SCOUTING THE LONGHORNS
Like West Virginia, Texas was somewhat dysfunctional a year ago. Despite a seemingly solid assemblage of talent, the Longhorns were never able to put it together on the court, finishing 16-18 overall and losing both meetings to similarly-challenged West Virginia.
This year, UT has remade its roster, and again like the Mountaineers, seems to have put many of those problems behind it. However, just like WVU, they are still searching for quality wins. A victory over North Carolina (which seems to have multiple personality disorder), is the highlight of the year, but the Heels are dropping fast and stand at just 99 in the RPI.
Despite starting three guards, UT gets a good bit of its scoring punch in the starting lineup from its two bigs. Jonathan Holmes (Jr., F, 6-8) averages 12.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, while running mate Cameron Ridley (So., C, 6-9) adds 10.6 points and 7.1 boards. Both shoot the ball well, and Holmes can range out to three-point range, making him difficult to cover.
Off the bench, Prince Ibeh provides scoring support and defensive help. The 6-10 sophomore adds 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in just under 15 minutes of action, but in that time he's rejected 35 shots. One shortcoming all three share is ball security -- they've committed 66 turnovers and don't pass it particularly well out of the post. Connor Lammert gets most of the additional backup time, parlaying his 6-9 frame into 5,8 points and 5.2 rebounds per.
Isaiah Taylor (Fr., G, 6-1) leads a four-guard contingent of varying strengths. He's scoring 11.3 points per game while leading the team in assists with 3.8. Demarcus Holland (So., G, 6-2) is strong on the glass, adding 5.3 per game while scoring 9.4 per contest, and Kendal Yancy (Fr., G, 6-3) rounds out the anticipated starting lineup with 4.6 points per outing.
UT gets good production off the bench in the backcourt, with much of it coming from erstwhile starter Javan Felix. The 5-11 sophomore averages 11.1 points and 3.1 assists per contest, and gives the Horns good productivity to match up against opponents' reserves. Damarcus Croaker, yet another freshman, has some starting experience this year and is currently averaging 5.8 points per game.
UT is middling in many offensive categories, but it makes up for some of those with excellent rebounding. It's 11th nationally overall and 14th on the offensive end. Those are stats that WVU head coach Bob Huggins would love to have, and one that will play the biggest role in the outcome of this key conference match-up.
This is a game that can be defined as a must win for West Virginia.
After dropping a most agonizing loss to Oklahoma State just two days ago, the Mountaineers must defend their home court and defeat a team that it's likely to be jockeying with in the Big 12 standings all year. There's the usual concern about a letdown and "not letting the same team beat you twice", but that has not been part of West Virginia's makeup this season. Instead, it's board work, ball control and offensive execution that are likely to tell the tale here.
7:00 PM E
Morgantown, W. Va.
WVU 10-6, 2-1
UT 12-4, 1-2
WVU - 78
UT - 59
We've discussed the rebounding situation already, and the key for WVU to keep that margin as close as possible. UT rebounds it well up and down the lineup, so it's again on players such as Eron Harris, Nathan Adrian and Remi Dibo to chip in and augment West Virginia's efforts.
To counteract that deficiency, the Mountaineers will need to be efficient on offense and protect the ball. Texas has problems in the turnover department and doesn't pass it particularly well, so that's a place WVU can get an edge on the offensive end. An extra three or four possessions via turnover advantage could prove to be a critical edge in this game. West Virginia is seventh nationally in this area, giving it away just 9.5 times per outing.
Finally, the home team must get more scoring and defensive support off its bench. Adrian again battled foul trouble against OSU, limiting him to only seven minutes, and Gary Browne didn't have one of his better outings, getting lost a couple of times on defense and failing to record an assist in 14 minutes of play. Those two, along with Brandon Watkins and Dibo, can't be non-entities for the Mountaineers in Big 12 play. They don't all necessarily need to score, but they can't have more zeroes than anything else in their box scores.
It's simple to look at UT as an opponent and come to the conclusion that if WVU plays as it did against Oklahoma State, it should come away with a win. However, such game-to-game comparisons are often fraught with problems, as they don't take into account the differing match-ups that occur. UT doesn't have one big gun like OSU, but it does have nine quality players that are playing their roles much better than the UT team of a season ago. Still, this is a game that somehow, some way, West Virginia has to win if it wants to compete in the middle and upper tiers of the league.
Texas has won 1,686 games all-time, while WVU has won 1,644.
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"Close" doesn't begin to define the WVU - UT hoop series. All five games have been decided by four points or less, including one in overtime. The cumulative series score is 343-340 in favor of WVU. and all five games have come down to the final possession.
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Twenty-five of Brandon Watkins' 50 rebounds have come on the offensive end, but surprisingly enough, that ratio doesn't lead the team. Twenty-one of Kevin Noreen's 41 rebounds have come on the offensive end.
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UT has retired three numbers in its basketball program, including those of Kevin Durant (35), T.J. Ford (11) and Slater Martin (15).
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There's a big gap between the two lines in this chart, and it tells the rebounding tale of the two teams in this game. West Virginia msut figure out a way to make that margin shrink on Monday night.