Get ready for another edition of “Football on the Hardwood” with your host, Bob Huggins.
Unfortunately for Texas, West Virginia is not only the No. 9 team nationally in adjusted efficiency, the Mountaineers boast the No. 3 defense and continue to employ the same strategy Huggins has employed for years — the belief that if your players constantly commit fouls, the officials will only call so many of them.
So, as always, how Monday’s group of Big 12 officials choose to call the game will have a significant impact on its eventual outcome.
And this is most likely going to be an angry West Virginia team that has now endured about 24 hours of frustration from Huggins after giving up 42 points and a 17-point halftime deficit to Kansas State in Manhattan on Saturday in what eventually become a 16-point loss. Huggins will surely spend the next 24 hours in a similarly abusive mood.
The Wildcats shot nearly 60 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range in an uncharacteristic performance from one of the nation’s best defenses. Just take a look at the Kansas State game compared to the effective field-goal percentage defense for West Virginia in every other game this season:
Even after that performance, West Virginia still ranks No. 2 nationally in that statistic, as well as three-point percentage defense. With forwards Derrick Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe roaming the lane behind the high-pressure defense, the Mountaineers block shots, force turnovers, and make it difficult to score inside the three-point line, too.
It’s still a young team — the youngest in the Big 12 — but it’s been tested by the nation’s second-toughest schedule and those young players are good.
Culver is a top-20 defensive rebounder in the country who also has a top-20 free-throw rate.
Tschiebwe is the best offensive rebounder in the country, also draw fouls at a high rate, and finishes with a high level of efficiency.
Freshman guard Miles McBride does a lot of things well, including ranking third on the team in scoring and hitting 39 percent of his three-point attempts. He’s combined with Tshiebwe to earn six Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honors already this season.
Sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien is a versatile, 6’7 defender who has 84 deflections and 13 charges taken.
The Mountaineers also come at opponents in waves, with 11 players averaging 10 or more minutes per game and no one playing more than 24.5 minutes per game on average. Fatigue on defense won’t be an issue for this team and Huggins is plenty willing to hold his players accountable if they make mistakes or fail to live up to his standards of execution.
West Virginia does have some weaknesses — the team doesn’t shoot well from beyond the arc (30.1 percent) and turns the ball over frequently (No. 302 nationally). If that kind of discussion sounds familiar, it’s because Texas has already faced two similar Big 12 programs with that type of profile in Oklahoma and Kansas State. Once again, then, be prepared for a physical basketball game without much aesthetic appeal.
Texas will have to match the emotional and physical intensity of West Virginia, something it hasn’t done well this season in games against opponents like the Mountaineers. Junior forward Jericho Sims will be particularly important in that regard as the only interior defender who is capable of checking Culver and Tshiebwe — he’ll need to stay out of foul trouble and continue his recent run of consistent production that includes a career-high 20 points against Kansas.
And the guards have to play better than they did against the Jayhawks — the reality for Texas right now is that the team simply can’t win if at least two of the four primary guards aren’t playing well. With sophomore guard Andrew Jones struggling with his consistency — he’s been inefficient in all five Texas losses — there’s a lot of resulting pressure on sophomore Courtney Ramey and juniors Matt Coleman and Jase Febres.
The game tips off at 6 p.m. Central on ESPNU. Texas has a 17-percent win probability with an expected margin of 69-59, according to KenPom.com.