MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Every game is difficult when you are playing in the No. 1 basketball conference in America.
Last Saturday’s game against Kansas State at the Coliseum was tough. So was the game at Baylor back on Jan. 28. Well guess what? West Virginia has another tough one coming up on Wednesday night when 21st-ranked Oklahoma comes to town.
The 17-5 Sooners have only lost three times in Big 12 play, most recently last Saturday to an Iowa State team that just won a three-overtime epic at Oklahoma State on Monday night.
The Cyclone victory over the Cowboys put them in a three-way tie with West Virginia and Kansas State for fourth place in the Big 12 standings, just one game behind third-place Oklahoma. Kansas still sits atop the conference standings with a 7-1 record while Texas is breathing right down the Jayhawks’ neck at 6-2.
Oklahoma State, predicted by some to unseat Kansas this year, is currently sitting in seventh place with a 4-5 record.
That’s how good this league is.
Limited Coliseum Parking
The men’s basketball team will play host to Oklahoma in the Coliseum on Wednesday, Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. Coliseum parking on Wednesday will be extremely limited. Students who have classes in the Coliseum on Wednesday will be allowed to park in the Natatorium lot for free until 5 p.m. Students who do not have classes in the Coliseum, but in other areas of the Evansdale campus may park for free in the Coliseum lots near the Arboretum until 5 p.m. Space is limited at both locations. WVU faculty and staff who work at the Coliseum will be allowed to park for free during the day until 5 p.m. To offset this parking loss, all are reminded that short-term parking is available at the Alumni Center, Mountaineer Station on Van Voorhis Road, at a variety of short-term lots on the Evansdale campus, and in downtown parking garages and lots operated by the Morgantown Parking Authority. All of these alternatives have easy access to the PRT and Mountain Line bus system, which is free to WVU students, faculty and staff.
“I think it shows how much parity there is when you look at how kind of jammed up everybody is, but in all honesty, the Big East was that way, too,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “From the top 10 or 11 (the Big East was) pretty jammed up and that happens in good leagues. Familiarity makes it hard to win consistently.”
Huggins has certainly spent the last couple of days familiarizing himself with the Sooners. All five of Oklahoma’s losses this year have come against good teams - Michigan State, Louisiana Tech, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State - and four of the five losses have been by seven points or less.
The Sooners are 10th in the country in scoring offense averaging 83.5 points per game and have scored more than 80 points in a game 14 times so far this year. However, Oklahoma has only topped 80 points just once in its last six outings, that coming in a 12-point victory against Oklahoma State at home on Jan. 27.
“When you have more possessions you’re going to score more points and they shoot it a lot faster,” said Huggins of Oklahoma’s preferred style of play. “When you shoot it faster there are going to be more possessions and you’re going to score more points and your opponents are going to score more points.
“We’re shooting it a lot faster than what we’ve shot it and we’re scoring more points, but so is our opponents so that comes with the territory. It really comes down to points per possession more than what the final score is when you start looking at offensive and defensive statistics,” the coach added.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield is coming off a career high 30-point performance in Oklahoma’s 81-75 loss to Iowa State, while sophomore guard Isaiah Cousins had a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Cyclones.
“Those sophomore guards are playing well right now and (forward Ryan) Spangler makes a huge difference for them,” said Huggins.
The 6-foot-8, 232-pound Spangler has pulled down 93 rebounds in his last seven games and his is averaging a team-best 10.2 boards per game for the season. The sophomore is also averaging 11.1 points per game while shooting an impressive 61.2 percent from the floor this season.
“He’s the best rebounder in our league and maybe one of the best in the country,” said Huggins.
The veteran Mountaineer coach also has an impact player in junior guard Juwan Staten
, who is coming off a career high 35-point performance in the Mountaineers’ 81-71 victory over Kansas State. Staten became the first WVU player to earn Big 12 player of the week honors since West Virginia joined the league, and it was his last-second basket that helped the Mountaineers knock off Baylor, 66-64, on the road back on Jan. 28.
Staten is now averaging 18 points, six assists and 5.8 rebounds per game, reaching double digits in points in all but one game this season.
In last Saturday’s win against Kansas State, there were many times in the second half when Huggins had the floor spread and let Staten create offense on his own. He said that partly by design because K-State plays such great help defense. Whether or not Huggins will do that again against Oklahoma depends a lot on how the Sooners choose to play Staten.
“If you watch(K-State) play they help so much and we needed to get some easy baskets so we had to take the help away. That’s why I did it,” said Huggins. “After watching film I thought if we could get some uncontested shots and were fortunate enough to make a few then they’d have to come out and guard us, which would open things up for us.”
West Virginia is in the unusual position of facing Oklahoma for the first time this season after already wrapping up regular season play against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Still, Huggins says he’s pretty familiar with the Sooners – just as Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is pretty familiar with the Mountaineers.
“You know who they’re playing,” Huggins explained. “You know what the people they are playing are trying to do. You watch film and you look at patterns - what they do consistently, what they do well and what they don’t do well - and you can’t do that in non-conference early in the year. A lot of times in non-conference they are playing people that they can run whatever they want to run.”
Last year, Oklahoma won all three times the Sooners faced West Virginia, including a 67-57 decision in Morgantown on Jan. 5, 2013.
Tip off for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU. The Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG’s coverage on affiliates throughout West Virginia
begins with the pregame show at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are still available and can be purchased in advance by logging on to WVUGAME.com