West Virginia men’s basketball takes to the road on Saturday in Lubbock to meet its third consecutive opponent in the #18 Texas Tech Red Raiders at the United Supermarkets Arena. Tip-off is set for noon ET on ESPN2.
The Mountaineers appear to be recovering with a win over the Red Raiders after some heavy losses against top-10 opponents. However, they have shown some promise in those games as their players aim to return to full form from the early part of the Big 12 slate, especially guard Taz Sherman.
Still, the team shows several areas for improvement in its statistics. The most notable comes from an important part of the floor, the paint, where WVU made just seven of its 22 layups on Tuesday against Baylor in a 77-68 home loss.
On the other side of the sidelines, the Mountaineers will face one of the top defensive teams in the league at Texas Tech as they keep teams on a 38 percent field goal and 58.7 points per game.
“They are a great size. They don’t really have little guys,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “They’re a great size, they’re a great height, and they have great athleticism.”
The Red Raiders have surpassed some expectations in 2021-22 by settling in under the leadership of freshman coach Mark Adams.
WVU owns the all-time series against Texas Tech 16-6 and will sweep the Red Raiders in 2020-21.
Here are some of the biggest storylines heading into Saturday’s game:
Getting WVU’s guards going
Sherman is playing himself back into shape after missing a match with COVID-19. He played his first major game back against Baylor on Tuesday, scoring 18 points.
Still, Huggins says his prized guard is still not 100 percent recovered.
“I said this, we just have to make Taz better,” Huggins said. “He needs to get some of his strength back, some weight back, but I think he played pretty well.”
Since Sherman’s absence, several mountaineers have risen to score points, much to Huggins’ delight. Malik Curry has come off the bench for the Mountaineers with two breakout performances, averaging 21 points over that stretch. Sean McNeil has racked up a string of 10 double-digit goals, while Jalen Bridges added his first 20-plus goal of the season against Oklahoma State on January 11.
“We’re fine,” Huggins added.
Line up for a defensive battle
West Virginia has been harassing opposing violations all season and it shows in the plus-5.63 sales margin on the season. However, in terms of its scoring defense, it ranks ninth in the Big 12, accounting for 68.9 points per game. Just a few years ago, that figure would have been in the middle—or even near the top—of the conference.
Now, however, teams like Texas Tech have topped the league’s defensive rankings as the Big 12 evolves into a defensive league. However, TTU’s defense only tells one side of the story, as it uses that hard-hitting style of play on the other side of the field for 73.7 points per game.
They achieve this despite owning one of the lowest three-point percentages in the Big 12.
“Of course we have to make shots, but we have to defend them really really well,” said Huggins. “They’re doing a great job of spreading and getting through to you, so we have to defend them well.”
Red Raider’s attack is one of the most widespread attacks in the league, with four players having a double-digit average. It is led by Bryson Williams, the fifth-year transfer forward, who scored 22 points when the Red Raiders defeated Kansas at home on January 8.
WVU at No. 18 Texas Tech Game Info
Tip-off between WVU and Texas Tech is set for 12 noon ET in Lubbock. Saturday kicks off with an all-new episode of The Bob Huggins Show, which airs on Nexstar stations in West Virginia at 9 a.m. ET. That will be 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 of the WVU football program.