it will have issues trying to guard Brown up top or Smart and Nash on the wings. WVU simply doesn't have a player that can match the strength of Smart or the size of Nash. Both of those players can take defenders into the lane or out on the perimeter, depending on the match-up involved. Keaton Miles is the closest thing to a lockdown defender West Virginia possesses, but as his playing time has dropped consistently over the past month, it looks as if Bob Huggins doesn't have anyone to put up against the athletic 3/4 combination players that OSU possesses.
With a win, Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford will notch his 100th victory at the school.
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Deniz Kilicli's point productivity comes in bunches. He has four consecutive games of 10 points or more in late November and early December, but didn't hit the ten-point mark again until scoring that number against Eastern Kentucky just prior to New Years'. He then went another five games before topping the mark again, but has scored at least 11 points in six of his last nine outings.
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Not only does WVU not have a double-digit scorer, it now has only one player (Aaric Murray - 9.1) averaging more than nine points per contest.
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Despite filling the physical role in the paint for OSU and averaging 18 minutes per game, center Philip Jurick has attempted just 12 free throws this year.