Busting Brackets

Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia: 2020-21 college basketball game preview, TV schedule

Feb 18, 2020; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Isaac Likekele (13) shoots over West Virginia Mountaineers forward Derek Culver (1) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 18, 2020; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Isaac Likekele (13) shoots over West Virginia Mountaineers forward Derek Culver (1) during the first half at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports /

A shorthanded West Virginia Mountaineers squad will take on an overlooked Oklahoma State team in a marquee Big 12 showdown on Monday.

TV schedule: Monday, January 4, 9:00 pm ET. ESPN2

Arena: Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Oklahoma

The Oklahoma State Cowboys will look to make another leap in the Big 12 standings on Monday night, hosting the West Virginia Mountaineers in a showdown of two teams on drastically different trajectories with completely opposite styles and tempos of play.

The Cowboys (7-2) are coming off a huge victory on Saturday night, taking down a nationally-ranked Texas Tech squad in overtime, 82-77, to snap a two-game losing streak.  Their two losses are nothing to be ashamed of, dropping a one-point game to TCU before falling at Texas, 77-74, in Oklahoma State’s last game before the holidays.

Prior to that, the Cowboys opened the season with six-straight victories, which included significant road wins over Marquette and Wichita State. Despite featuring the 54th-most efficient offense in Div. I, the Cowboys struggle offensively, shooting 31.7% (217th) from beyond the arc and 51.6% (117th) on two-pointers, amassing 0.90 points per possession – but they make it up on the defensive end.  Ranking 27th nationally in defensive efficiency, Oklahoma State holds teams to 44.8% (50th) inside the arc – and 33.6% outside, which ranks 191st in college basketball.

The Cowboys play one of the fastest tempos in college basketball – one that ranks 51st nationally and allows for 72.4 possessions per game.  They take just 15.6 seconds off the shot-clock before taking a shot, the 46th-fastest average possession length.  Despite their fast-tempo, they are solid at taking care of the ball, turning the ball over on just 19.1% of their possessions (147th).  They achieve significant success inside, pulling down an offensive carom on a 76th-best 32.0% of their shot attempts.

Oklahoma State has been led by the sensational Cade Cunningham, who was the most highly-anticipated and hyped freshman entering the 2020-21 season – and is still in the conversation to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.  Cunningham – an 18.4 point-scorer on a 43.4% FG clip – struggled to find his shooting stroke against Texas Tech, going 3-12 from the floor to finish with 13 points – but made up for it with his other contributions on the floor, which included seven rebounds, four assists, and four steals.

Isaac Likekele joins Cunningham in double-digit Cowboys, averaging 10.9 points per game – but Oklahoma State featured four players in double-figures in their overtime win over the Red Raiders. Likekele tied for the team-high with 17 points with Avery Anderson, who poured in 17 points on a 6-7 clip from the floor.  Bryce Williams supplied 15 points of his own, draining a team-best three three-pointers in his best game since a similar 15-point performance against Marquette.

While the Cowboys are coming off a huge win, the Mountaineers (8-3) have endured a tumultuous stretch to begin the new year.  After starting the season impressively at 7-1 – which included wins over some of the best mid-majors in VCU, Western Kentucky, and Richmond, and a five-point loss to top-ranked Gonzaga – West Virginia went 1-1 in their final games of 2020, being dismantled by Kansas before blowing out Northeastern, 73-51.

The Mountaineers – a team that entered the season with Final Four expectations and the talent needed to make a run – suffered a devastating hit to those expectations a few days after their win over Northeastern, when Oscar Tshiebwe – an All-Big 12 Second Team honoree – announced that he was leaving the team due to personal reasons, and would not be returning at all during the year.  Tshiebwe’s absence has already ailed the Mountaineers, who are coming off a disappointing 75-71 road loss at Oklahoma.

West Virginia has been even more efficient on the offensive (27th) and defensive (13th) ends of the court – but they have struggled mightily shooting the ball, something that plagued them last season.  They are average from beyond the arc at 33.7% (160th) but shoot just 45.2% (271st) inside – combining for an offense that scores just 0.88 points per possession.  The Mountaineers – for the most part – have prided themselves on the defensive end, where they hold teams to 49.4% on two-pointers (150th) and 30.2% (69th) from long-range.

The Mountaineers lean more on the methodical side, playing a tempo that ranks 243rd and allows for 68.6 possessions per game – and that style of play allows for them to take care of the ball.  They rank 47th in turnover percentage, handing the ball over on just 16.3% of their offensive possessions – and have found success inside, hauling down an offensive rebound on 37.6% of their attempts – the 13th-best mark.

West Virginia features a quadruplet of double-digit scorers in Miles McBride (14.8), Derek Culver (13.0), Taz Sherman (11.3), and Sean McNeil (10.3).  McBride‘s flourishment this season has been huge for the Mountaineers in their stellar start – and a few other Mountaineers have stepped up big, especially in the Oklahoma game – freshman Jalen Bridges poured in 19 points, while Emmitt Matthews add 11 points of his own.

Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, Tshiebwe’s absence has caused issues in the frontcourt.  Derek Culver – who, with Tshiebwe, comprised one of the most highly-touted frontcourts in the nation entering the season – was beyond ineffective against the Mountaineers, scoring just two points on four shots.  Meanwhile, Gabe Osabuohien, the Mountaineers’ first big man off the bench, did not score at all in 26 minutes.

Both teams are solid defensively by way of points per possession – West Virginia holds teams to 0.84, while Oklahoma State is slightly better at 0.83.  With the Cowboys stellar at defending the paint, Culver and Osabuohien should be, again, ineffective in this game – meaning this tilt should come down to guard play.

The Mountaineers will desperately need some help in the backcourt past McBride – and if their showing against Oklahoma proves anything, particularly with Taz Sherman’s 19-point performance, it is that West Virginia has the shooting to hang around.  Despite shooting just 27.8% on two-pointers, WVU was 58.3% (14-24) from beyond the arc – and they will need to replicate that in order to defeat Oklahoma State.

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This is an Oklahoma State squad, however, that won at Texas Tech and nearly won at Texas – and now gets to host a West Virginia team searching for a new identity in the opening days of the new year.  The Mountaineers will find – and consistently adopt – that identity before long – but they might not have one ready to pull off the win in Stillwater, especially if the Cowboys are able to defend beyond the arc.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 77 – West Virginia 72