CLEVELAND – West Virginia (10-1) is in a top 25 clash this Sunday at the Cleveland Classic inside Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse for a noon tip-off against the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1). The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 9-7. However, all seven of the Mountaineers wins have come in the last eight meetings.
The Buckeyes came into the season ranked 18th according to the AP poll. An early-season win over No. 10 Villanova began Ohio State’s climb up the rankings, then a 74-49 dismantling of then seventh-ranked North Carolina and in their last outing was a win over sixth-ranked Kentucky.
Six-foot-nine 270-pound junior center Kaleb Wesson leads the team in scoring with 13.9 points per game and averages a team-leading 9.0 rebounds per game. He has four double-doubles on the season.
"I think we're fortunate we got a couple of 270 pounders ourselves," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "He's not going to bully us, you, know, but he's a very skilled guy. Not only does he step out and shoot it but he steps out and passes it. He really does a good job of passing the ball."
Second leading scorer Duane Washington Jr (So. G 6-3, 190) put up 18 points against North Carolina and then 14 in the win over Penn State before sitting two games due to a rib injury. In the first game during his absence, Ohio State lost on the road to a struggling Minnesota team but was able to bounce back in a win against Southeast Missouri State before making his return against Kentucky in a 14 minute and eight-point effort.
Wesson’s counterpart, Kyle Young (Jr. F 6-8, 205) is averaging 8.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Also, he has three double-doubles on the year.
Ohio State has been efficient on both ends of the floor, ranking among the best in the NCAA.
FG%: 49.1 (17)
3PT%: 40.9% (8)
FG%: 35.2% (5)
2PT%: 38.9% (2)
"They really make shots," said Huggins. "We looked at a deal the other day when they get step-in shots, they've made 72% of them."
West Virginia is ninth in the NCAA in defensive field goal percentage (36.2%) and fourth in three-point percentage.
On the offensive end of the floor, the Mountaineers have struggled to find any consistency. They get open looks, but as easy as it sounds, it’s been about making shots. West Virginia as been getting open looks along the perimeter but have been unable to connect. However, Sean McNeil has been heating up as of late hitting 47.1% from behind the arc.
The frontcourt has been an intricate part of the offense behind Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, both nearly averaging double-doubles on the year. Tshiebwe leads the team in scoring with 12.9 points per game while Culver is second at 11.4 points per game. The duo is not only one and two in scoring but dishing it out to open teammates, along with Gabe Osabuohien has made West Virginia more versatile in its offense.
With the frontcourt's ability to pass from the wing and the high post, it’s opened up the paint for the wings and the guards. Taz Sherman is beginning to find his groove within the offense and posted his first double-figure game in the win over Youngstown State with 10-points.
Two X-factors for the Mountaineers are Jermaine Haley and Emmitt Matthews Jr, both have posted 28-point games in their career.
Undoubtedly this is West Virginia’s biggest test of the season and as cliché, as it sounds, it’s going to come down to making shots, which has been a thorn in the Mountaineers side. However, their saving grace has been on the offensive glass. If they’re not hitting their shots, they must dominate the glass.