Texas comes to Kansas City with their ticket to the Big Dance already punched, a dangerous scenario when facing a quarterfinal opponent playing for their post-season lives. West Virginia, at 17-14 and with a 9-9 record in the Big 12, is firmly on the outside of the bubble and they will need a deep run in the Big 12 Tournament to change that.
Despite their record, though, they are not a team to be taken lightly. The Mountaineers are coming off their best game of the season, a 92-86 whipping of a Joel Embiid-less Kansas team that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. After a game like that, the Huggy Bear's troops have no reason not to be confident about running the table in Kansas City.
And while Rick Barnes is once again our Once And Future King, I wouldn't put my money on him out-coaching Huggins in a one game scenario. Compare the talent level of West VA's 2009 Final Four team, which knocked off John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, to some of the underachieving squads Barnes has put together in his time in Austin.
As a side note, Huggins tenure at Cincinnati - 28% graduation rate, 21 arrests, multiple players with 0.0 GPA's and being fired for a "lack of character" - was one of the finest works of modern art I've ever seen, in that it has to be appreciated not for its beauty but for how its ugliness critiques modern society and the hypocrisy of the prevailing system.
This will all make more sense when you see Jonathan Holton doing work for West VA next season. Talented players with rap sheets a mile long is pretty much Huggy Bear's M.O. For a college basketball coach to be fired for a lack of character - that is really saying something.
On paper, Texas should be in good shape. They won the two regular season games for a reason - they match-up very well with West Virginia. However, it's always hard to beat a good team 3 times in one season, especially one with a lot more to play for. The Longhorns better come out ready for a fight.
Juwan Staten - 6'1 190 bulldog, plays like a young Kyle Lowry. Staten is an athletic and physical guard who fills up a stat-sheet - 18 points on 49% shooting, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Even though he can't shoot 3's, it's very hard to stay in front of him on defense. He plays 38 minutes a night, so they pretty much never take him off the floor.
Eron Harris - 6'3 195 wing. West VA has a ton of talent on the perimeter - Harris averages 18 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists on 44% shooting. He has the green light to push the pace, shoot the ball and attack the rim whenever he wants. They play very loose and very fast - they are a pretty fun team to watch.
Remi Dibo - 6'7 225 wing. A role-player who shoots 3's (40% on 4 attempts a game) and spreads the floor. I've watched West VA play a few times and I can't say I really remember him doing anything.
Nathan Adrian - 6'9 230 stretch 4. A freshman without a lot of big statistics - the only worth noting is that he shoots 37% from 3 on 3 attempts a game. This team is all about spreading the floor and playing in a ton of space; ideally, they want to be in semi-transition for the entire game.
Devin Williams - 6'9 255 big man. Coming off his best game of the season, a 22 point, 8 rebound showing against an undersized Kansas front-line. A reasonably skilled freshman big who likes to bang inside and is trying to bring the Rec Specs back, Williams is still probably a year away from being a consistent contributor.
Key Bench Players:
Gary Browne - 6'1 195 guard. Gives them another creator and scorer on the perimeter - they are at their most dangerous when they play Browne and Harris next to Staten. Given UT's lack of size on the wings, I expect a lot of small-ball tonight.
Kevin Noreen - 6'10 250 center. He does not fit the stereotype of the Huggy Bear player. Let's leave it at that because it's very hard not to stereotype Noreen when he steps on the floor. The more Barnes can dictate personnel and force Huggins to play bigger line-ups, the better our chances are.
Keys to the Game:
1) Match West VA's effort - I'm not a huge intangibles guy, but this is clearly an intangibles game. Has a young Texas team been sitting on their laurels and refreshing Bracketology every day? They don't "need" this game in the way that West VA does, so they will have to resist the temptation to fold it up early if things aren't going their way.
2) Play inside-out - In the game in Morgantown, Ridley had 12/12 and Holmes had 9/12. In Austin, Ridley went for 17/6 and Holmes chipped in with 11/7. West VA is a lot like Iowa State - they want to play small and they don't have the horses to bang with the Texas big men upfront. Either they are giving up post scores or they are doubling down and opening up the three-point line.
3) Tempo, tempo, tempo - A corrolary to No. 2. The more this is a half-court game, the better the Longhorns chances are. The Mountaineers best chance to win is to speed up the young Texas guards, get them taking bad shots and than pushing the ball in the open court. Take care of the ball, let the big men set up down low and don't be a hero - simple basketball is all you need when you have the personnel advantage.
This should be a fun game - West VA is going to come out strong and they are going to bring it for 40 minutes. There's no tomorrow for them if they lose. This will be a good test to see how mature this Texas team is and how they look away from home.