Oklahoma basketball: Sooners must scale tall mountain at West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 18: Rashard Odomes
MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 18: Rashard Odomes /

The next three games for men’s Oklahoma basketball will test the Sooners mettle to the max.

It begins with a nearly 1,200-mile road trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, where the 6th-ranked Mountaineers lie in wait for an early Saturday evening tipoff (6:15 p.m. CT on ESPN2).

Both team’s will enter Saturday’s game with 2-0 conference records and a top-10 ranking. The Sooners (12-1) are ranked 7th in the country in both major weekly polls and are on a nine-game winning streak. West Virginia (13-1) lost its season opener to Texas A&M, but since then has reeled off 13 straight victories.

Oklahoma State is a common opponent for both OU and the Mountaineers in their 2-0 starts in conference play. West Virginia edged OSU 85-79 in a game at Oklahoma State, while the Sooners won by 20 at home, 109-89, in their Bedlam showdown with the Cowboys on Wednesday.

Freshman point guard  phenom Trae Young continues to be the story for Oklahoma and in all of college basketball. Young has scored at least 20 points in 12 consecutive games and possesses a nation-leading 29.4 scoring average. He has posted a double-double (double digits in points and assists in five straight games. His 10.6 assists per game also leads the nation.

The Sooner superman has yet to have what you would consider an off-game. The only time he scored fewer than 20 points was in his college debut in the season opener against Nebraska-Omaha. Even then, his stat line for the game read 15 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.

The Sooners have two other players scoring in double digits. Junior Christian James is averaging 13.0 points a game, and true freshman Brady Manek has been on a scoring binge in recent games, averaging 11.8 for the season. Manek has scored 20 points or more in three of the Sooners’ last three games.

The key question on Saturday is how Oklahoma’s fast tempo, high-scoring offense will match up against West Virginia’s famed full-court, pressure defense. The Sooners are averaging a nation-leading 95.8 points a game, while West Virginia is holding its opponents to 64.9 points a game, a 30-point difference.

Senior guard Jevon Carter leads the Mountaineers in scoring with a 16.6 average and is also their best on-ball defender. Two other Mountaineer starters are scoring in double digits: Carters’ backcourt teammate Daxter Miles, Jr. is scoring at a 14.3 clip and sophomore forward Lamont West averages 12.6, including 19 in West Virginia’s win at Kansas State earlier this week. Sophomore guard James Bolden averages almost 11 points per game coming off the bench.

West Virginia’s success so far this season is largely attributed to the Mountaineers strength on the offensive glass and in creating turnovers and feeding its offense with stellar defensive play. West Virginia leads the Big 12 in offensive rebounds, averaging 15.0 per game, and is second in the nation in turnover margin (+8.4), a category in which WVU has been among the nation leaders seemingly every season.

Saturday’s game against Oklahoma will be the Big 12 home season opener for the Mountaineers, who are a perfect 10-0 at WVU Coliseum. The arena holds 14,000 people and is a sellout for the Oklahoma game.

The Sooners have a 9-5 all-time record facing West Virginia and are 3-2 in games played in Morgantown, including last season’s comeback from a 15-point second-half deficit to win 89-87 in overtime over the 7th-ranked Mountaineers.

This will be OU third true road game this season. The Sooners are 2-0 on the road, both against ranked opponents. An Oklahoma victory at West Virginia would give the Sooners three road wins over top-10 teams this season and make them the first team to accomplish that feat since Duke in 2014-15.