Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:28PM

#16/15 West Virginia Mountaineers (15-2 overall, 3-1 Big 12) at #20/20 Texas Longhorns (12-4, 1-2)
Frank Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 5:15 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Texas -3 | KenPom: West Virginia, 68-67 (51%)

It’s no secret that the Big 12 is the nation’s toughest conference this year. You can’t flip on a game without hearing an announcer talking about the depth of the Big 12, and the statistics have backed up that nice bit of conference PR.

Although the ACC has more elite teams near the top of its league than the Big 12 does, there are certainly some nights that the ACC’s good teams can give a sub-par effort and still log a win. In the Big 12, there are eight solid teams, and a pair of average ones that can still put a scare into the rest of the league. With no guarantee games, every win is a precious commodity, and the margin for error is extremely slim.

Texas quickly found that out after conceding home court to Oklahoma in a 21-point thrashing nearly two weeks ago. The Longhorns traveled to Stillwater later that week as underdogs, and played according to script in a game that the Cowboys controlled comfortably. Just like that, the Longhorns found themselves sitting at 1-2 in a conference where just finishing with a winning record will be a badge of honor.

To stay relevant in the nation’s toughest conference, Texas must defend its home court and pick off a few road games that it isn’t favored to win. Thanks to that embarrassment at the hands of the Sooners, home wins become even more important, while the pressure for those road wins has increased. Unfortunately, with eight teams currently ranked in Pomeroy’s Top 50, defending home court is still a tall order. Although Vegas still considers Texas the favorite tonight, Pomeroy’s model gives the Mountaineers the edge in what is essentially a toss-up.

West Virginia’s defense constantly forces turnovers
(Photo credit: Raymond Thompson/Associated Press)

Keys to the game

1) Handle the pressure – West Virginia currently owns the nation’s best turnover percentage, forcing miscues on more than 31% of their defensive possessions. The Longhorns have struggled to hang on to the ball even against mediocre defenses, so they will likely waste quite a few possessions tonight and give up some easy fast break buckets. If they can limit the damage caused by West Virginia’s pressure, they can keep themselves in a position to win.

The Mountaineers love to press after made baskets, but they also will trap opponents when settling into half-court sets. The Longhorn guards need to avoid putting themselves into bad situations near the sideline, and the bigs must react quickly to find the open man and force West Virginia to rotate. With an entire week off to prepare for this game, Texas fans have to hope that the team has been able to make vast improvements in this area.

2) Clean up the glass – The Mountaineers don’t actually shoot the ball that well, relying on the offense generated by their defense and strong offensive rebounding that extends their possessions. West Virginia has the nation’s fourth-best offensive rebounding rate on the year, as they have reclaimed 42.5% of their misses.

In Big 12 play, the Longhorns are an unimpressive sixth in defensive rebounding, allowing opponents to win back nearly 34% of their misses. If Texas can’t handle the West Virginia pressure, the Horns may be able to hang in the game by taking away the Mountaineer edge on the offensive glass. However, if Texas struggles against the pressure and allows the Mountaineers their usual offensive board numbers, it could get very ugly.

3) Limit transition points – Star point guard Juwan Staten (No. 3) is always looking to push the ball in transition, and can be very difficult to stop once he gets into gear, so the Longhorns must be alert as they hustle back on defense. Forward Devin Williams (No. 5) also runs the court well in transition to give them easy finishes at the rim, and the quick, athletic West Virginia lineup does a great job of beating the defense back and staying in their lanes on the break, setting up wide-open transition jumpers.

Texas will already have a tough time limiting points off of turnovers, so the Horns cannot afford to give up easy buckets in transition. The Longhorns have to stop the ball and pick up men quickly, or else they will find it nearly impossible to keep up with West Virginia on the scoreboard.

4) Force long jumpers – West Virginia really struggles to knock down three-pointers, as they have made just 30.5% of their looks from long range this season. However, their team is great at canning their midrange shots, and Staten and Gary Browne, Jr. (No. 14) can also quickly slice through the defense with the bounce.

If Texas can limit penetration and challenge those midrange jumpers, they should force West Virginia to settle for long-range shots, dramatically improving their odds tonight. However, West Virginia frequently frustrates opponents who play 30 seconds of great defense against their constant motion, as Staten and Browne will often find a driving lane in the final seconds of the shot clock. To be able to slow down the Mountaineer offense, the Longhorns must be patient and disciplined until the very last second of their half-court defensive possessions.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:55PM

[3] Texas Longhorns (22-9 overall, 11-7 Big 12) vs. [6] West Virginia Mountaineers (17-14, 9-9)
Sprint Center | Kansas City, MO | Tip: 8:30 CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)
Vegas: Texas -3 | Pomeroy: Texas, 78-76 (57%)

The old adage holds that it’s tough to beat the same team three times in one season. With the advent of the double round-robin in the Big 12, that scenario is even more common than it once under the previous, imbalanced league schedule. For a Texas Longhorn team that heads to Kansas City having lost four of its last six games, pulling off the difficult three-game sweep of West Virginia is the only way to try to build some momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.

The Longhorns have also struggled away from the Erwin Center in recent weeks, although many of their road stumbles came in very tough road environments. Fortunately, from this point on, all of Texas’ games will be on a neutral court, even though the decidely pro-Kansas fans at the Sprint Center will likely back the Mountaineers in tonight’s contest. The Longhorns only played two neutral-court games this season — both in the Sprint Center — and pulled off a split by defeating DePaul after a loss to BYU.

In addition to building some momentum and proving they can win away from home, the Longhorns are obviously playing for seeding at this point. Although ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has kept Texas as a No. 6 seed following a loss to Texas Tech and throughout Championship Week, the team would obviously like to avoid slipping to the 7-seed line and potentially facing a No. 2 seed in the Round of 32. A loss tonight could make that outcome a distinct possibility, while another win over West Virginia would give the Horns their twelfth RPI Top 100 win and a shot at a eighth RPI Top 50 win against Baylor or Oklahoma tomorrow night.

The First Meeting

The Longhorns dominated the glass and forced the Mountaineers into taking — and missing — a bunch of challenged threes when the teams met at West Virginia last month. Texas used a 27-11 run over the final 12 minutes of the first half to open up a big lead, and the team never looked back. Although the Mountaineers clawed to within 11 points by the final buzzer, the game was never in doubt in the second half, and Texas cruised to an 80-69 win.

Cameron Ridley was dominant inside for Texas, posting 12 points and 12 boards for what was then his fourth double-double of the season. The Longhorns reclaimed more than 34% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, while limiting WVU to contested one-shot possessions. Texas locked down the defensive glass, allowing the Mountaineers to win back just 22% of their own misses.

Texas did a good job limiting open looks on the perimeter, something that opponents often find difficult to do against the spread attack and driving ability of West Virginia. The Mountaineers made just 16% of their three-point attempts on the night, shooting 4-for-25 from long range. Point guard Juwan Staten (No. 3) went off for 23 points and added five assists, while freshman forward Brandon Watkins (No. 20) had a nice performance off the bench, logging five blocks and snagging six boards in just 14 minutes of action.

The Second Game

The Longhorns again owned the boards against West Virginia in Austin, limiting the Mountaineers to just 23.1% of their offensive rebounding chances, while reclaiming nearly 40% of their own missed shots. When you also consider that the Longhorns shot a blistering 58% from the field, those extended possessions carried even more weight.

Texas did a great job limiting Staten in the first half, holding him to just four points as the Longhorns took an 11-point edge to the locker room. The Longhorns moved the ball crisply, knocked down jump shots, and took advantage of their size inside.

Although the Mountaineers made a push coming out of the half and cut the lead to just six points, Texas responded with an 8-0 run and never looked back. Despite an uneven second-half performance, the Longhorns still cruised to an 88-71 win over West Virginia, who had won four out of five coming into the game. Texas held a massive 46-14 advantage on points in the paint and logged assists on 54.5% of their buckets. All five starters finished in double-digits for the Horns, with big men Jonathan Holmes and Ridley combining for 28.

Keys to the Game

1) Pound the paint – West Virginia will likely dare the Longhorns to beat them with the jump shot again, and it’s not a poor strategy. Texas clearly has the advantage in the frontcourt when these two teams meet, and the Horns are ranked among Division I’s 100 worst teams in every shooting category — free throws, two-pointers, and three-pointers. If Texas plays into West Virginia’s hands, allows the ball to stick against that 1-3-1 zone, and settles for jump shots, the Longhorns will have a tough time advancing to the Big 12 Championship semifinals.

2) Turn back Staten’s drives – So much of West Virginia’s offense is created by the penetrating ability of Staten, whether it leads to baskets for him, or open looks for teammates. Texas did a fantastic job limiting his damage in the first half in Austin by stopping his attack in penetration, and turning him into a jump shooter in the half-court. If the Longhorns can’t repeat that performance tonight and allow Staten to slice up their defense, things could get very dicey in Kansas City.

3) Don’t lose the shooters – West Virginia knocks down 38.6% of their three-point shots, and when they get hot, they can blow the doors right off an arena. In a thorough whipping of Iowa State in Morgantown, the Mountaineers drilled 13 triples and made more than 59% of their long-range attempts. In two games against the Longhorns, however, West Virginia has made just 12-of-48 from behind the arc.

While some may say that means the Mountaineers are due, a big factor in those numbers is Texas forcing West Virginia into taking tough looks. If the Longhorns can do the same tonight — and keep close tabs on Eron Harris (No. 10), Terry Henderson (No. 15), and stretch forwards Nathan Adrian (No. 11) and Rémi Dibo (No. 0) when they drift without the ball — they should be able to advance to the next round of the Big 12 tournament.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 3:33PM

West Virginia Mountaineers (15-10 overall, 7-5 Big 12) at #19/19 Texas Longhorns (19-5, 8-3)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Longhorn Network
Vegas: Texas -6 | KenPom: Texas, 81-74 (73%)

Join me in my time machine, as we go all the way back to January 8th. The Longhorns were heading to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State in their second Big 12 game, having just let a prime opportunity slip away at home against Oklahoma in the conference opener.

“Texas was already going to have a hard time reaching .500 in conference play, and in turn getting to the magical 20-win plateau, especially in such a deep league,” a wise UT basketball blogger wrote. “Losing a home game against another mid-tier team makes those goals even tougher for Texas to achieve, and it means that an extra win is going to have to be picked off on the road at some point.”

Here we are, just five-and-a-half weeks later, with seven games still left on the schedule. Texas is now just one victory away from the 20-win plateau and .500 in league play. In this week’s mock bracket exercise in Indianapolis, the Longhorns were one of the early locks in the field, and are currently a 5-seed in The Bracket Project’s bracket matrix.

Bob Huggins wasn’t buying the pre-season Big 12 poll
(Photo credit: Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

There are hits and there are misses, and then there are misses. Yours truly, along with essentially every other expert out there, was way off on this team. The Longhorns are still just one game behind Kansas in the Big 12 race, although next Saturday’s matchup with the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse tilts the title odds strongly in KU’s favor.

While the Longhorns have been quite the surprise this season, so have the West Virginia Mountaineers. Predicted to finish seventh by league coaches in October, WVU is now tied for fourth and is just 1.5 games behind the second-place Longhorns. For a team that scuttled through non-conference play and looked rather underwhelming in the first few weeks of Big 12 play, the turnaround has been remarkable.

That turnaround was punctuated on Monday night, as West Virginia destroyed Iowa State at home, winning by a lopsided 102-77 count. The quality victory actually put the Mountaineers on Joe Lunardi’s Thursday bracket, squeaking into the “Last Four In” category. To say that West Virginia would greatly benefit from a road upset in Austin tonight would be drastically understating the situation. For a team that is now squarely on the bubble, a win tonight would carry quite a bit of weight on Selection Sunday.

Meet the Mountaineers

For an in-depth look at the West Virginia roster and a look at the team’s four factors, check out LRT’s preview of the game in Morgantown between these two teams.

The First Meeting

Holmes and the Horns owned the glass in Morgantown
(Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press)

The Longhorns dominated the glass and forced the Mountaineers into taking — and missing — a bunch of challenged threes when the teams met at West Virginia last month. Texas used a 27-11 run over the final 12 minutes of the first half to open up a big lead, and the team never looked back. Although the Mountaineers clawed to within 11 points by the final buzzer, the game was never in doubt in the second half, and Texas cruised to an 80-69 win.

Cameron Ridley was dominant inside for Texas, posting 12 points and 12 boards for what was then his fourth double-double of the season. The Longhorns reclaimed more than 34% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, while limiting WVU to contested one-shot possessions. Texas locked down the defensive glass, allowing the Mountaineers to win back just 22% of their own misses.

Texas did a good job limiting open looks on the perimeter, something that opponents often find difficult to do against the spread attack and driving ability of West Virginia. The Mountaineers made just 16% of their three-point attempts on the night, shooting 4-for-25 from long range. Point guard Juwan Staten went off for 23 points and added five assists, while freshman forward Brandon Watkins had a nice performance off the bench, logging five blocks and snagging six boards in just 14 minutes of action.

Since Then…

Staten had entered the game with Texas as the team’s second-leading scorer, but his offensive explosion against the Horns was just the beginning. The former Dayton Flyer has averaged 20.6 points per game over the team’s last nine outings, a stretch that started with the first Texas game. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s lighting up the scoreboard while also filling up the rest of the stat sheet. During the same nine-game stretch, Staten has also averaged 5.8 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game, making him a leading candidate for post-season All-Big 12 honors.

The Mountaineers have also caught fire from behind the arc in recent weeks. Although they followed up the Texas game with another disappointing 26.7% three-point mark in a blowout loss at Kansas State, the ‘Eers have been lights out since. In the team’s last seven games, its three-point percentage is a scorching 40.1%, and triples have accounted for 33.1% of the team’s scoring. For comparison’s sake, Division I teams average just 26.6% of their scoring from long range.

West Virginia has won four of its last five games, including home victories against Kansas State, OU, and Iowa State. An ability to force mistakes has been a big part of the team’s success, with its defense causing turnovers on 19.3% of opponents’ possessions in Big 12 contests. While the Mountaineers are stealing possessions from their opponents, they are also protecting their own, turning it over on just 14.2% of their Big 12 possessions. The team’s turnover rates on both ends of the court are tops in the Big 12 heading into today’s action.

Keys to the Game

1) Lock down the perimeter – There’s no way to shut down Staten and his driving ability for an entire game, but staying home against perimeter shooters will certainly limit the damage he can do on the drive-and-kick. Texas has to stick with Eron Harris, Terry Henderson, and the floor-stretching Rémi Dibo when they are waiting behind the arc, or else dribble penetration by the other WVU guards will lead to wide-open looks from long range.

Texas will find it tough to slow down Juwan Staten
(Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press)

2) Avoid foul trouble – The Longhorns have a strong interior defense that can frustrate Staten when he gets to the rim, if they play vertically and avoid fouls. With Jonathan Holmes working his way back from a knee injury, Texas can’t afford to let the slashing ability of the West Virginia guards cause foul trouble in the frontcourt. The Longhorns have a distinct advantage inside in this game, but picking up silly fouls would erase that edge quickly.

3) Clean the glass – The Longhorns dominated the glass in the first meeting between these teams, and they should be able to do the same again tonight. West Virginia’s defense has improved greatly over the last few weeks, so earning second and third chances will be key to keeping the offense going. On the other end of the court, if Texas can stop penetration and force the Mountaineers into contested jumpers, the team has to take advantage by closing out the possessions with solid board work.

4) Hang on to the ball – Texas turned it over 18 times against West Virginia in the first meeting, which equated to more than 24% of the team’s possessions wasted. In last week’s blowout loss to Kansas State, the Longhorns again struggled with the same demons, turning it over on more than 28% of their possessions. West Virginia’s defense is the best in the Big 12 when it comes to forcing mistakes, so the Longhorns have to avoid falling into that same trap tonight. If they don’t, the Horns could become the second-straight Top 25 opponent to fall victim to the Mountaineers.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 8:56AM

Texas Longhorns (12-4 overall, 1-2 Big 12) at West Virginia Mountaineers (10-6, 2-1)
WVU Coliseum | Morgantown, WV | Tip: 6 P.M. | TV: ESPNU

The Big 12 was widely thought to be a three-team league before the season tipped off in November. Kansas and Oklahoma State were the clear-cut favorites, and in fact were tied atop the pre-season poll of the conference’s coaches. Baylor was predicted to be just a step behind them, with the rest of the league not expected to make much noise. The Mountaineers and Longhorns, who finished seventh and eighth in last year’s standings, were predicted to hold steady in those slots this year.

As it turns out, the league is much deeper and tougher than even its own coaches could have predicted. The top eight teams in the Big 12 are all ranked in the top 65 of Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, with three in the top twelve. Every road game is going to be tough to win, as Oklahoma State learned in Manhattan and Morgantown on the last two Saturdays.

Bob Huggins has turned things around this season
(Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press)

Unfortunately, for the Longhorns, a road win against a favored team is essentially a must-have at this point. After losing their home conference opener to Oklahoma, Texas now has to steal one back on the road to stay in the hunt for a .500 league record. Tonight’s trip to West Virginia is one of their best opportunities to make up for that loss to the Sooners, but escaping the mountains with a win will still be a tall order.

By the numbers

Like Texas, West Virginia has bounced back well from a dismal campaign in 2012-13. The team’s 10-6 mark can be a bit misleading, as four of the losses came by five points or less, with a fifth coming in a 70-63 neutral-court decision against still-undefeated Wisconsin.

The Mountaineers have the nation’s 32nd best offense in terms of Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency, scoring 1.137 points per possession, up significantly from last year’s 1.026 mark. They shoot the ball fairly well, but it’s their ball control and offensive rebounding numbers that make it so hard for opponents to keep them from scoring. West Virginia boasts the nation’s eighth-best turnover percentage, coughing it up on just 14% of their possessions. They also do a solid job extending possessions by reclaiming 34.9% of their missed shots, a stat that ranks 83rd in Division I.

West Virginia is also extremely dangerous from beyond the arc, knocking down nearly 40% of their threes on the season. They move the basketball very quickly and have a handful of quick, slashing guards who can drive and kick to wide-open teammates on the perimeter. Five different Mountaineers in the core rotation have made at least 37.5% of their long-range looks, with three of them north of the 40% mark.

Defensively, WVU is just a bit ahead of the national average, with most of their tempo-free statistics clustered around the mean. Their weakest defensive number is actually on the glass, where the Mountaineers allow opponents to win back 32.7% of their missed shots. For a Texas team that typically dominates on the offensive glass, that could mean a nice chunk of second-chance points.

Meet the Mountaineers

Point guard Juwan Staten is flying high this year
(Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press)

West Virginia has two of the league’s top five scorers, which is even more impressive when you consider that the team plays at only the fifth-fastest tempo in the ten team league, and they play considerably slower than the likes of OU, Texas, and Iowa State. Sophomore guard Eron Harris (No. 10) is second in the league with 18.1 points per game, and he’s doing it from all over the court.

Harris takes more than 28% of his team’s shots when he’s on the floor, and with an effective field goal percentage above 56%, it’s easy to see why. He can knock down the midrange jumper, has the speed and a quick first step to repeatedly get him to the rim, and he’s drilled nearly 43% of his three-pointers on the year.

Point guard and former Dayton Flyer Juwan Staten (No. 3) is second on the team and fifth in the Big 12 in scoring. Like Harris, he can easily get to the rack, but his jump shot isn’t quite as reliable. Although Staten scores much more than most point guards, he still has excellent court vision and repeatedly sets up his teammates when his slashing ability draws defensive help. His impressive assist rate of 31.3% is currently ranked 65th in the nation.

Even though they often don’t need the help, West Virginia frequently springs its guards with high ball screens, which makes it even harder for opponents to keep up with Staten, Harris, and the like. Even if a team can rotate and provide help to cut off the driving lanes, West Virginia’s stable of great outside shooters is often waiting to drill a trey. One of those marksmen is Terry Henderson (No. 15), a 37.5% three-point shooter who has logged a pair of triples in each of his Big 12 games this year.

Inside, West Virginia is already seeing great production from freshman Devin Harris (No. 5), a begoggled 6’9″ kid out of Cincinnati. Harris is ranked 100th in Division I with a 22.6% defensive rebounding rate, and is ranked 202nd with an 11.4% mark on the offensive glass. He also has a sound midrange jumper and has no problem facing up opposing forwards and taking them off the bounce. Although he’s 6’9″, Harris looks more like a swingman when he has the ball in his hands near the arc, and his diverse skillset makes him a tough matchup that can spread the floor for his slashing teammates.

Rounding out the starting five is junior Kevin Noreen (No. 34), a glue guy whose contributions typically don’t show up on the stat sheet. He sets solid screens to free up the team’s shooters and driving guards, and he passes extremely well, especially out of the high post. His good cuts and quick passes are a big part of West Virginia’s success when they face a zone.

Off the bench, Puerto Rican product Gary Browne (No. 14) is the team’s primary option in the backcourt. He is yet another three-point threat for West Virginia, but is only playing about 20 minutes per game.

Browne isn’t the only international talent on the roster, as French-born Rémi Dibo (No. 0) arrived this season from Casper College in Wyoming. Dibo is another stretch four who has made nearly 42% of his threes. His decision-making could still use some work, as he sometimes tries to do too much with the ball and ends up turning it over.

Rounding out the rotation is freshman forward Nathan Adrian (No. 11). A fan favorite who played his high school ball in Morgantown, Adrian shows a lot of promise as another big who can play both inside and out. The freshman scraps for boards and has a nice jump shot, but with so much talent on the roster, he’s only averaging about 17 minutes per game.

Keys to the game

Devin Williams and WVU excel on the offensive glass
(Photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Associated Press)

1) Crash the glass – On the year, West Virginia is 6-1 when outrebounding their opponents, with the lone loss coming on Saturday against Oklahoma State. Although the Mountaineers do a great job getting to the rack and knocking down threes, their ability to reclaim their misses makes them even more dangerous. Texas has done a solid job winning the rebounding battle in most of their games this year, so if they can take away that aspect of West Virginia’s offense and also get their own second chances, the Horns may be able to pull out a tough road win.

2) Attack in transition – West Virginia throws in a lot of different defensive looks, including an odd-front zone that gave the Horns trouble late in last year’s loss at Morgantown. With a young and inexperienced backcourt, that could give Texas some issues, especially considering the team’s tendency to go stagnant on the offensive end for extended stretches.

Fortunately, West Virginia has struggled at stopping the ball in transition and finding off-the-ball players on the break. The Longhorns already prefer to play an up-tempo game, but against the Mountaineers, that kind of approach is a necessity. Of course, with West Virginia taking very good care of the basketball, the Horns will need to constantly look up after defensive boards if they want to initiate the break.

3) Shut down dribble penetration – This is easier said than done, but if the Texas defense can communicate well and provide the help to limit West Virginia’s dribble penetration, the Mountaineers have shown that they will often settle for jumpers. The challenge doesn’t end with simply cutting off driving lanes, as good rotation will be key to prevent kickouts to WVU’s excellent shooters. Help defense and good rotation still won’t be enough on some possessions, thanks to West Virginia’s crisp ball movement, but that will hopefully provide enough stops to give Texas a chance in this one.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 2:14PM

Texas Longhorns (10-11 overall, 2-6 Big 12) at West Virginia Mountaineers (10-11, 3-5)
WVU Coliseum | Morgantown, WV | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
LRT Consecutive Game #242

When the suits at ESPN planned out their Big Monday lineup, Texas’ first visit to Morgantown seemed like a no-brainer. With a batch of transfers becoming eligible, Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers looked to be competitive in the middle of a deep Big 12, while Myck Kabongo and the Longhorns were expected to be fighting for a 15th-consecutive NCAA appearance. Instead, both teams have scuttled through disappointing seasons, and are now only hoping to avoid first-round action in the Big 12 tournament.

Meet the Mountaineers

For an in-depth look at the West Virginia roster, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first meeting

The Longhorns could not score a point before the first media timeout when these two teams played in Austin on January 9th, but their stifling defense kept them in the game. West Virginia was limited to just 30.6% shooting from the field, and the Mountaineers missed their first 14 attempts from three-point range. With the Longhorns only sinking 34.5% of their own looks, it was not a pretty game to watch.

Sheldon McClellan (No. 1) struggled against a tight, physical approach from West Virginia, and managed just nine points on 2-of-13 shooting in a reserve role. It was Jonathan Holmes (No. 10) who paced the Horns while battling a big West Virginia frontcourt, scoring 12 points to go with nine rebounds.

West Virginia repeatedly beat Texas to rebounds
(Photo: Alberto Martinez/Austin American-Statesman)

That Mountaineer frontcourt was trying to dodge foul trouble all night long, even with Aaric Murray (No. 24) and Deniz Kilicli (No. 13) coming off of the bench for Coach Huggins. Kilicli and Dominique Rutledge (No. 1) both had three fouls just 15 minutes into the game, while Murray had two of his own in the first half. Even with the rotating frontcourt, West Virginia was able to reclaim 40% of their missed shots before the break.

That trouble on the defensive glass would continue for Texas down the stretch and ultimately prove costly. The Longhorns were up by 10 points with 3:41 to play, giving them a win probability of 98.7% at that point, according to Ken Pomeroy. West Virginia suddenly caught fire from long range, hitting three triples and forcing Holmes to drain his own three in the final seconds just to get Texas to overtime.

In the extra period, West Virginia reclaimed 66.7% of their offensive rebounding chances, including three on one trip down the court. After Prince Ibeh (No. 44) made one of two free throws to cut the Mountaineer lead to one point with less than a minute to go, another WVU offensive rebound crushed the Longhorns after they had forced a defensive stop.

The Longhorns had one final chance with 15 seconds to go, down by a basket, but a risky pass from Ioannis Papapetrou (No. 33) was picked off by Murray and iced the 57-53 overtime win for West Virginia.

Since then…

That torrid comeback in Austin was the first of a few valiant efforts by the Mountaineers in Big 12 play, but it was the only one to result in a victory. West Virginia erased an 18-point second-half hole at Iowa State, but lost on a Georges Niang layup in the final seconds. A week ago, the Mountaineers overcame an ice-cold start and a 15-point deficit against Kansas to get within a basket in the second half. Once again, the comeback bid fell short, and West Virginia dropped a 61-56 decision.

The Mountaineers were able to build on that late-game surge when they traveled to Lubbock on Saturday. West Virginia posted its best offensive performance of the season, scoring 1.218 points per possession against the Red Raiders. Normally, strong showings against Tech and TCU are not cause for celebration, but West Virginia was able to jump-start its offense with a barrage of three-pointers. For a team that had made just 29.1% of their threes coming into the game, West Virginia’s 10-of-18 performance behind the arc was downright miraculous.

Eron Harris has stepped up in conference play
(Photo credit: David Smith/Associated Press)

Guard Eron Harris (No. 10) made three of those triples for the Mountaineers, and led all scorers with 18 points. The Texas game was something of a launching pad for the exciting freshman, who made up for a rough outing against the Longhorns by hitting the go-ahead three in the final minute of regulation. Since that game, he’s averaging 13 points per contest and has made at least a pair of threes against four different opponents.

The Texas game was also the first that Juwan Staten (No. 3) found himself in the doghouse, as the Dayton transfer was benched for all of the second half and overtime against the Longhorns. He did not play in the following game against Kansas State, and has started just twice since then. Even with Coach Huggins using Staten in his own personal game of Starting Five Hokey Pokey, the senior guard seems to be adjusting. In his last two games, Staten has averaged 12.5 points, a nice bump from his previous season average of 9.5 per game.

The Mountaineers briefly experimented with a four-guard look, but have reverted to their traditional lineup. While trying to contain the Cyclones and their floor-spreading attack, Coach Huggins put four guards on the court, and then started just one big in the following game against Purdue. After the Boilermakers whipped West Virginia by a 79-52 count, the project was quickly abandoned.

For the Longhorns, the biggest difference tonight will be the absence of Holmes. The sophomore forward broke a bone in his hand on January 21st, and is expected to miss at least three weeks. He was the key contributor in the first game between these two teams, and was the Longhorn best-equipped to handle the physical nature of West Virginia’s frontcourt.

One player who will be called on to pick up the slack is undersized forward Jaylen Bond (No. 5). He was the lone bright spot in an embarrassing blowout loss at Kansas State last Wednesday, but was essentially a non-factor in the win against TCU on Saturday. Bond’s interior defense has left a lot to be desired, especially when he gambles for steals and gets out of position. Still, the Longhorns will need a solid performance from him and the freshman bigs if they are going to limit the damage done by Murray.

Holmes is not the only player missing tonight’s game due to injury. West Virginia senior swingman Matt Humphrey (No. 21) is also likely to miss his fourth-consecutive game due to a shoulder injury. Although the Mountaineers have adequate depth in the backcourt, Humphrey’s 35.3% mark from behind the arc was one of the best on a poor-shooting three-point team.

Keys to the game

1) Limit second chances – There’s no way to completely keep a Bob Huggins team off of the glass, but the Longhorns must do a better job than they did in crunch time of the first game. On many possessions, West Virginia’s best offense is a putback opportunity, so the Longhorns have to follow up their defensive stops with a rebound. Texas allowed WVU to reclaim 39.5% of its offensive rebounding chances in the first game, so the Horns will have to seriously improve on that number to get a road win tonight.

Texas needs a quick start from Sheldon McClellan
(Photo credit: Michael Thomas/Associated Press)

2) Get McClellan going – Texas was able to survive a poor showing by McClellan in the first game because of the solid night by Holmes. With the big man now wearing a cast on the bench, even more pressure will fall on McClellan to provide points tonight. He has been visibly frustrated by good defenses in the past, and West Virginia’s rough, suffocating approach could easily get in his head tonight. If McClellan can get a few hoops early, it will help him to avoid forcing things out of frustration and will make things easier for the entire team.

3) Hang on to the ball – The Longhorns coughed it up on more than 20% of their possessions against West Virginia the first time around, which was actually an improvement on their season average. Still, Texas turned it over twice in the final three minutes and another two times in overtime. The Longhorns have had difficulty closing out games all season, and ill-timed turnovers are a big reason why. Texas will have to deal with West Virginia’s physical nature and hang on to the basketball if they want to steal a road win in Morgantown.

4) Make free throws – West Virginia is in the bottom third of D-I hoops when it comes to sending opponents to the stripe, and Texas failed to take advantage of that in the first meeting. The Longhorns made only 44% of their free throws in the loss to West Virginia, sinking just 11 of 25. If Texas leaves that many free points on the table tonight, it’s hard to envision a positive final result on the scoreboard.

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