West Virginia men’s basketball hits the road to face its third straight ranked opponent in the No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders at the United Supermarkets Arena on Saturday in Lubbock. Tip-off is set for noon ET on ESPN2.
The Mountaineers look to rebound with a victory over the Red Raiders after a pair of tough losses to top-10 opponents. They have shown some promise in those games, however, as their players look to return to full form from the first part of the Big 12 slate, especially guard Taz Sherman.
Still, the team shows several areas for improvement in its statistics. The most glaring of which comes from an important part of the floor, the paint, where WVU made just seven of its 22 layups against Baylor on Tuesday in a 77-68 home loss.
On the other end of the sideline, the Mountaineers will face one of the best defensive teams in the league in Texas Tech, as they hold teams to a 38-percent field goal rate and 58.7 points per game.
“They’ve got great size. They don’t have any really small guys,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “They have great size, they have great length, and they have terrific athleticism.”
The Red Raiders have exceeded some expectations in 2021-22 as they settle in under the leadership of first-year coach Mark Adams.
WVU owns the all-time series against Texas Tech 16-6, and is coming off a sweep over the Red Raiders in 2020-21.
Here are some of the biggest storylines heading into Saturday’s game:
Getting WVU’s guards going
Sherman has been playing himself back into shape after missing a game with COVID-19. He had his first big game back against Baylor on Tuesday, scoring 18 points.
Still, Huggins says that his prized guard still isn’t 100 percent recovered.
“I’ve said this, we’ve just gotta get Taz well,” Huggins said. “He’s gotta get some of his strength back, gain some weight back, but I think he’s played pretty well.”
Some different Mountaineers have stepped up to chip in points since Sherman’s absence, to the delight of Huggins. Malik Curry has come off the bench for the Mountaineers with two breakout performances, averaging 21 points over that stretch. Sean McNeil has built up a streak of 10 double-digit scoring games, while Jalen Bridges added his first 20-plus scoring game of the season against Oklahoma State on Jan. 11.
“We’re fine,” Huggins added.
Setting up for a defensive battle
West Virginia has pestered opposing offenses all season, and it shows in its plus-5.63 turnover margin on the season. As far as its scoring defense goes, though, it ranks ninth in the Big 12, allowing 68.9 points per game. Just a few years ago, that mark would be in the middle — or even near the top — of the conference.
Now, however, teams like Texas Tech have spearheaded the league’s defensive rankings as the Big 12 shapes up to be a defensive league. TTU’s defense only tells one side of the story, though, as it utilizes that hard-nosed style of play on the other end of the court for 73.7 points of offense per game.
They achieve this despite owning one of the lowest three-point percentages in the Big 12.
“Certainly we’ve got to make shots, but we’ve really got to do a really good job of defending them,” Huggins said. “They do a great job of spreading you and penetrating with it, so we’ve got to do a good job of defending them.”
The Red Raider offense is one of the more spread out in the league, with four players averaging double figures. It’s led by fifth-year transfer forward Bryson Williams, who scored 22 points as the Red Raiders defeated Kansas at home on Jan. 8.
WVU at No. 18 Texas Tech game information
Tip-off between WVU and Texas Tech is set for noon ET in Lubbock. Saturday starts with an all-new episode of The Bob Huggins Show, which airs at 9 a.m. ET on Nexstar stations across West Virginia. That is followed by Mountaineer GameDay, the most fun pregame show in West Virginia, at 10 a.m. ET. This week’s episode of Mountaineer GameDay features an exclusive interview with Graham Harrell, the new offensive coordinator for the WVU football program.