West Virginia men’s basketball has gotten off to a strong start in the Big 12 schedule. The Mountaineers currently sit third in the conference with a 4-2 record — but all of that will be put on pause when they suit up to host Missouri in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday at noon.
This competition hasn’t treated WVU very well since they’ve joined the Big 12. In six Big 12/SEC Challenge appearances, the Mountaineers have come out on top just once: an 81-77 win in 2017 over Texas A&M at the WVU Coliseum.
Despite their struggles in the competition, coach Bob Huggins recognizes the value it brings to their resume each season.
“It’s pretty much a must for our league,” Huggins said. “We’re playing two less league games than everybody else, and so we make sure we get as many, or almost as many anyway, Power Five games as the rest of the leagues do. We have to do it.”
This weekend’s matchup will be the fifth all-time meeting between Missouri and West Virginia in a series knotted up at two wins each. While the Mountaineers did fall to the Tigers in their last Big 12/SEC Challenge showdown in 2013, they most recently met in the finals of the 2017 AdvoCare Invitational. After going down 16, the Mountaineers clawed back in the final minutes to claim an 83-79 victory.
Scouting the Tigers
Mizzou’s starting five features a trio of unrelated Smiths — forward Mitchell and guards Dru and Mark. The backcourt duo lead the Tigers in scoring at a combined 23.9 points per game, although Dru acts as a Swiss army knife of sorts. He isn’t just their leading scorer, but their leading assister and second-leading rebounder.
Mix in his 90-plus percent clip from the free throw line and his SEC-leading 2.3 steals per game, then Dru Smith becomes a deadly player for the Tigers.
West Virginia has a clear advantage in some key statistical categories, including scoring (70 points per game to 67.1), rebounding (41.7 rebounds to 34.8). However the Mountaineers may run into some trouble if they run into foul trouble, as the Tigers are the top free throw shooting team in the SEC at 77.4 percent.
This will be the fifth true away game for the Tigers, a team that has struggled on the road so far this season with a 1-4 record without a single road win in the SEC.
Huggs wants to “run up and down”
Besides his typical cornerstones of guarding, rebounding and making shots, Bob Huggins wants his team to add another element to this contest: running. He says he hopes his team runs the floor and gets the game going fast.
“If we can get the game going up and down and not have it a half-court game, I think that’s advantageous to us,” he said on the upcoming episode of The Bob Huggins Show.
This year’s squad is full of speed all over the court, whether it’s their quick guards or athletic big men. This has allowed the Mountaineers to be one of the paciest teams in the Big 12, clocking 70 possessions every game.
Missouri, on the other hand, plays at a rate of 65.9 possessions per game — which is 13th in the SEC.
Huggins’s squad this year may have more speed than some of his past teams, whether it’s their quick guards or athletic big men. Oscar Tshiebwe added onto his highlight reel against Texas after he ran the floor to recover a loose ball, only to find a nearly wide open rim for a dunk — at his peak velocity, he clocked in at 16.35 miles per hour.
Huggins divulged that the ball did end up going out of bounds, although it wasn’t called. That made the play a point of competition for the team.
“Deuce McBride said if it was him, it wouldn’t have gone out of bounds before he got there,” Huggins said. “He thinks he’s faster than Oscar. Derek [Culver] thinks he’s faster than Oscar. Taz Sherman thinks he’s faster than Oscar.”
How to watch
The action tips off on Saturday at noon ET at the WVU Coliseum. It will be shown on ESPN and on the WatchESPN app.
Can’t get the game? Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs will have the radio call on the Mountaineer Sports Network from Learfield IMG College. We will also have live updates on our live game log as well as on social media, so you won’t need to miss a single bucket.