The Texas Longhorns basketball season tips off tonight in Kansas City as #2 Texas faces #14 West Virginia in the semifinals of the Guardians Classic. Sure, Texas has already played Southern and Samford, but those were exhibition contests, folks. West Virginia is a real team.
I actually had a chance to watch the Mountaineers play last year against Georgetown at the MCI Center here in Washington. They were hitting three pointers from all over the court, they pass well, take care of the ball, and play reasonably good defense. They're not the most athletic team I've ever seen, but they play good team basketball.
West Virginia (2-0) has home victories over Louisiana-Monroe (88-69) and Wofford (61-41). The Mountaineers came into the season ranked in the pre-season poll for the first time since 1962. Almost no team finished the season hotter than West Virginia last year. WVU completed the Big East regular season a mediocre 8-8 and needed a win or two in the Big East tournament to assure an NCAA berth. The Mountaineers responded with three wins in three nights before falling to Syracuse in the finals. WVU was rewarded with a #7 seed in the NCAA tournament. They survived a first round scare against Creighton before beating #2 seed Wake Forest and #6 seed Texas Tech to advance within a game of the Final Four. The Mountaineers lost to Louisville and finished the season 24-11.
West Virginia returns four starters from last year?s team and starts four seniors. They are led by 6?11? senior center Kevin Pittsnogle and 6?4? senior forward Mike Gansey. Tonight against Texas, look for West Virginia to play their typical 1-3-1 zone in the half court. Also look for WVU to rely heavily on the three point shot. They took 31 and 27 threes in their first two games respectively. The key to the game for Texas will be taking care of the basketball. In their first two contests, the Horns averaged 14.5 turnovers per game; that's too sloppy. West Virginia won't be turning it over too much, so the Horns need to be careful not to give away too many possessions themselves.
With that said, Texas outmatches West Virginia in virtually every other aspect of the game. In particular, the Horns should dominate the glass and get plenty of second chance points. The Mountaineers have actually been out-rebounded so far this year, a weakness Texas needs to take full advantage of. I suspect that they will, and Texas will handle the Mountaineers reasonably easily. I can see Texas coming out of the gate a little slow, but getting the wheels greased pretty quickly after that. The Mountaineers aren't going to be able to score enough to win this one. Texas improves to 3-0 and heads to the finals of the Guardians Classic, beating West Virginia 80-66.
--The game will be aired live tonight on ESPN2 at 6:00 p.m. Central Time.
--The Horns are favored by 7.5 points
--The winner of tonight's game will face the winner of tonight's Iowa-Kentucky game in the finals of the Guardians Classic
--As we will for every game this season, there will be an Open Gameday Thread posted on the blog for tonight's game. We encourage anyone watching the game by their computers to head to the blog for live chatting and commenting.
--PB & AW--