SCOUTING THE SOONERS
OU comes into the game with a 3-1 record, but those wins are not over the cream of the college basketball crop. Easy wins over Louisiana Monroe and UT Arlington didn't tell much, although a close win over UTEP might have been a sign of some struggles to come. A blowout loss to Gonzaga, much as West Virginia suffered, shows that they might not be ready for a postseason run just yet.
The Sooners use a mix of guards and bigger forwards in the lineup, and have just one true center on the roster. On the front line, forwards Romero Osby and Amath M'Baye, both transfers, hold down productive roles in the starting lineup. Osby, who first attended Mississippi State, is averaging 12 points and eight rebounds per game, while M'Baye, formerly of Wyoming, tallies 8.0 points and 6.8 boards per outing. Neither is a three-point threat, having combined for just one successful long distance shot on the season, but both work well on the offensive boards and defend well, combining for ten blocked shots to date.
That duo is ably backed by Andrew Fitzgerald, who contributes 7.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in fewer than 20 minutes of game action. Fitzgerald is also an able shot blocker, adding five to Oklahoma's 20 rejections so far this year. Tyler Neal chips in 2.8 points and 3.5 rebounds as the fourth player getting appreciable time in the frontcourt rotation.
Guard Stephen Pledger is the leading scorer in the backcourt, tallying 10.8 points per game. He's the main long-distance threat, hitting 40.7% of his attempts. Je'lon Hornbeak teams with Isaiah Cousins to handle the playmaking role, as the duo has combined for 19 assists. Cousins has been on a steady improvement arc during the tournament, and has made four of his ten three-point shots.
In reserve, Buddy Hield has also provided support from three-point range, making 35.7% from distance. Oklahoma's guards will typically spread the perimeter and spot up for shots off drives and post-ups by the forwards, which can make for a difficult defensive challenge when all of their primary three-point threats are in the game. Cameron Clark provides more height and physical strength in a defensive role, and averages 4.3 rebounds per game in just more than 15 minutes of action.
Both teams have had difficulty shooting the ball during their initial games. West Virginia is hitting just 41% of its shots, while the Sooners are even worse at 39%. That means the game will likely come down to a pair of factors.
|Sun Nov 25
HP Field House
Both teams hold a positive rebounding margin this year. Oklahoma actually grabs 2.5 more boards per game than WVU, but the Mountaineers have been more effective at keeping foes off the glass, holding a +5.7 edge. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is just +2.0 in the same metric after getting crushed by Gonzaga on the glass by a 51-24 margin.
West Virginia has a bit of a height advantage over the Sooners, but OU counters with more athleticism from its group of forwards. The Mountaineers will have to find those active players when shots go up, keep them away from the glass, and then get the ball out quickly to create scoring chances. Oklahoma will bank on slowing down WVU's transition game, which has proved to be the only way the Mountaineers can score.
WVU will also look to improve its half-court offense, which has been about as artistic as a first-grader's fingerpainting. Everything, from passing to cutting to reading the defense has been sadly lacking, and those breakdowns have led directly to West Virginia's offensive woes. The Mountaineers have gone with a number of different lineups so far in an attempt to find a group of players that can pass the ball and run offense, and the search will continue against OU. No matter how many fast break points West Virginia can generate, though, it's not going to beat anyone much better than Marist until it figures out how to score in the halfcourt.
Despite the prevalence of holiday and early season tournaments, this is just the second time in Big 12 history that two league schools have met in a regular season non-conference match-up. The first occurred 16 years ago, when Texas defeated Nebraska.
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Walk-on OU sophomore guard James Fraschilla is the son of Fran Fraschilla, who coached at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico before taking an analyst position at ESPN. The elder Fraschilla is set to call the game for ESPNU.
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Oklahoma freshman Isaiah Cousins and WVU sophomore Jabarie Hinds were teammates on Mount Vernon High Schools' state championship team in 2010-11.
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West Virginia's more aggressive defense has led to foul trouble for its players, and that has also affected the team's ability to develop any sort of continuity. Aaric Murry and Deniz Kilicli have each fouled out of one game this year and have spent appreciable minutes on the bench due to foul issues. WVU has committed 67 fouls this year, and four players averaging more than three fouls per game. While the Mountaineers will have to play pressure defense to have any hope of scoring consistently this year, they must do so with more restraint in order to keep their best players on the floor.