#12 West Virginia Mountaineers (16-3) at Texas Tech Red Raiders (12-7)

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Texas Tech and West Virginia enter Wednesday’s game on very different trajectories. The Red Raiders have lost four of their last six games (Baylor, TCU, West Virginia and Kentucky), while failing to maintain consistency throughout the season. Leading scorer Jahmi’us Ramsey missed four games in November causing the team to drop three consecutive games – Iowa, DePaul and Creighton. Their opponent, West Virginia, pushed the Red Raiders around several weeks ago in Morgantown on their way to a 12-point victory. Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers have won nine of their last 11 games by double-digits, with the exception of a neutral-court victory over Ohio State by nine. West Virginia is no longed called “Press Virginia,” since Huggins changed the team’s defensive schemes, but make no mistake producing turnovers is still the calling card of this program.

Can Anyone Control the Mountaineers Inside the Paint?

Sophomore Derek Culver and Freshman Oscar Tshiebwe are a monstrous, disruptive and overpowering frontcourt combination for West Virginia this season. The duo both average 9.4 rebounds per game and score 10+ a night. Culver and Tshiebwe are the main reason the Mountaineers lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (40.3%), accumulate 15 offensive boards a game and hold a +9.8 rebounding margin. These numbers come as a huge benefit on the offensive end, because as a whole this team is not particularly efficient scoring the ball from any point on the floor. Since their frequent trips to the free throw line aren’t converted at a high rate, they need every extra possession they can get. It should be their focus heading into this game to pound the ball in the paint and play inside-out through their monster bigs.

The ace up their sleeve is defense, defense and more defense. Mountaineer teams of the last decade have largely forced turnovers from full-court press, however these are now being accomplished in the halfcourt. This team is exceptional at isolating opposing players with the ball and pushing them into difficult passes or shots. On average, opponents playing West Virginia accrue only 9.2 assists per game (5th best) and have the nation’s lowest effective field goal % (40.8%). Alongside the second-best opposing 3-point % in the nation (25.7%), teams often find it difficult figuring how to attack this team. The most effective way to score though, as evidenced in the recent game against Missouri, is to swing the ball around the perimeter to create driving lanes to score or find open shooters. West Virginia is too good 1-on-1 to get beat and their stellar frontcourt duo shine defensively as well.

Will Texas Tech Regain Consistency at Home?

The Red Raiders have not recovered well from the temporary absence of Jahmi’us Ramsey earlier this season. The team has struggled in conference play, specifically against defensive-minded opponents (i.e, Baylor, Kentucky and West Virginia), failing to string together more than two wins in a row. Chris Beard’s team is talented, but undersized compared to some teams in the Big 12. His main crop of players (Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Chris Clarke, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Ramsey) are all 6’6” or shorter and have struggled against teams that have rebounded the ball well. This year’s Red Raiders team is still very active in creating turnovers (17.5/game) and finding opportunities to run in space. They rally to the ball and are successful in contesting shots inside the perimeter – this bodes well specifically for this matchup, given West Virginia is in the bottom 50 teams in Division 1 for 3-pointers made, attempted and converted (318th, 311th and 296th respectively).

Offensively the Red Raiders top-5 players, mentioned above, all attempt 50+% of their shots either from 3 or at the rim – hardly anything in between. In their last game, against Kentucky, the Wildcats isolated Terrence Shannon Jr. on the perimeter daring him to shoot. Shannon showed understanding and maturity in approaching his shots by closing the gap to his defender and taking midrange jumpers. It would not be surprising to see West Virginia perform a similar tactic in this game, since Texas Tech has five players shooting under 25% from distance. As was mentioned on the Campus Hoops Podcast last week, Texas Tech mirrors Villanova in their efficiency at the free throw line but are limited by a lack of attempts on a game-to-game basis. This team has to attack the basket consistently and run the floor as much as possible in order to draw fouls on Tshiebwe and Culver to maximize one of their best collective areas on the floor. Utilizing Chris Clarke in high-post situations could be a good way to get this done, as well as improving perimeter looks for his teammates.

Prediction: West Virginia 68, Texas Tech 60

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