Be honest. Who would have thought at the beginning of the season – or even the beginning of the conference season – that the West Virginia-Texas game in Austin on sweatheart’s weekend in February would grab anyone’s interest or have any impact on the conference race? I, for one, did not.
West Virginia comes halfway across the country to take on Texas on Saturday in a game that could further solidify the Longhorns’ hold on second place behind Kansas or potentially move the Mountaineers into third place in the league standings.
We’re talking about a team, in Texas, that started off conference play going o-2 in its first two games before reeling off seven wins in a row, including an impressive knockout of league-leading Kansas. West Virginia won its first two Big 12 games this season, then went on a three-game losing streak. In their last five games, though, four of which were victories, the Mountaineers have beaten Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and, on Monday, totally destroyed a very good Iowa State squad, all teams that are now or have been ranked in the top 25 this season.
If Texas can hold home court and put this game into the win column, it will be the Longhorns’ 20th win of the season, the 14th time they have achieved that level in coach Rick Barnes’ 18 seasons at Texas. West Virginia and Texas have played just six games all-time, and the series is tied at three wins apiece. Last year’s game at the Frank Irwin Center in Austin, won by West Virginia, was the first time the Mountaineers had played there.
Importantly, almost half of coach Bob Huggins’ wins while coaching at his alma mater have benn on the road.
West Virginia junior Juwan Staten has scored 14 or more points in 17 games this season and is second in the Big 12 in scoring with an 18.3 points-per-game average. The Mountaineers also get high point production from Eron Harris, whose 17.4 average ranks fourth in the conference. When West Virginia scores 20 or more points in the paint, which will be a tough chore against a very aggressive Texas frontline, the Mountaineers are 15-4. When they don’t score that many at the rim, they are 0-6.
Texas sophomore guare Javan Felix is coming off a game vs. Oklahoma State earlier this week, in which he came within one point of his season and career high in points of 28. He made six of eight three-point shots against the Cowboys, which was a career high. It is not clear yet whether the Longhorns’ top scorer will play against the Mountaineers on Saturday. Holmes sat out the Oklahoma State game nursing an injury to his right knee.
Three Keys To The Game
- West Virginia is 9-0 this season when allowing its opponents 69 points or less. Texas is averaging 74.3 points in conference play. The Mountaineers are also 116-13 under Bob Huggins when they lead in a game by 10 or more points.
- Texas has dominated teams all season long on the boards and lead the Big 12 in that important category. WVU is not a particularly good rebounding team. They cannot afford to shoot poorly in this game and give Texas fast-break opportunities and, similarly, they do not want to give the Longhorns second-chance opportunities on the defensuve end.
- Junior 6-7 forward Remi Dibo, who averages just seven points a game, had 20 points in West Virginia’s win Monday over 11th-ranked Iowa State. If he is able to do something like that again at Texas, and Juwan Staten and Eron Harris, collect their average 18 and 17 points, respectively. West Virginia would have a very good chance to pull of another upset against a ranked Big 12 team.
My Pick: Texas 76, West Virginia 69 - Texas has been blistering hot in the last eight games and is playing at home. Too far from home and too many Longhorn offensive weapons to corral, with or without Jonathan Holmes.
Other Big 12 Picks This Weekend And A Couple Of Reasons Why
Oklahoma 82 @ Oklahoma State 76
- If the Sooners had won as they were expected to at home over Texas Tech, I might be inclined to pick the Cowboys to win 2014 Bedlam Basketball Part II, believing OU would come to Stillwater a little cocky and overconfident. But I think the Sooners saw first hand on Wednesday what can happen when you take an opponent too lightly.
- I expect Oklahoma to play much better on Saturday, and the Cowboys are still without their best player, Marcus Smart.
- Kansas will rest seven-foot center Joel Embiid, but this would be a huge mismatch even if No, 1 overall recuit Andrew Wiggins didn’t play as well.
- Kansas doesn’t lose at Allen Fieldhouse, and especially not against teams that are winless in the Big 12 more than halfway through the season
Texas Tech 68 @ Iowa State 78
- Texas Tech’s three-game win streak ends this weekend in Ames, Iowa.
- The Red Raiders are likely to face a very angry Iowa State team that is anbxious to put Monday’s humbling blowout loss at West Virginia out of its mind and take out its frustration on a Texas Tech team that has been on a recent roll.
Kansas State 68 @ Baylor 60
- I’m favoring Kansas State in this one with the assumption that Shane Southwell’s injured ankle is OK for him to play. The Wildcats will try to dictate the flow of the game, just like they did against Kansas. This has been a winning formula for the erractic-shooting K-Staters, who fuel their offense by their defensive pressure.
- It is difficult to tell yet if Baylor’s decisive victory over TCU this week is the momentum the Bears needed to get their swagger back and in front of the home fans. They didn’t feed much off their earlier win at Oklahoma State.
Last week’s results: 5-5
For the season: 34-19 (.640)