Through 16 games, the 7-9 Texas Longhorns season hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations that resulted in a preseason AP Top 25 ranking, and the worst looks to be just starting. After dropping none if their last 13 games, the ‘Horns are now face-to-face with a cruel three-game stretch that begins today in Austin against the No. 10-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers.
Not much has changed in Press Virginia. Bob Huggins once again has his Mountaineers smothering opponents defensively and forcing turnovers at a mind-boggling rate. Now 14-2 on the season, West Virginia’s full court press has resulted in the Mountaineers coming up with 12.9 steals each time out – good for the nation’s top ranking, as is their total steals effort (207). Collectively, WVU is forcing opponents into 24.6 total turnovers per game – yet another No. 1 ranking – so it’s not much of a surprise that the Mountaineers lead the nation with a +13.9 turnover margin. The second-ranked turnover margin is Fordham at +6.5, so West Virginia is in a league all its own in that respect.
The otherworldly defensive intensity and a 10-man rotation largely led by seniors and juniors – seven of WVU’s eight most active players are juniors or seniors, with Esa Ahmad (SO) being the exception – has in turn, resulted in a considerably potent offense.
Behind the muscle of a relentless press defense, which often leads to fast break opportunities with a numbers advantage, as well as an experienced and offensively competent rotation, West Virginia’s 90.1 points per game tops the Big 12 and rank’s fifth nationally, largely due to the team dishing out 19 assists per game; another Big 12 heading effort and No. 3 ranking nationally.
Per usual, Huggins employs a deep rotation as 10 players see at least 10.3 minutes of court action per game, and as noted, the bulk of the rotation is in no shortage of experience. Names like Jevon Carter – WVU’s leading assist man (4.8) who also ranks No. 3 nationally in steals (3.3), Daxter Miles Jr. and Nathan Adrian should sound familiar to competition around the Big 12. The breakout performer is 6’8 sophomore wing, Esa Ahmad, who leads WVU with 12.6 points per game. The man initially set to match up with him, Texas’ Tevin Mack, is suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules, which makes the task of sending West Virginia home with its third of the year that much more daunting.
Though West Virginia looks fairly similar to the team that Texas swept last season, the ‘Horns are drastically different and lack the depth, experience and point guard play necessary to remain competitive with a Mountaineer team that’s outscoring opponents by 28.3 points each time out; the nation’s leading scoring margin. It’s worth noting that West Virginia is fresh off of a 21-point thrashing of No. 1 Baylor and also knocked off No. 6 Virginia by nine earlier in the season.
Buckle up, ‘Horns fans. This one may get ugly in a hurry.