West Virginia is heading to Portland, Oregon, where they are set to face at least one team ranked in the top 25. A win against Purdue on Thanksgiving night, and the Mountaineers could find themselves facing No. 6 Gonzaga.
Through four games, West Virginia has answered some questions, but the picture of how good this team can be will be a lot clearer following their weekend trip to Oregon.
“If I would to say we have a question that needs to be answered it is, how will we respond when somebody punches us in the mouth,” senior guard Erik Stevenson said. “We haven’t been punched in the mouth, at all. In our scrimmages, in our first four games, we haven’t been really knocked out. We’ve been pretty much doing all the hitting.”
Through four games, West Virginia’s toughest test by far was their second game of the season when they traveled to face Pitt in the Backyard Brawl. The Mountaineers certainly passed that test with their 81-56 win. On this road trip though, it is likely Mountaineer fans will be outnumbered. Hopefully West Virginia can take lessons learned from their Pitt experience, as they will be playing teams that are much higher caliber than the Panthers.
Scoring the Basketball
This season, West Virginia has had what is a complete turnaround at the offensive end. Through four games, the Mountaineers are averaging 80.0 points per game, which is tied for third in the Big 12. Last season, the Mountaineers averaged 68.5 points per game on the offensive end, while averaging 73 points through their first four games. The Mountaineers have four players averaging at least 10.0 points per game — Stevenson, Emmitt Matthews, Tre Mitchell, and Joe Toussaint. West Virginia’s depth and their scoring ability will be tested this week. The Mountaineers will have to see if they can continue to shoot 35.6% from three-point range, and if they can continue to have multiple guys contribute on the offensive end.
Consistency From Bigs
West Virginia will be facing a tough test against Purdue in 7-foot-4, Zach Edey. If West Virginia wins and faces Gonzaga, they will see 6-foot-10 Drew Timme. Both Edey and Timme are proven bigs, who rebound and score at a high level. Unfortunately for West Virginia, an area they need to improve is the play they get from their bigs. The trio of Jimmy Bell, James Okonkwo, and Mohamed Wague, have given head coach Bob Huggins different things to work with. However, all three have been struggling to stay out of foul trouble.
Against Pitt, the Mountaineers had to go small for the majority of the first half. If West Virginia has to play 6-foot-9 Tre Mitchell at the five position, like he had to do against Pitt, Edey could take advantage in a big way. This season, Bell is averaging .2 fouls per minute of game action he has seen. Stretched across a 40-minute period, Bell would have 8.0 personal fouls. For Wague it is worse, averaging .22 fouls per minute, and 8.9 fouls per 40 minutes. Okonkwo, .15 fouls per minute, and 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes. If West Virginia wants to answer some questions, keeping their three big men out of foul trouble and on the floor would go a long way.
Rebounding Needs to Improve
The Mountaineers seemed to have put an emphasis on rebounding the ball, but Huggins still feels the Mountaineers are not close to where they need to get to.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Huggins said after West Virginia’s win over Penn last Friday. “We don’t rebound the ball the way we need to rebound the ball. We don’t rebound it defensively the way you need to, and we don’t rebound it offensively the way you need to.”
The Mountaineers will be facing Edey on Thursday, who ranks first in the country in rebounds per game (13.7). Purdue also ranks 21st in the country in rebounding margin, while the Mountaineers rank 165th.
The full bracket for the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament features Duke, Oregon State, Florida, Xavier, Purdue, Portland State, Gonzaga and West Virginia.
Full Bracket Here:
Top Photo by Aaron Parker, Blue Gold Sports