Feb. 20—MORGANTOWN, W.. Va. — Welcome to the Frank Erwin Center, the home (for now) for the No. 12 Texas Longhorns, who are expected to move into its new arena—the $338 million Moody Center—to begin the 2022-23 season.
What we can predict off the bat for today's West Virginia-Texas game is you may see a fair share of 3-pointers taken. Among Big 12 teams, only Baylor averages more 3-point makes per game than Texas and no team in the conference averages more than the Longhorns' 25 3-point attempts per game.
Along those same lines, No. 13 West Virginia is slowly beginning to carve out its own place in the Big 12 and school history in shooting from behind the arc. The Mountaineers are currently second—behind Baylor—in making 36.9 % of their 3-point shots.
"I think personnel dictates a lot of that, " WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. "You try to use your personnel in what you feel like is going to be their best chance of being successful. It's been a very integral part of what we do, but it's personnel dictated."
That 36.9 % is currently seventh-best in school history. In terms of WVU teams coached by Huggins, it's the second-best percentage he's had with the Mountaineers. You'll never guess the leader. It wasn't the Final Four team or any of the Sweet 16 teams. Instead, it was the 2013-14 team that lost to Georgetown in the first round of the NIT.
That team, led by Eron Harris (89 threes, 42.2 %) before he transferred to Michigan State, connected on 38.1 % of its shots from behind the arc and averaged 7.8 threes per game.
This WVU team is averaging 7.3 threes per game, which is the third-most under Huggins at WVU. Again, you may never guess the leader. It was the 2017-18 Sweet 16 team (8.7 per game) led by Jevon Carter (77 3-pointers), Beetle Bolden (69), Daxter Miles Jr. (61) and Lamont West (55). It's the only WVU team to ever have more than three players make at least 50 3-pointers in a season, and, yes, that does include John Beilein's teams at WVU.
The interesting story with the Mountaineers' 3-point shooting is it sort of comes with an asterisk, and unfortunately that asterisk is former forward Oscar Tshiebwe.
With the 6-foot-9 Tshiebwe, along with 6-10 Derek Culver in WVU's lineup last season, the Mountaineers had one of their worst 3-point shooting teams. In 2019-20, WVU was dead last in the Big 12 in making only 155 3-pointers and shooting just 28.6 % from behind the arc.
In the 10 games Tshiebwe and Culver played together this season, WVU seemed to be destined to follow that same trend. The Mountaineers were just 54 of 178 (30.3 %) from 3-point range in the 10 games with Tshiebwe.
WVU has now played 10 games this season without Tshiebwe, who transferred to Kentucky, and has gone 92 of 218 (42.2 %) from 3-point range. Without Tshiebwe, WVU is averaging 9.2 threes per game. With Tshiebwe, the Mountaineers averaged 5.4 per game this season.
With a shortened regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this bunch won't really be able to approach any type of school 3-point records. At the very least, it's interesting to see how quickly a bad shooting team can turn things around.
The question asked of Huggins: Does the 3-point shot make the game better ?
"It's all in the eyes of the beholder and what you like to see, " Huggins responded. "If you like to see defense, it's probably not your style of choice. If you like to see high-scoring games, then you probably enjoy it."
As for today's showdown with Texas, here's what you need to know:
TV: ABC (Comcast 4, HD 804 ; DirecTV 4) for the 3 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: Texas is a 3-point favorite.
WHAT DOES BOB HUGGINS HAVE TO SAY ?
The WVU head coach stressed how difficult this particular road trip will be for the Mountaineers. Not just in terms of playing three games in a six-day period (Texas on Saturday, at TCU on Tuesday, then at Baylor on Thursday) but also in terms of the adversity the state of Texas faces at the moment and WVU trying to navigate through it all.
"There's a lot of issues, " Huggins said. "You have a situation with the planes, obviously. You have a situation with the hotels. In some cases, I think you have some situations with the arenas. They've got state-wide issues with power, heat, water, all kinds of issues. I think it's a kind of wait-and-see situation."
WVU will not travel back to Morgantown in between the games and will bus from Austin to Forth Worth and then again from Fort Worth to Waco in a sort of decades-gone-by way for major Division I college teams to get around.
"It's sort of reminiscent of when we had to bus up to Buffalo for the (2017) NCAA Tournament, because we couldn't fly in, " Huggins said.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS WEST VIRGINIA (14-6, 7-4 Big 12)
F — Derek Culver, 6-10, jr., 15.1 ppg, 10.4 rpg F — Jalen Bridges, 6-7, fr., 4.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg F — Emmitt Matthews Jr., 6-7, jr., 7.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg G — Deuce McBride, 6-2, soph., 16.3 ppg, 4.7 apg G — Sean McNeil, 6-3, jr., 11.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg TEXAS (13-5, 7-4 Big 12)
F — Jericho Sims, 6-10, sr., 7.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg F — Greg Brown, 6-9, fr., 11.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg G — Courtney Ramey, 6-3, jr., 13.2 ppg, 3.0 rpg G — Matt Coleman III, 6-2, sr., 12.7 ppg, 4.1 apg G — Andrew Jones, 6-4, jr, 15.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg PREDICTION TIME This one just doesn't feel good for the Mountaineers. Both teams haven't played since last Saturday, so there may be a little rust to shake off. The thing here, though, is Texas was just 4 of 19 from 3-point range in the first game against WVU back on Jan. 9. Playing at home, I think those numbers will improve.
WVU is a solid 8-3 away from the Coliseum this season, so this won't be a blowout. That Jan. 9 game came down the final seconds before Texas pulled out a 72-70 win. Both teams are tied for fourth in the Big 12 standings, so it is a crucial game for both schools.
I do think Brown is a tough match-up for the Mountaineers. He had 12 points and 14 rebounds in the first meeting. It comes down to shooting in this one and Texas is at home, so I'll go with the Longhorns to cover, 81-76.
Justin's season picks against the spread: 7-10-1.