Offense will be at a premium when No. 17 Texas hosts West Virginia on Saturday afternoon in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams in Austin, Texas.
The two teams are among the best in the nation in scoring defense, with the Longhorns leading Division I by allowing just 51.3 points per game (almost three points less per game than second-place Jacksonville) and the Mountaineers ranking 29th at 59.8 points per outing. That means every possession will be important as the teams look to get off to a winning start in what is expected to be a gauntlet during conference play.
In all, eight of the 10 teams in the Big 12 rank in the top 49 in the nation scoring defense — and that doesn’t include No. 6 Kansas, which is 145th in scoring defense through its first 11 games. Five of the conference’s squads are ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll — with two others, including West Virginia, just outside the rankings.
Texas (10-2) returns to the court after Tuesday’s dominating 78-33 win over Incarnate Word that stretched its overall win streak to four games and its record at home to 9-0. Twelve players saw the court and 11 of them scored for the Longhorns, led by 14 points each from Tre Mitchell and Dylan Disu.
Disu also grabbed 11 rebounds for Texas, posting his first double-double for the Longhorns. Incarnate Word’s 33 points marked a tie for the fourth-lowest total Texas has allowed since 1949-50.
The Longhorns have held seven of their first 12 opponents below 50 points and improved to 10-0 this year when holding their opponent below 60 points.
“I think from my leadership standpoint, just making sure the guys understand we’re not back to ease into things. There’s some urgency around here,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “I think elite people and elite players and elite programs understand that. There’s no wasted days.”
Almost all of Texas’ wins have been against teams that it should dominate, which leaves plenty of questions about the Longhorns as they begin their most important stretch of the season.
“Everybody is well aware, self-aware, team-aware that it’s time for us to turn the corner and get this thing going,” Mitchell said.
The Mountaineers (11-1) head to Austin on the heels of an 82-52 win at home over Youngstown State on Dec. 22, followed by a nine-day holiday break. West Virginia was led by Sean McNeil’s season-best 23 points in the victory, all of which came in the second half. Taz Sherman added 16 and Malik Curry had 12 points.
The Mountaineers sleepwalked through most of the first half in the win, taking their first lead five minutes before halftime and turning it on after the break.
“We didn’t bring a whole lot of enthusiasm to start the game,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “It took us a half to kind of get going and start to play with a little bit of enthusiasm.”
The Mountaineers, winners of eight straight, have held their opponents below 60 points for six straight games, the most since the 2010 Final Four team reached that mark.
Huggins said his team has to do a better job to beat Texas.
“It seems like the older guys, JB (forward Jalen Bridges), Taz and those guys, are more in-tune with what I’m telling them,” Huggins explained. “Those other guys have been wherever they’ve been, and I don’t think there’s the urgency to continue to be one of the premiere programs in the country.”
–Field Level Media