UPDATING THE RED RAIDERS
While Tech and WVU have identical conference and overall won-loss records, the two teams are trending in opposite directions since their first meeting on Jan. 6. Tech did lose its next game, a roadie at Texas, but was competitive throughout the 67-64 setback. The Red Raiders then proceeded to upset #12 Baylor at home and earned a road win at TCU, marking their first back-to-back wins over Big 12 foes in three years. The last time that happened, it was part of a three-game winning streak over Nebraska, Iowa State and Oklahoma State in January, 2011.
The duo of Jordan Tolbert and Jaye Crockett continue to lead the Red Raiders' efforts, but contributors such as Dejan Kravic and Dusty Hannahs can't be overlooked. West Virginia certainly did so in the first meeting, when the big center and set shooter combined for 22 points.
Other than Hannahs, the Tech starting five continues to be the focal point of the Red Raider team. Outside of the floppy-haired sniper, Tech has gotten a total of just nine points from its bench in its last two games, and is also relying more and more on the starters to play extra minutes. Only Hannahs and Randy Onwuasor are getting any appreciable minutes, so look for head coach Tubby Smith to again use a rotation of just seven players on his first trip to the WVU Coliseum.
The Mountaineers will need to press their advantage on the bench against Tech.
Whether it's via pace, with WVU pushing the ball and trying to wear down the visitors, or by simply production off the pine, the Mountaineers may need to get more from its subs than the 18 points and nine rebounds (all but one by Brandon Watkins) it tallied in Lubbock. Tech's bench outscored that of the Mountaineers 23-18, and nearly stole the game due the heroics of Hannahs.
8:000 PM E
WVU 10-8, 2-3
TT 10-8, 2-3
Big 12 Network
WVU - 96
TT - 113
The fix for this is seemingly simple, but not one that WVU has been able to implement consistently this year. Defenders must recognize when shooters are in their zone, and not drop as far into help position, so that they can close out when the ball is reversed. Conversely, they must be ready to help more when Tech players who aren't three-point proficient are on their side of the floor and the ball moves opposite. That might sound easy, but it's also easy to get caught up in the game and lose track of which player is in your zone.
If WVU can at least make some progress defensively, it should have a chance to win, provided it can make a few shots. This subject has been beaten to death, so we won't club it into a shapeless mass, but 40% from the field just isn't going to get it done. The thing is, improved shooting doesn't necessarily have to come from three-point range. WVU's shot chart showed numerous misses in the lane against Kansas State, and despite the Wildcats' defensive prowess there were many makeable chances that West Virginia couldn't throw into the hoop. That, as much as a hot night from outside, is needed to get West Virginia back on the winning side of the ledger.
WVU forward Nathan Adrian has fouled out of two games and committed four fouls in four others. He's averaging nearly three fouls per game, and has seen his minutes drop recently not due to poor play, but more due to the foul trouble. He has 14 fouls in the last four games, and only a one-foul outing against Texas kept him on the cour for more than 12 minutes over that span.
Most of those fouls have been legitimate - Adrian still has a habit of putting his hands on dribblers. But he's also picked up a couple where he was the recipient of contact, which has clearly been very frustrating for him. WVU needs his shooting (he's 2-10 from three and 5-17 overall in the last five games), but more importantly it needs him to continue to progress in rebounding and shot blocking. He's a quick leaper and gets up high -- attributes that should allow him to grab five or six boards per game.
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Tech will be gunning for win number 1,300 on its visit to WVU. It will also be aiming to collect its 400th all-time road win.
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One other thing WVU can't do? Foul. The Red Raiders are first in the league and 23rd nationally, making 75% of their tries. Their free throw rate of 37.9 isn't great, however, ranking them 238th in the country. That points out the fact that while they shoot from the line well, they don't get there a great deal compared to most other schools in the nation. WVU can help its cause greatly by keeping Tech off the line.
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Texas Tech's improved play has mirrored its increase in free throw point percentage. As seen below, the Red Raiders have moved past WVU in the percentage of points it has scored from the line.