It doesn’t get any easier for men’s Oklahoma basketball as a difficult February string of important games continues with 13th-ranked West Virginia visiting the Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday.
The Mountaineers are 18-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big 12 and have defeated the Sooners in five of the last six meetings, including two of the last three in Norman. Despite this, Oklahoma still leads the overall series with West Virginia, which is just 19 games total, 10-9.
Bob Huggins, one of the winningest active head coaches in college basketball, brings one of the conference’s best teams to Norman looking for a sweep in the Sooner State. The Mountaineers won by 14 at Oklahoma State in early January.
The two teams split the regular-season series last season, with the Mountaineers winning by eight in Morgantown and the Sooners winning by 12 in Norman. OU and West Virginia met again, however, in the Big 12 Tournament, with the Mountaineers pulling out a one-point, 72-71 victory when an apparent buzzer-beating three-pointer by OU’s Christian James was reviewed and ruled a two-point shot because his foot was on the line.
Saturday’s game is set for a 1 p.m. CT tip-off and will be televised on ESPNU.
West Virginia’s rebounding advantage is a key to its success
West Virginia is one of the better offensive teams in the Big 12, and they complement that with a strong defensive effort that Huggins’ Mountaineer teams have always been known for, allowing opponents just 61 points a game.
The Mountaineers shoot 44 percent from the field, but that doesn’t really matter because they are such a good rebounding team they get many second- and third-chance scoring opportunities. They don’t shoot the three-ball very well — last in the Big 12 with a .300 percentage — but that doesn’t really matter either because their height and length gets them plenty of points in the paint area.
Interestingly, West Virginia doesn’t have a single player in the top 10 in the Big 12 in scoring, even though the Mountaineers are the third-highest scoring team in the conference. Oklahoma, on the other hand, has three starters — Brady Manek, Austin Reaves and Kristian Doolittle — averaging at least 14 points a game. The difference is West Virginia has been outscoring its opponents by an average of 12.1 points per game through 22 games, while OU’s scoring margin is just 2.4.
Six-foot, 9-inch Freshman Oscar Tshiebwe leads the Mountaineers in scoring with an 11.5-point average. Sophomore Derek Culver is right there with him, at 11.1 per game. Both Tshiebwe and Culver also average nine rebounds per contest and rank third and fourth in that category in the Big 12.
West Virginia’s weak links appear to be free-throw shooting and ball security. The Mountaineers are shooting just 64 percent as a team from the free-throw line, second worst in the Big 12, and they commit the third most turnovers a game (16.0) in the conference.
The Mountaineers make up for any deficiencies because they are blessed with great size and length, which creates matchup problems for Oklahoma, especially down low in the basket area. West Virginia has pair of big bodies in the starting lineup in 6-10 Culver and 6-9 Tshiebwe and Jermaine Haley is a 6-foot, 7-inch guard. Oklahoma’s tallest starter is the 6-foot, 9-inch Manek.
West Virginia is the best rebounding team in the Big 12 and they are the best at getting offensive boards, which is a major deficiency in the Sooners’ game.
We’ve been saying this a lot lately, but Oklahoma is going to have to shoot well to beat West Virginia — even at home at the Lloyd Noble Center — and they are going to need strong games from their Big Three. Because the Mountaineers do such a good job of limiting their opponents to just one shot per possession, Oklahoma is going to have to make every possession count. This has not worked out well for the Sooners against good teams this season.
West Virginia 75, Oklahoma 67