Big 12 Week 3 Preview
By Franklin Markel
The Mountaineers are on a roll! The 15-1 WVU Mountaineers are undefeated on US soil and are now number two in the country; their highest ranking in 60 years. Last week the Mountaineers went 2-0 with home wins over #7 Oklahoma and Baylor.
While the Oklahoma win is obviously better, the Baylor win showed me more about this team. In the Baylor game, the Mountaineers couldn’t seem to buy a shot. Jevon couldn’t find any open space and ended with 8 points, Teddy Buckets had 0 points and 4 fouls. A typical West Virginia team would lose that game, much like what we saw last year. This year’s team is different and they didn’t lose, they played relentless defense and Jevon Carter was such a veteran all game. Even though he struggled all night, he didn’t force up any shots. With 57 seconds left, Carter hit a clutch go-ahead three.
The Mountaineers are legit, there’s no question about it, and now it finally seems Bob Huggins and West Virginia are getting the recognition they deserve. With that said, the Mountaineers have a big week ahead, as they head to Lubbock to take on the #8 Texas Tech Red Raiders and then back home for a showdown with the #12 Kansas Jayhawks.
The #2 Mountaineers can possibly get to #1 with two wins here. Here’s how those two games should go.
8 Texas Tech Red Raiders, Saturday January 13th 2:00 PM
The Texas Tech Red Raiders are a tough team built for March. Texas Tech has a lot of depth with ten players who average double-digit minutes. Their leader is senior Kennan Evans, shooting 49% from the floor and averaging 17 points per game in 26 minutes so far this season. Evans also has a lot of weapons with him on this team too. Freshman guard Zhaire Smith doesn’t start because of the team’s experience, but like Teddy Allen, Smith is instant offense off the bench. He averages 10.4 points per game, the second leading scorer for the Red Raiders. Senior Niem Stevenson is from Dallas and starts at the two, he averages eight points per game this year in just over 20 minutes.
Texas Tech has an average, yet very experienced front court. Two seniors and one junior start and as a team, TTU starts four seniors. The starting center is junior Norense Odiase, and even though he starts he only sees about 14 minutes per game, Odiase is productive; averaging four points and six rebounds. Forwards Zach Smith and Justin Gray round out the starting five for the Red Raiders. They combine to average 12 points as a duo. This is a very experienced Texas Tech team and the Press might not work as well it usually does. The depth of Texas Tech means fresh players for the whole 40 minutes, taking away a key advantage the relentless West Virginia defense provides.
The Mountaineers, however, get a key piece back for this one in junior forward Esa Ahmad. His presence makes the game plan change tremendously for other teams and that curveball puts them over the top in Lubbock.
77-75 West Virginia
12 Kansas Jayhawks, Monday January 15th 9:00 PM
For the past four years the Kansas Jayhawks have lost in Morgantown and West Virginia is poised to make it five. Kansas, again, was predicted in the preseason to win a 14th straight Big 12 title. But if the Mountaineers can win both games this week, that streak could be in serious jeopardy as early as January.
Kansas again has another highly experienced point guard in Devonte Graham. The senior scores 18 points per game and adds 7.5 assists. Lagerald Vick gets the start beside Graham in the backcourt. Vick averaged 15 points per game but just ten in Big 12 play. Kansas also starts Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk at the four and he can really make the three-point shots. He averages 17 points per game and shoots 48% from downtown. West Virginia’s press can lead to a lot of open threes if it’s broken and those are shots that this Kansas team may be able to make.
West Virginia has the home court and will have the best player on the court, as they do most Big 12 games with Jevon Carter. With a win they they can be two games up on Kansas in the Big 12 standings after just seven games. Huggins’ squad knows that’s a opportunity they can’t just pass up.
West Virginia 83-76
West Virginia is the best team in the Big 12, if not the country. They have the best PG in the Big 12, if not the country. This team has serious Final Four potential and with the return of Esa Ahmad the Mountaineers just got even better. These are two big games for the Mountaineers, but they can win both and prove that they are the real deal.