It’s been nearly a month since West Virginia men’s hoops suited up at the WVU Coliseum, where they will tip off against No. 22 Texas Tech for the front end of a two-game homestand. The action gets underway on Saturday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
Both squads enter this contest 1-1 in conference play, however the Red Raiders played both of their games at home — defeating Oklahoma State in their opener 85-50, and falling to No. 4 Baylor 57-52.
“I think it’s a vintage Chris [Beard] team,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “They run great offense, they make you score overtop of them, they just don’t turn anybody loose to the basket.”
West Virginia has owned the all-time series between the two programs, as it stands at 13-5 in favor of the Mountaineers. Last season saw the Red Raiders make up some ground in the series, though, as they took both wins in the regular season before falling to WVU in the Big 12 Tournament.
The sole win for WVU over the Red Raiders came on the back of Emmitt Matthews Jr., who as a freshman, put up 28 points and 8 rebounds against the eventual national runners-up. Now a sophomore, the forward has hit a bit of a slump having not scored in double-digits since the Mountaineers’ last home game on Dec. 14.
“I can say that my confidence is not a problem,” Matthews said. “Obviously being home, being on the court that I’ve known for a year and some change now, that’ll probably help. But my confidence hasn’t changed and I’m just ready to go out there and play.”
Given the recent history between the two youthful teams, there are plenty of storylines heading into this contest:
Youth on both sides
This matchup will feature the two youngest teams in the Big 12.
None of West Virginia’s five regular starters have been with the program for more than a season and a half. Three are sophomores, one is a freshman and the fifth is a senior who transferred from junior college.
With just one senior, a junior, a sophomore and two freshman, the Red Raiders are in a similar situation. Likewise, one of their top contributors, freshman guard Jahm’ius Ramsey, is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 17.7 points per game. Ramsey missed some time in December due to a hamstring injury, but Huggins says he seems like he didn’t miss a beat.
“He obviously got a lot of shots up when he was out….I don’t think that affected him from continuing to shoot the ball,” he said. “I think that probably helped him, because if he’s open, it’s going in. You can’t give him a free look.”
The Red Raiders also get a significant contribution from freshman Terrence Shannon, another starter for the Red Raiders. As the team’s third-leading scorer, he puts up 11.6 points per game.
WVU’s not-so-charitable charity stripe
West Virginia leads the conference in free throw attempts this season, racking up 330 so far through the beginning of conference play. Unfortunately for them, they’re not quite making foul shots at the rate they should.
“We haven’t shot it very well,” Huggins said. “We’ve just kind of gotten into this funk thing since we’ve gotten back from Christmas where we’re just not shooting the ball very well. And we don’t shoot free throws well in practice.”
What makes it worse is their two most frequent visitors to the line — Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver — both make under 70 percent of their free throws, and since Big 12 play started, Culver has made just 6 of his 15 attempts.
The sophomore forward says he has been working with assistant coach Erik Martin on this skill since the offseason.
“I feel like if I just took my time with my shot, my form and my follow-through, everything’s going to end up paying off,” he said. “Just listening to Coach Martin, he says patience, just being calm and just playing to your own, everything will take care of itself so I feel like that’s the best I can do.”
As ranked matchups go in the Big 12, foul shooting could be the difference in this game. The Red Raiders are the Big 12’s second best free throw shooters (74.8 percent), while West Virginia averages the highest number of personal fouls per game (19.2).
Where to watch
The Mountaineers’ Big 12 home opener is a sellout, however fans can still buy tickets on StubHub.com, the Mountaineers’ official ticket resale site.
The matchup was also moved to ESPN, and will tip off at 6 p.m. ET. Fans can also stream the contest on WatchESPN.com.
Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs will have the radio call on the Mountaineer Sports Network by Learfield IMG, and West Virginia Illustrated will have live coverage on both social media and WVIllustrated.com.