Huggins: Mountaineer lineup might change before tilt with Cowboys

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Head coach previews matchup with Oklahoma State

Recent history indicates that West Virginia’s Tuesday night matchup with Oklahoma State could be a bit of a wild card. 

These squads have trended in different directions over the last two weeks. Oklahoma State (13-12, 3-9) has won three of its last four — including an upset of then-No. 24 Texas Tech Saturday at home — while the Mountaineers (18-7, 6-6) have dropped three in a row, losing to Oklahoma, No. 3 Kansas and No. 1 Baylor in quick succession. 

But it’s the Cowboys’ record in Morgantown that bothers head coach Bob Huggins. Oklahoma State has won three in a row at the WVU Coliseum and is 5-2 all-time.

“I think they’re the concerning thing is, they’re the only Big 12 school with a winning record in Morgantown,” Huggins said.

As the Mountaineers begin a critical six-game stretch to end the regular season — and try to snap their only losing streak of the season — Huggins wants to see improvements in a number of areas. 

Limiting turnovers

No Big 12 team has committed more turnovers this season that WVU. 

The Mountaineers average just over 15 turnovers per game, and they’ve been particularly bad in that statistic in their last two outings, giving possession away 19 times against Kansas and 22 times at Baylor. 

Huggins said bad ball handling — not just bad passing — has led to that recent uptick in turnovers. 

“We’ve been very careless with our passing, but more careless with our ball handling,” Huggins said. “What started the whole thing at Kansas was we mishandled the ball.” 

WVU committed 20 turnovers against Oklahoma State in their first meeting on Jan. 6, but the Cowboys also committed 19 turnovers and made just one of their 20 3-point attempts. The Mountaineers won that game, 55-41. 

Points in the paint

Each loss in this three-game losing skid for West Virginia has had a least one thing in common: the Mountaineers haven’t scored from close range. 

WVU has shot just 40 percent (33-82) from inside the paint in its last three contests. Its 7-18 outing against Baylor marked its fewest shot attempts in the key against a Big 12 opponent this season. 

On top of that, forwards Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe, Gabe Osabuohien and Logan Routt combined for 15 of West Virginia’s 22 turnovers against the Bears. 

Huggins noted that opposing defenses are smothering West Virginia’s post players because the guards aren’t shooting well enough.

“We can’t get them spread,” Huggins said. “It’s not what you run, it’s the people running it, and if they’re not going to make a shot, why guard them?”

In order to get Culver and Tshiebwe back on the right track, Huggins knows West Virginia’s guards will have to draw some attention away from the forwards. 

“We just haven’t made shots,” Huggins said. “The crazy thing is, they have practices where they make virtually everything. It hasn’t translated into the game for some reason.” 

Post scoring has been key for West Virginia, which ranks last in the Big 12 in 3-point field goal percentage. When the Mountaineers shoot 50 percent or better from inside the paint, they’re 6-2 against league opponents. But when they shoot worse than 50 percent, they’re 0-4. 

In the previous meeting against Oklahoma State, WVU shot 55 percent (12-22) from inside the paint.

Lineup changes? 

On last week’s episode of The Bob Huggins Show, the coach of the Mountaineers hinted that he’d make at least one change to his starting lineup before the matchup with No. 1 Baylor. But ultimately, no changes were made. 

That might not be the case against the Cowboys. Huggins said he’s willing to do “whatever helps” to the lineup in order to lift the Mountaineers out of their recent slump. 

“We’ve pretty much had the same starting lineup all year. It could be time for a change, see if that helps,” Huggins said. “We’re probably playing guys too much that shouldn’t play as much as they’re playing, and probably not playing some guys enough that should be playing more.” 

The player most likely to see increased minutes against the Cowboys is junior guard Taz Sherman, who rattled off a season-high 20 points in 22 minutes against Baylor. 

“We’ve got to score the ball, and Taz obviously has shown he can score the ball,” Huggins said. “We’ll go from there.” 

PLAY DESPERATELY 

Huggins has tried to send a message to his players this season: desperate teams are dangerous teams.

WVU has fallen victim to several desperate teams this season, and may be about to face another one in Oklahoma State, but he hopes the Mountaineers will match the intensity of their opponent after dropping three straight.

“We’ve just go to play again, man,” Huggins said. “We’re not the same team… We haven’t played with the tenacity that we played with before.” 

The Mountaineers take on the Cowboys Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum. Watch the game on ESPN2. 

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