West Virginia Meets No. 1 Baylor
Waco, TX – The West Virginia Mountaineers (18-6, 6-5) are coming off consecutive losses for the first time this season and it doesn’t get any easier as they face the top team in the country, the Baylor Bears (22-1, 11-0), inside the Ferrell Center Saturday at 4:00 pm on ESPN+.
The Bears lone loss on the season occurred in the final seconds to Washington at the Armed Forces Classic in Anchorage, Alaska in their second game of the season. Currently, Baylor is on a 21-game winning streak, that includes AP Top 25 nonconference wins over Villanova (15), Butler (19), and just sitting out of the AP Poll, Arizona, along with a 12-point win at Kansas.
“They share the ball. They play together,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. “I’ve said a lot here of late that defensively, I think they do a terrific job. This is far and away the best man to man defensive team we’ve seen all year.”
“He’s (Baylor head coach Scott Drew) got a guy in (Baylor guard Mark) Vital, who can guard anybody. He can guard a seven-footer, he can guard a five-foot-six guy,” later added Huggins. “And so, they’re able to switch more things in that there, whatever he is, power forward, center or whatever you want to list him as, can guard anybody. And really, that’s their team. I think their whole team can switch and guard and I think that makes it a lot easier for them. You look at (Baylor forward Freddie) Gillespie and Vital, I mean, those are two guys that can guard anybody on the floor and guard them very well.”
Offensively, Baylor is led by two of the top 10 scorers in the Big 12. Jared Butler (So. G 6-3, 190) leads the team averaging 15.0 points per game, placing him sixth in the league and Macio Teague (Jr. G 6-3 195), averaging 14.4 points per game ranking ninth in the conference, is averaging 16.7 points the last six games.
Despite Butler and Teague’s success, Huggins believes Vital’s role is crucial to the Bears success.
"He’s the key to their team. He gets the hard rebounds. He sets the screens. He penetrates and pitches. He gets every loose ball. I mean, he gets every single loose ball. That doesn’t happen very often. He’s so unselfish. I think, his unselfishness spreads throughout the team,” stated Huggins.
As for West Virginia, Huggins said they had a good practice on Thursday, “not great but good” he explained.
However, the Mountaineers are looking for answers on the offensive end of the floor. Most of West Virginia’s success has come in the post with leading scorers Derek Culver (So. F 6-10, 255) and Oscar Tshiebwe (Fr. F 6-9, 258) while the guards are struggling to find their shot around the perimeter.
West Virginia is coming off their first home loss of the season to third-ranked Kansas where they struggled to get off a shot in the final minutes of the game and only went 8-28 from the field in the second half while committing 11 turnovers, nine coming in the final eight minutes.
The Mountaineers have been searching for some consistent guard play and someone to hit shots. Nonetheless, along with poor shooting, West Virginia’s downfall on the road has been giving up big runs early.
If West Virginia can remain the aggressor for 40 minutes and hit some shots down the stretch, they could pull off the upset. However, they haven’t shown the ability to do that this season.
This game could be a turning point for the Mountaineers. A loss could send this team into a tailspin or depending on the fight of the team, and not necessarily the outcome, West Virginia could rally and finish the regular season strong heading into the postseason.