Coming out of a six-game stretch against ranked opponents, the Texas Longhorns play a second straight game at the Moody Center on Saturday against the West Virginia Mountaineers, the 13th-place team in the Big 12 at 3-6 in conference and 8-14 overall, the league’s worst mark.
But the narrative isn’t just about taking care of business in Austin against a team with an 11-percent win probability, according to BartTorvik.com — this contest is about the Longhorns reversing a trend of four losses in the last five home games after losing at the Moody Center once last season and recovering from the abominable 76-73 loss to West Virginia last month in Morgantown.
It’s the only Q3 loss for the Longhorns and arguably the worst performance in Rodney Terry’s first full season as head coach, a spot it holds because senior guard Max Abmas was able to bail out the Texas against Louisville back in November at Madison Square Garden.
Against a team that currently ranks No. 109 nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, the Longhorns turned the ball over 22 times, a turnover rate of 30.6 percent that represents a season high, and committed 28 fouls that led to 41 free-throw attempts by WVU, including 33 in the second half. Compare the free-throw rate to every other game played by Texas this season.
The home team ended the game with a plus-20 advantage in free-throw attempts.
And the loss by the Longhorns also marked the beginning of a concerning trend of Abmas and senior forward Dylan Disu often receiving little support from their teammates — Texas scored nine points off the bench in Morgantown as Abmas and Disu combined for 50 of the 73 points scored by the Longhorns, 68.5 percent. Both players also dealt with foul trouble with Disu fouling out, along with senior forward Brock Cunningham, who scored two points in 30 minutes. Junior guard Tyrese Hunter didn’t produce much, either, notching four points on six shot attempts with four turnovers.
In the seven games since, Hunter has only scored in double digits twice — 21 points in a home win over No. 9 Baylor and 10 points in a road loss to No. 21 BYU, bottoming out, one hopes, by going scoreless over 33 minutes in Tuesday’s home defeat by No. 14 Iowa State when the Cyclones transfer missed all eight of his shots and turned the ball over three times.
During Big 12 play, Hunter has a turnover rate of 25.2 percent that nearly matches his assist rate of 25.4. Those turnovers have often come at inopportune times.
As Texas tried to win a close game at home against UCF last month, Hunter gave the ball away twice in 64 seconds and was benched for the final 6:21 of that loss as a result.
Against Houston, Hunter came up with a defensive rebound with 33 seconds left and the game tied at 65-65, pushed the ball up the court, then left his feet with no one to pass it to and turned it over. The Longhorns lost in overtime.
In the defeat by Iowa State, Disu had scored 16 straight points for Texas to battle back from an 18-point deficit second-half deficit and cut the deficit to a single possession. After a free throw made by the Cyclones, Disu came up with his own offensive rebound with 2:06 remaining, but Hunter turned the ball over seven seconds later, leading to a three on the other end. In the space of Disu’s offensive rebound and the triple by Tamin Lipsey, Iowa State’s win probability went from 72.5 percent to 90.3 percent. That’s ballgame.
While the Longhorns need to get more from Hunter in support of Abmas and Disu — everyone else on the team is essentially a role player, even sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell — Texas will also have to deal with a new face on the West Virginia team, Syracuse transfer forward Jesse Edwards, who missed the previous matchup with a fractured wrist.
Since returning to the lineup three games ago, the 6’11, 240-pounder from The Netherlands scored 25 points on 11-of-17 shooting in a win over Cincinnati and 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting in a loss to BYU. The return of Edwards is particularly concerning for Texas since Disu is averaging 3.8 fouls per game in conference play and 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes this season. He’s been in foul trouble almost constantly, typically because of a lack of mental discipline with how he plays defense.
Overall, the Mountaineers remain a poor shooting team that doesn’t threaten opponents on the offensive glass and, outside of the win over the Longhorns, usually struggles to force turnovers.
Most notably, West Virginia has not yet won away from WVU Coliseum this season, losing all four neutral-site games and all four road games. BartTorvik.com projects a Texas win, 79-66, but that type of margin may require a faster start than the previous two games — the Longhorns fell behind 20-7 in the loss to the Cyclones and 14-4 in last Saturday’s win over the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth.
How to watch
TV: Longhorn Network
Time: 2:00 p.m. Central
Odds: Texas is an 11-point favorite, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.