The Cowboys head into Big 12 conference play coming off a win last Thursday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Coach Underwood has the Cowboys playing well both offensively and defensively boasting a 10-2 record as they welcome the 11th ranked West Virginia Mountaineers to a near-capacity Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Here are the quick hits for today’s matchup.
#11 Mountaineers (11-1, 1-0 Away) vs. Cowboys (10-2, 6-0 Home)
Time: 3:00 p.m. CST
Location: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Stream: WatchESPN.com (requires provider login)
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
Last time Coach Underwood and West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins faced off, Underwood and his Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks pulled off an upset victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Huggy Bear will be seeking revenge on his longtime friend and former colleague (the two coached together at K-State) as their two teams meet this afternoon.
As mentioned above, West Virginia came into this season off a very disappointing first round NCAA tournament exit, after being a 3 seed that was picked by many to make the Final Four. The Mountaineers return six key players from last year’s 26-win team and are utilizing their “Press Virginia” defense to lead the nation in turnovers forced at an astounding 26.2 per game.
WVU heads into their Big 12 conference schedule with an 11-1 record and are sitting at #11 in the AP Poll. In these 12 games, the Mountaineers have only faced 3 teams inside KenPom.com’s top 100. Their big resume building win came at #6 Virginia and their only loss was in Morgantown to Temple (#86 in KenPom’s rankings).
The Mountaineers main strengths this season have been, as previously noted, forcing turnovers and offensive rebounding leading to second chance opportunities. On the other hand, one of their big downfalls this season has been defensive rebounding. West Virginia is 257th in the country in defensive rebounds at 22.2 per game. In addition, the losses of forwards Devin Williams and Jon Holton from last year’s squad have left the Mountaineer defense slightly exposed inside.
Players to Watch:
Last season, Esa Ahmad averated 4.9 ppg and 2.7 rpg while seeing a fair amount of minutes for this WVU team. This season, he has really stepped up his play and is currently averaging a team high 12.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. At 6’8” he is their key presence inside, picking up where Holton and Williams left off. In the frontcourt, the three-headed monster of Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr. and Tarik Phillip combine for 7.9 steals per game. They lead the “Press Virginia” defense and have been an absolute nightmare for opposing ball handlers this season. On the offensive end, they all average around 9 points per game and Miles Jr. has been deadly from distance at 50% on the year.
Three Big Things:
1. Eliminate the Second Chance Points.
The Mountaineers are second in the country at securing offensive rebounds, averaging 16.3 per game. Offensive rebounds lead to second chance points, and with how good of a team West Virginia has been offensively this season, there’s no reason to give them any extra opportunities to score. Every Cowboy defender will need to be aware of their man and put a body on him when the shot goes up. Oklahoma State hasn’t been the most dominant defensive rebounding team this season, but they will need to make it a point of emphasis against WVU.
“Press Virginia.” Not only it is a catchy slogan that I’m sure sells a lot of merchandise...
but it’s an effective style of defense that Coach Huggins and his team have perfected over the past few years. Last season, Coach Underwood’s Lumberjacks lead the nation in turnovers forced with 17.9 per game. This year, the Mountaineers are forcing an absolutely absurd 26.2 turnovers per game. That’s about 6 more per game than the teams in 2nd (Fordham) and 3rd (Oklahoma State). The Cowboys are averaging 14.4 turnovers per game, and if they can keep their total below 14, I think they will have a good chance to win this game. Jawun Evans and Phil Forte will have to be smart with the basketball and will need to put their teammates in good positions to help them break the West Virginia press.
On the defensive side for OSU, they will need to use their aggressive defense to create turnovers. They’ve been able to force teams into bad decisions all season, but it will be a difficult challenge against the Mountaineers. West Virginia has protected the ball well this season (10.4 tpg), and the Cowboys will need to try to and force them to make some mistakes if they want to win this game.
3. Ball Movement.
This goes hand-in-hand with #2 above. Ball movement will be key against this West Virginia defense. At times this year we have seen OSU become stagnant on offense due to little movement and over-dribbling. Jawun Evans is not only one of the best point guards in the nation, but one of the best all around players in the nation; however, at times this season we’ve seen him get dribble-happy and take the Cowboys out of their offensive flow. You can beat Central Arkansas and New Orleans like this, but West Virginia, especially with their press defense, will need to be a team effort.
Coach Underwood will be going for his 100th win today; which would make him the third fastest coach to reach the century mark. I hope to see the stadium rocking for this nationally televised game against a Top 15 opponent, and see the Cowboys get it done on their home floor.