UPDATING THE RED RAIDERS
Tech is in free fall, losing its last five league games since a win over Iowa State. Included in that skid was a 77-61 loss at home to the Mountaineers. With just two league wins to date, and sitting at four games under .500, the Red Raiders are likely playing for nothing but pride at this point.
Forward Jaye Crockett continues to pace Tech in both scoring (11.9) and rebounding (6.9) off the bench. It gets balanced production from Josh Gray, Dejan Kravic and Jordan Tolbert, all of whom average nine points per outing, but it simply gives up too many points and allows too many good shots to opponents to overcome. Foes are hitting 45.6% of their tries against Tech, including almost 38% from three-point range.
The Red Raiders continue to shuffle players in and out of the game, and are in the top 20 nationally in terms of substitute playing time. Bench players account for more than 41% of the available minutes this year. That, in conjunction with a very youthful lineup, has pushed them almost to the bottom of the Big 12 standings.
In the first contest, WVU made a hero of Ty Nurse, allowing him to hit a pair of threes and putting him on the free throw line six times. He converted all of those chances, scoring 14 points and keeping the Red Raiders in the game until a second half surge put the Mountaineers in front. WVU's defensive change from man-to-man to the point drop got credit for the win, but it was really a burst in Mountaineer scoring that made the difference. Tech was an identical 10-21 from the field in each half, and scored just one less point in the second half than the first. West Virginia scored 43 in the final 20 minutes, as opposed to just 34 in the first half.
If West Virginia can't put away Tech in this contest, it will raise serious concerns about the Mountaineers' state of mind heading into the final month of the season.
Unfortunately, that's been a question mark all year, as WVU has repeated the same mistakes and made the same poor decisions, showing an inability to improve. WVU should be good enough to beat the Red Raiders on talent alone, which would give them a season sweep of the three teams below them in the Big 12 standings. That would solidify them at just seventh in the league, however, and there are no more games left against any of those squads after today.
4:00 PM E
WVU 12-12, 5-6
TT 9-13, 2-9
Big 12 Network
WVU - 93
TT - 215
First things first, however. To win this game, West Virginia will look to put more pressure on Tech. The Red Raiders committed 22 turnovers in the first meeting, and have been loose with the ball throughout the contest. Look for more aggressive pressure when the ball goes to the wing, and more insistence on keeping it on one side of the floor once it has been moved there by the Tech offense. WVU might also ramp up pressure a bit more in the back court, and try to trap the ball on the perimeter.
Still, a game like this comes down to effort. The Mountaineers do still have postseason tournaments to play for, but if they can't get excited about a three-game winning streak and a chance to get back into the race for the NCAA, will the possibility of an NIT bid get them playing harder? The moribund second half performance against Baylor would suggest that isn't the case, so judging their level of effort against the Red Raiders should be an early test in how this game is going to go.
Since the first Texas game, in which some of his actions resulted in a one game suspension, Juwan Staten has seen his scoring average drop from 11 points to nine points per game. His productivity on the boards, which was surprisingly good given his height, also has fallen precipitously. After averaging nearly 3.5 per game up to that contest, he produced zero or one rebound in five of the next seven games.
* * *
The game is Texas Tech's first trip to the WVU Colisuem. In such contests, the Mountaineers are 127-32 against the visitors.
* * *
Eleven of Tech's 13 losses have come by nine points or more.
* * *
The one bright spot in West Virginia's season has been the play of Eron Harris, who has quickly grown into the Mountaineers' go-to perimeter shooter. Harris had a feast-or-famine start to his career, alternating zero point games with double-digit point totals in the first eight contests of the season. He then averaged five points per game over his next six outings, but has since scored in double figures in every game but one.