Busting Brackets

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

AUSTIN, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 24: Miles McBride #4 of the West Virginia Mountaineers moves around Matt Coleman III #2 of the Texas Longhorns at The Frank Erwin Center on February 24, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 24: Miles McBride #4 of the West Virginia Mountaineers moves around Matt Coleman III #2 of the Texas Longhorns at The Frank Erwin Center on February 24, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images) /

A pair of top 15 teams from the Big 12 in West Virginia and Texas will battle in a marquee afternoon showdown on Saturday.

TV schedule: Saturday, January 9, 1:00 pm ET. ESPN

Arena: WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, West Virginia

In a pivotal Big 12 showdown, the 14th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers will host the fourth-ranked Texas Longhorns in a duel of conference rivals coming off narrow victories early on in the week.

West Virginia (9-3) is coming off a significant road victory at Oklahoma State, 87-84, in their first win of the post-Oscar Tshiebwe era.  Overcoming a 19-point deficit, it was an important showing for the Mountaineers, especially after dropping their first game without Tshiebwe to Oklahoma, 75-71.

The Mountaineers found a new identity in their first win of the new year, and it involves a four-guard lineup with a stellar anchor in the post in Derek Culver, and the capability of now being able to press with Tshiebwe out of the rotation.  That resulted in a balanced scoring onslaught against the Cowboys on Monday, where three West Virginia players tallied over 20 points apiece – Culver poured in 22 points (10-19 FG) to go with 19 rebounds, Miles McBride came alive in the second half to finish with 21, and Taz Sherman was a steady offensive power en route to 20 points.

While West Virginia got decimated on two-pointers against Oklahoma State, shooting 20-46 (43.5%) to the Cowboys’ 25-41 (61.0%) clip, they – uncharacteristically – found success from beyond the arc, draining nine-threes (9-24), while also dominating on the boards, outrebounding Oklahoma State, 48-39.  They hauled down offensive rebounds on 47.8% of their attempts, recording 22 to the Cowboys’ 15.

The Longhorns (9-1), meanwhile, have been on a tear since their early December loss to Villanova, rallying off wins over Texas State, Sam Houston State, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Iowa State.  Their January 2nd win over Kansas – the worst home loss in Bill Self’s tenure – might be the most impressive victory of any team this season, but Texas struggled to put away an Iowa State squad on Tuesday at home, 78-72.

Shaka Smart’s crew featured all five starters tallying double-digits, led by a career-high 23 points (7-11 2PT, 3-9 3PT) from junior Andrew Jones, who also hauled down six rebounds and dished out a game-best four assists.  Joining him were Greg Brown (15 points and seven rebounds), Matt Coleman (13 points, 6-7 2PT), Jericho Simms (10 points), and Courtney Ramey (10 points).  The starters combined for 71 of Texas’ 78 points, with Kai Jones providing the other seven off the bench.

The Longhorns rank among the top 15 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but their defense struggled against the Cyclones in Tuesday’s outing, allowing Iowa State to shoot 52.5% inside and 31.8% outside – both higher than what Texas typically holds teams to (43.3% and 25.7%, respectively).  The key to the Longhorns’ victory was their dominance inside, where they shot better than their season average on two-pointers (53.7% to 52.5%) while holding the Cyclones to just four offensive rebounds.

Despite their high offensive efficiency (WVU at 15th and Texas at 14th), both teams do not maintain high points per possession tallies – Texas scores 0.94, while the Mountaineers are slightly worse at 0.88.  But both teams have proven to be a terror on the defensive end.  West Virginia – a team that ranks 19th in defense efficiency – holds teams to 0.84 points per possession, whereas the Longhorns – the third-best efficient team defensively – maintain a 0.79 defense point per possession average.

Both teams feature three common opponents – and two of them have produced similar results.  Outside of Kansas – a team that West Virginia was dismantled by but Texas throttled – both Oklahoma State and Iowa State gave the Mountaineers and Longhorns all they could handle.  The Cowboys fell to both squads by similar deficits (87-84 to WVU and 77-74 to Texas), as well as the Cyclones (70-65 to WVU and 78-72 to Texas).

This game will come down to whether or not the Mountaineers can score over Texas’ stellar defense.  The Longhorns rank in the top 30 nationally on the defensive end in 3P% (25.7%, 17th) and 2P% (43.3%, 30th) – but West Virginia struggles on the offensive end, shooting 34.1% (146th) from beyond the arc and 45.0% (278th) inside.  West Virginia’s play inside, in particular, will be important, considering that is where 54.2% of their total offense comes from.

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What has yet to be seen that will be critical to this game is whether or not West Virginia can string along a full 40 minutes with their new identity.  They were dismantled by Oklahoma State for nearly 29 minutes before being forced to overcome a 19-point deficit, as well as facing an 18-point hole against Oklahoma before losing by four.  If the Mountaineers are able to make Texas uncomfortable early on, they have a shot – but Texas is too good of a team to let that happen.

Prediction: Texas 77 – West Virginia 72