While several games compete for the title of Texas' most disappointing loss of the season, the Longhorns most harmful loss was probably the January 9 defeat at home to West Virginia. Rick Barnes' squad carried a 13 point lead with a little more than eight minutes to play, but the Mountaineers slowly chipped away. With 20 seconds remaining, West Virginia guard Eron Harris hit a three to put his team up 50-47, and it took a Jonathan Holmes buzzer beater to send the game to overtime. Overtime was a slow, painful death, as Texas managed only three points, and Bob Huggins' team won the game at the free throw line.
Tonight in Morgantown, Texas looks to get back at the Mountaineers. The game starts at 8 PM central, and airs on ESPN.
This game represents Texas' best remaining chance to pick up a Big 12 road win against an opponent other than TCU or Texas Tech. West Virginia's season is every bit as disappointing as Texas'; the Mountaineers have the same 10-11 overall record as the Longhorns, and Huggins' team only has one more win in conference play. Like Texas, West Virginia has trouble shooting the ball, with a 46.7 percent effective field goal percentage in conference play that ranks slightly behind Texas' 47.1 percent mark in Big 12 games. The Mountaineers have also had turnover difficulties in their conference games, which is not a typical trait of Bob Huggins' teams.
One thing that West Virginia does well is crash the offensive glass. The Longhorns learned about this the hard way in their previous match-up, when Aaric Murray, Kevin Noreen, and company killed Texas on the boards. The Mountaineers' 36.7 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks first in the conference. Aaric Murray is coach Huggins' most effective player at both ends of the floor, and demands attention while in the game. Senior Deniz Kilicli, who looks like a much larger version of West Virginia's mascot, gives Huggins another physical presence inside. Kilicli also is one of the offensive focal points when on the floor, although he has struggled this season finishing at the rim, which has limited his effectiveness.
The West Virginia backcourt is led by playmaker Juwan Staten. Staten looks to get others involves, protects the ball, rarely attempts threes (he is 0-7 on the season), and attacks the rim and gets to the line. Along with Staten, West Virginia rotates in several guards. Terry Henderson and Eron Harris are effective outside shooters, while Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne will attack the rim.
Texas' offense has changed somewhat since the last time these two teams met. In the first meeting of these two teams, Javan Felix, Sheldon McClellan, and Julien Lewis took 67 percent of Texas' shots. Lately, the Texas offense has been more balanced, with a greater proportion of the shots going to Ioannis Papapetrou, while Felix has been relatively quiet. It has probably been a healthy shift.
Kenpom.com picks West Virginia to win, by a score of 62-59. That sounds about right, although there is a real possibility that the Longhorns get blown out again on the road.