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Bock: Can UAB Expose West Virginia’s Issues on Saturday?

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This West Virginia team is confusing.

The Mountaineers come in this week with a record of 9-1, receiving vote points in the latest AP poll. Looking at their stats, they don’t look like a one-loss team in mid-December with a couple of good wins.

WVU’s Issues (as of Dec. 16):

  • Free-Throw Shooting (60.3 percent) – 352 in the country
  • Defensive Rebounding (21.2 per game) – 353 in the country
  • Need a Consistent Third-Scorer (Taz Sherman / Sean McNeil score 48.2 percent of points)

If you can rebound, not turnover the ball and hit your wide-open three’s, you can beat this West Virginia team. The Mountaineers have won their nine games this season by turning people over and not allowing team to shoot well from deep.

West Virginia’s only loss to Marquette was a loss because the Golden Eagles didn’t turn the ball over as much as the other WVU opponents, and they hit their three’s. Eastern Kentucky only gave West Virginia a game because they shot 14-of-29 from three.

Can UAB expose West Virginia’s issues on Saturday?

Well, UAB sure has a great opportunity to take advantage of this being the Mountaineers’ first true road game. The Blazers are 9-2, with notable wins over Saint Louis and New Mexico. UAB won those games by out-rebounding their opponents and shooting well from three. The Blazers have had 40-plus rebounding games, four times this season. West Virginia has reached 40 rebounds zero times, having 38 against Elon.

Not many teams can go win at an opponents home site and get out-rebounded and miss 40 percent of their free-throws. If West Virginia gets out-rebounded and shoots 60 percent from the line and wins on the road against a potential NCAA Tournament team, then I give up.

WVU can’t continue to lose these battles, free-throws and rebounding are arguably the most important stats in basketball. They may still be able to get away with this with home Big 12 Conference games, but they will struggle mightily on the road. UAB has a really good chance to expose this maturing West Virginia team.

Luckily for West Virginia, win or lose, this game will be very crucial for their development as a team. This is the first time for Malik Curry, Dimon Carrigan, Pauly Paulicap, Kobe Johnson, Seth Wilson, Jamel King and James Okonkwo that they will not hear the cheers from the West Virginia faithful during a game. The team as a whole will gain true road experience together, which needed to happen before they travel to Austin on New Year’s Day. As for finding their identity, this will be really helpful for West Virginia.

For West Virginia to gain the road experience and win, they’re going to have to shoot the free-throws well. They may be able to afford losing the rebounding battle, since they’re good at offensive rebounds, but they absolutely need to shoot well from the charity strike. Players like Gabe Osabuohien, Keddy Johnson and Paulicap will have to bring the energy to the team. West Virginia cannot just go through the motions like they did last Sunday against Kent State.

It would not surprise me if West Virginia lost, but it also wouldn’t shock me if they won. This WVU team finds ways to win that are almost impossible to explain. Good teams find ways to win on the box score, great teams steal games they don’t deserve to win, which is what West Virginia has done so far this season.

(Top Photo: Kelsie LeRose / WVSN)

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Ethan Bock is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in journalism at WVU. He currently is an intern with the Final Fourcast podcast. Ethan has covered WVU football and men’s basketball for the last year. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio.

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