The 23rd-ranked West Virginia University Men’s basketball team will be back at it today in Stillwater, Oklahoma as they look to add another impressive win to their NCAA Tournament resume. They will do so going up against possibly the most underrated team in the Big XII this season, the 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys at the often-hostile Gallagher-Iba Arena. To get you set for this enormous Big XII match-up, here is a quick preview of all the action:
Trends and Streaks:
West Virginia is coming off their most impressive win to date – a 62-61 upset victory over the 8th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks which took place in Morgantown on Monday night. The Mountaineers are 6-4 in their last ten games, but they continue to struggle with consistency issues a bit, posting a 2-3 record over the course of their previous five contests.
Oklahoma State, on the other hand, suffered a 70-65 loss at the hands of 14th-ranked Iowa State Wednesday in Stillwater. The Cowboys are 5-5 in their last ten games, but they are currently in the midst of a two-game losing skid.
Rankings and Standings:
This week, the Mountaineers dropped several spots in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coach’s polls. WVU is now 23rd in the AP poll – a drop of two spots – while they come into the week ranked 22nd in the Coach’s poll – also a drop of two spots. This is the twelfth consecutive week that WVU is ranked in the top-25. The Mountaineers have an RPI of 25 at the moment.
Oklahoma State is currently ranked No. 22 and 24 in the AP and USA Today/Coach’s poll, respectively. The Cowboys drop one position in this week’s AP poll, while they stand pat in the Coach’s rankings. This is the second week in a row that the Cowboys find themselves ranked in the top-25. They are currently No. 28 in the updated RPI rankings.
Saturday afternoon will be the sixth all-time meeting between the Cowboys and Mountaineers in Men’s basketball. Coming into today’s contest, Oklahoma State currently holds a 4-1 lead in the all-time series. These two schools last met on January 25h of last season. That day, five different OSU players reached double figures as the Cowboys held on to defeat the Mountaineers late by a score of 81-75. West Virginia last beat Oklahoma State on December 19th of 1958.
Senior guard Juwan Staten continues to lead the Mountaineers in scoring with an average of 14.5 points per game. Staten also leads the team in assists with 114 on the season so far. Sophomore forward Devin Williams leads the team in rebounding with 202.
Newcomers Jonathan Holton, Jaysean Paige, Jevon Carter, and Tarik Phillip all lead the Mountaineers in several other key statistical categories including field goal percentage (Phillip- 48.4%), three-point shooting percentage (Paige- 40.9%), foul shooting (Carter- 81.6%), blocks (Holton- 26), and steals (Carter- 48).
For the Cowboys, senior forward Le’Bryan Nash leads the way with a scoring average of 17.0 points per game. Nash also leads the team in rebounds with 142 to his credit thus far. Fellow OSU senior, Anthony Hickey Jr, also leads the team in multiple categories including assists (92) and steals (54).
OSU’s other statistical leaders include junior guard Phil Forte III (85.3% FT and 40.8% 3PT), and senior forward Michael Cobbins (45 blocked shots, 61.6% FG).
Who to Watch:
For West Virginia, keep your eye on No. 2 Jevon Carter. The 6’2” freshman out of Maywood, Illinois has all but returned to his usual, productive self in recent games. In WVU’s last four contests, Carter is averaging 9.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Most importantly, Carter has been a menace for opposing teams defend from behind the arc; he’s recorded three or more treys in a single game on five different occasions in just his first season in the old Gold and Blue.
Carter has been a major reason why WVU has won games thorough out the course of this season, and Monday night was no different. He hit two-big long-balls late against Kansas to help West Virginia pull out the come-from-behind victory. So if he can get it going from long range again today, there’s no reason why he can’t lead them to victory once more.
Oklahoma State’s team will be highlighted by the presence of No. 2 Le’Bryan Nash. The 6’7” senior forward out of Dallas, Texas has had a tremendous string of success against the Mountaineers, averaging 16.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in four career match-ups. In his last outing, Nash put up an outstanding 29 points and nine rebounds in a road victory for the Cowboys.
Following a cold 12-point night against Oklahoma at the end of January, Nash has been on fire of late averaging 17.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in OSU’s last five contests. If WVU fails to contain him this afternoon, look for Le’Bryan Nash to go off for another 20+ point performance in a must-win game for the home side.
Key of the Game:
West Virginia has got to find a way to avoid suffering yet another big-win hang over. This season alone, WVU has lost by a combined 45 points against Texas and Iowa State following emotional wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State. Having just rescued a win away from the jaws of defeat earlier this week, today’s game against a desperate Oklahoma State team wreaks of a possible volatile situation for the Mountaineers. So, it’s going to be important for West Virginia to match the hunger and desire of their opponents the rest of the way.
To expand on this point further, while WVU does not have to worry about whether or not they’ll make this year’s “Big Dance”, it would be an utter shame for them to miss out on the opportunity to play a couple of post-season games in either Columbus, Ohio or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania all because they were just satisfied with being there. Currently, ESPN’s bracket expert Joe Lunardi has the Mountaineers seeded No. 7 in the Mid-West region. If his projection holds up, that game would pit West Virginia in an unfavorable match-up against a tough Texas A&M side with the contest to be played in Omaha, Nebraska, of all places.
The point is, the time is now for the Mountaineers to strengthen their resume so they may get a four or five seed, rather than a middle-of-the road 7 or 8 seed. With every game on WVU’s remaining regular season schedule coming against a ranked opponent, the opportunity is there. The only question is, does this year’s squad have both the gall and tenacity to capitalize?
Tip-off of today’s game is slated for 2:00PM. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN News.