To complete a two-game road trip, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns head to Morgantown to face the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday at the WVU Coliseum in the type of game the Longhorns need to win to maintain positive positioning in the conference standings.
Head coach Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers are reeling slightly less than the program was just days ago.
Last week, Huggins fired longtime assistant Larry Harrison, whose time with Huggins spanned 24 years and dated back to their days at Cincinnati in a move that Harrison called “unforeseen.” The move came before a one-point loss to the Sooners sent the Mountaineers to a fifth straight loss to open Big 12 play.
On Wednesday, West Virginia found some measure of stability in Morgantown, upsetting No. 14 TCU, 74-65, to end the losing streak. Junior college transfer forward Jimmy Bell Jr. helped the Mountaineers build an early lead behind his physical play at 285 pounds, ultimately scoring 15 points and securing 12 rebounds.
“This wasn’t a basketball game,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon noted.
Games in Morgantown under Huggins rarely qualify for that distinction, so the Longhorns need better preparation and a more bruising mindset on Saturday after the Cyclones pushed them around at times in a rugged and at times inconsistently officiated game on Tuesday in Ames won 78-67 by No. 12 Iowa State.
Despite the 11-7 overall record and 1-5 mark in Big 12 play, West Virginia still ranks as the No. 22 team nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric with the No. 20 offense and the No. 48 defense. Even with the physical approach that typifies teams under Huggins, the Mountaineers rank eighth in the Big 12 in steals, last in blocked shots, and ninth in scoring defense, but do have the league’s No. 4 turnover margin.
The matchup pits Texas against former forward Tre Mitchell, who is playing more minutes at a higher level of efficiency for the Mountaineers than he did for the Longhorns last season, averaging 13.2 points per game while shooting 39.6 percent from three-point range.
One concern for Texas is the extent to which West Virginia can replicate Iowa State’s defensive strategy of trapping guard Marcus Carr to limit his shots and declining to switch ball screens to avoid mismatches. The defensive strategy employed by the Cyclones limited Carr to only nine shots, tied for his third lowest of the season, and 11 points, tied for his second lowest of the season.
Forced to rely on other players, the Longhorns struggled through long stretches without field goals, including 7:28 to close the first half and 9:20 in the second half as the Cyclones took complete control of the game. From beyond the arc, Texas was 4-of-17 shooting (23.5 percent).
But the Texas defense also deserves blame for Tuesday’s road loss as the Horns forced only seven turnovers and gave up nine offensive rebounds, a combination that led to just four fast-break points as the Cyclones were able to dictate a game played almost entirely in the halfcourt.
To continue a recent streak of success against the Mountaineers — three wins in the last four trips to Morgantown and seven wins in the last nine contests — the Horns will almost certainly have to play better and with more mental and physical toughness on both ends of the court than they did on Tuesday in Ames.
How to watch
Time: 5 p.m. Central
Odds: West Virginia is a two-point favorite, according to DraftKings.