UPDATING THE SOONERS
Oklahoma has put together a solid season that will result in an NCAA bid, and has done so on the backs of an experienced starting lineup. Three seniors and a junior join lone freshman Je'lon Hornbeak in the first five, and with three other top reserves also in the upper class, the Sooners have the chops to handle most any scenario they find themselves in. Forward Romero Osby (Sr., 6-8, 230 lbs.) and guard Steven Pledger (Sr., 6-4, 220 lbs.) lead the way for the starters, as they combine for 27 points per contest. Junior transfer Amath M'Baye has also continued his solid play, tallying 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per outing.
OU has been affected by the loss of freshman guard Buddy Hield, who broke a bone in his foot on Feb. 11. The Sooners have gone just 3-2 since losing Hield, who was accounting for 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Hornbeak has stepped in to fill that gap, but Heild's absence has hurt OU's depth. Hield could be back in a substitute role against WVU.
With remaining games against WVU and TCU, the Sooners are in excellent shape to nail down the #4 seed in the Big 12 tournament, which would likely pit them against Iowa State of Baylor in their first game.
While OU is playing for tournament seedings, West Virginia is playing to --- what?
With one win in its final two games, WVU would nail down a seventh-place finish in the league, earning the right to play TCU in the opening round of the Big 12 tournament. On the national relevance scale, that's akin to earning a berth in the Big South quarterfinals, but it would at least give the Mountaineers the chance of winning 15 games. That's about all that's left for this team, which will go down as one of the most disappointing in the history of West Virginia basketball.
9:00 PM E
Lloyd Noble Center
WVU 13-16, 6-10
WVU - 113
OU - 22
To knock off OU, WVU will have to find a way to combat the athleticism of the Sooner lineup. While Oklahoma isn't the most skilled basketball team around, they make up for some of those shortcomings with length, jumping ability and speed. OU gets to a few extra balls per game, whether loose on the floor or on the boards, simply because it runs better, jumps higher and reachers further than its opponents. The Mountaineers can't increase their reach or grow before the game, so they'll have to match that with effort.
One other way to look at this game, and West Virginia's remaining contests, is as a tryout for the 2013-14 season. While head coach Bob Huggins likely has an idea as to who might not be returning next year, the last two regular season contests do provide one final chance for players to state their cases for next year. Is that a bit of motivation that might finally get through to some of this year's enigmatic team members?
In its Saturday game against Iowa State, the Sooners tied an NCAA record for most free throw attemtps without a miss. OU, which canned all 34 of its tries in the 86-69 win, is shooting 76% from the line as a team.
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Only TCU, riding an eight-game losing streak, is currently mired in a deeper hole that WVU, which has lost four games in a row.
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While OU hasn't reached the pace of play taught by former head coach Billy Tubbs, the Sooners do seem to have reached a new plateau in scoring. The Sooners have scored at least 72 points in each of their last seven games and have registered at least 86 in each of their last four. They are averaging 82.0 points over the last seven games after averaging 62.5 over the six games immediately prior to the stretch.
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Not only does West Virginia not have a double-digit scorer on its team, it now has just one player -- Eron Harris -- who is averaging more than nine points per game. Harris, who currently stands at 9.4 per outing, would have to score 28 against the Sooners to hike his average to 10 points per game. Conversely, he needs to score 17 points over WVU's next three games to keep his average at the 9.0 mark.