MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — In dissecting two losses this season by a combined five points, West Virginia’s coaching staff emphasizes one commonality.
Deflections, or rather, the lack of them.
The No. 7 Mountaineers and their nonstop pressure defense typically produce nearly 50 deflections per game. Yet they managed only 39 in a Nov. 25 loss to Temple and 32 in Tuesday’s 77-76 overtime defeat at Texas Tech.
“We didn’t get any deflections, so we didn’t get any live-ball turnovers,” said coach Bob Huggins. “It’s hard to deflect the pass if you don’t bring your hands above your head. Texas Tech threw it out of the trap before there actually was a trap, but if you get your hands up, they’ve still got to throw it over your hands, which gives you time to make rotations. ”
Huggins’ squad seeks to regain its edge Saturday against visiting TCU at Morgantown, W. Va.
Though both teams stand 12-2 overall and 1-1 in Big 12 play, West Virginia was picked to challenge Kansas for the conference title while coaches slotted the Horned Frogs to finish last. Under Jamie Dixon , however, TCU’s rebuilding effort shifted into warp speed, resulting in a No. 30 RPI entering the weekend. That’s 23 spots higher than the Mountaineers.
Dixon, who owned a 12-7 record against West Virginia during a 13-year tenure as Pittburgh’s coach, should expect plenty of intensity from fans — as well as the Mountaineers’ defense, which leads the nation by forcing 24.8 turnovers.
“Their turnover numbers are dramatic, to say the least,” Dixon said. “We’ve been working on a lot of drills and try and improve in that area. We’ve been a low-turnover team all year until the last two games. ”
Those last two games (an 86-80 loss to Kansas and a 60-57 win over Oklahoma) saw the Horned Frogs commit 31 turnovers. Dixon is justifiably concerned about the adaptability of a backcourt rotation that features true freshmen Jaylen Fisher and Desmond Bane, and Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson — none of whom have never faced the Mountaineers’ press.
Fisher has started 13 of his first 14 games after becoming the highest-rated signee in TCU history at No. 34 nationally by ESPN. He’s scoring 9.7 points per game and dishing a team-high 4.4 assists.
Robinson (11.2 points, 2.0 steals) and the drastically improved 6-foot-11 Vlad Brodziansky (11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds) are the top scorers, while 6-7 junior guard Kenrich Williams (9.8 points, 9.8 rebounds) is a double-double threat after recovering from last season’s knee injury.
Perhaps nothing speaks to TCU’s talent infusion more than the diminished roles of seniors Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn, frontline regulars during past seasons who are combining to average 21 minutes.
West Virginia, 9-0 against the Horned Frogs since joining the Big 12 five years ago, is paced by forwards Esa Ahmad (12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds) and Nate Adrian (10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds) and the guard tandem of Jevon Carter (10.3 points, 3.4 steals) and Daxter Miles (10.1 points, 1.7 rebounds).
Deflections are key to the Mountaineers winning games, something they weren’t able to get a handle on during the team’s two losses this season. TCU, who many coaches expected to finish bottom, have shifted their rebuilding efforts into overdrive, but history is on the side of the Mountaineers who are 9-0 against the Horned Frogs since joining the Big 12 five years ago and will keep that streak alive.
West Virgina, 92, TCU 71