|Tale of the Tape|
|Points Per Game||79.9||69.0|
|Field Goal Percentage||48.1||42.9|
|Field Goal Percentage Against||41.7||42.3|
|3-PT Field Goal Percentage||36.4||31.4|
|3-PT Field Goal Percentage Against||29.8||30.7|
|Free Throw Percentage||66.7||66.8|
|Turnovers Per Game||12.8||12.3|
|Turnovers Per Game Against||17.5||17.1|
|Steals Per Game||9.6||8.3|
|Blocks Per Game||3.6||5.4|
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Two teams seeking a return to their winning ways will meet Tuesday when West Virginia takes on fifth-ranked Baylor at the WVU Coliseum.
Last week at this time, the Bears were sitting atop the polls with a 15-0 record. Then, Texas Tech rallied from a five-point halftime deficit to remove Baylor from the ranks of the unbeaten. Oklahoma State turned the Texas Tech defeat into a two-game losing streak when it stunned Baylor 61-54 last Saturday.
Both Baylor losses were in Waco.
Meanwhile, West Virginia (13-3, 2-2) recovered from its conference opening loss at Texas by winning two straight against Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
But an 85-59 defeat last Saturday afternoon at Kansas has the Mountaineers smarting.
In that game, Kansas’ 6-foot-10 forward David McCormack got just about anything he wanted near the basket, the senior scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds – 10 of those boards coming on the offensive glass.
KU outscored West Virginia 52-28 after intermission and held the Mountaineers to just 27% shooting for the game. Leading scorer Taz Sherman was 1-of-9 from the floor for a season-low 5 points in his head-to-head matchup against Kansas’ Ochai Agaji.
“After you take a beating like that in Lawrence, I think everybody is kind of foaming at the mouth to get out and play again,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said Monday morning.
In the meantime, Baylor (15-2, 3-2) was also struggling to find its shooting touch against Oklahoma State. The Bears made just 18 of 58 for 31% against the Cowboys, including 2 of 13 from 3-point range in the first half.
Cold 3-point shooting was also a factor in Baylor’s 65-62 loss to Texas Tech last Tuesday night. Baylor connected on just 3 of its 14 3-point tries in the second half and shot just 39.3% overall after intermission.
“Their guards might not shoot it quite as consistently as they did a year ago but they’re good,” Huggins said. “They create really good shots for themselves and they create for others.”
Arizona transfer James Akinjo leads a balanced Bears attack with an average of 13.9 points per game. The 6-1 senior guard was 1 for 8 from the floor against the Cowboys after making 5 of 14 in the Texas Tech setback.
Sophomore guard L.J. Cryer (13.1 ppg.), junior guard Adam Flagler (12.1 ppg.) and 6-foot-8 freshman forward Kendall Brown (10.6 ppg.) are also averaging double figures.
Senior 6-foot-9 wing Matthew Mayer has been a Mountaineer killer in the past and he’s averaging 9.1 points per contest, while 6-foot-10 senior forward Flo Thamba, another Mountaineer slayer, shows averages of 4.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
Baylor’s top rebounder is 6-foot-8 junior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. The UNLV transfer is pulling down an average of 7.8 boards per game.
“It’s surprising they lost two at home so we know they are going to come in here really looking for a win so we’ve got to be that much more prepared and extremely focused,” said senior guard Sean McNeil.
Prior to its recent rough stretch, Baylor was cruising along with big non-conference victories over Stanford, Arizona State, Michigan State, Villanova and Oregon.
West Virginia, too, was experiencing mostly smooth air with an 11-1 non-conference mark before some COVID issues required three players to sit out the conference opener at Texas, a 74-59 loss.
The TCU game two days later was postponed because of COVID issues within the Horned Frogs program, which gave the Mountaineers an idle week before facing Kansas State.
West Virginia held on to defeat the Wildcats 71-68, and followed that up with one of its best all-around performances of the season last Tuesday night by defeating Oklahoma State 70-60.
“The Oklahoma State game is probably the closest we’ve played to a full 40-minute game all year,” McNeil said.
Then, after a strong first half effort at now-No. 7 Kansas, the team collapsed in the second half.
Senior guard Malik Curry came off the bench to score a season-high 23 points, 11 of those coming from the foul line. The rest of the team managed only 36 – 12 coming from sophomore forward Jalen Bridges and 10 coming from McNeil.
The Mountaineers (13-3, 2-2) were only 4 of 18 from 3-point distance and are barely shooting better than 30% (31.4%) from behind the arc this season. Sherman’s average dropped from 19.9 to 18.9 points per game, while McNeil is the only other Mountaineer player averaging double figures at 14.3.
WVU is being out-rebounded 35.9 to 34.5 for the season and is still seeking more consistency from its front line consisting of freshman Isaiah Cottrell, senior Pauly Paulicap and senior Dimon Carrigan. Those three players combined to score just 3 points and grab seven rebounds in last Saturday’s Kansas loss.
“We’ve got to do something because obviously what we’re doing isn’t working,” Huggins said of his team’s inconsistent post play.
No. 6 Baylor is of 10 Big 12 teams in the top 75 in this week’s NCAA NET rankings.
Kansas is two behind the Bears at No. 8, followed by Texas (14), Texas Tech (17), Iowa State (20), Oklahoma (35), West Virginia (44), Oklahoma State (50), TCU (53) and Kansas State (75).
On the basis of this, the Big 12 is clearly the most difficult conference in the country.
“You have to take it one at a time in this league,” McNeil explained. “It’s elite – the best in the country – and you go from top to bottom and I don’t think there is a team lower than 75 in the NET, which just goes to show you how talented this league is.”
“We were in the Big East when I got here and there were teams that quite honestly were a break,” Huggins said. “There are no breaks in this league and then the travel in this league is hard.”
West Virginia is not going to get much of a breather with games coming up against Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Arkansas and then Baylor to close out this month.
The Razorbacks have a NET ranking of 56 after boosting its record to 12-5 with a win last Saturday at LSU.
Tuesday night’s contest will tip off at 5 p.m. instead of the normal 7 p.m. start time because of scheduling adjustments with ESPN. The contest will air nationally on ESPN2 (Rich Hollenberg and Jay Bilas) and fans attending Tuesday are strongly encouraged to wear masks as the region has been experiencing an uptick in COVID infections.
Mountaineer Sports Network coverage on stations throughout West Virginia and online via WVUsports.com and the popular mobile app WVU Gameday begins at 4 p.m.
Baylor won last year’s meeting in Morgantown in overtime, 94-89, and owns a 12-8 overall record in series play. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by logging on to WVUGAME.com.