After six weeks since the start of the 2020-21 college basketball season, the West Virginia Mountaineers will finally be able to put to the test their greatest weakness from a season ago, playing Big 12 games on the road.
Last season, the Mountaineers looked like two different teams when playing in the WVU Coliseum versus playing on the road. The 2019-20 Mountaineers went 14-2 when they could sleep in their own beds and only 4-8 in true road games. With two road games in three days upcoming for WVU against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, it will be the perfect time to see if the team’s road woes will carry over into this season as well.
WVU’s first test of this road stint will be a game in Norman, Oklahoma against the Oklahoma Sooners (5-2, 1-1 Big 12) on Saturday. The Sooners defeated WVU in both conference meetings a year ago and the two teams were scheduled to play a third time in the opening round of the canceled Big 12 tournament.
Last season, OU was powered by a big-three of Kristian Doolitte (15.8 points per game), Austin Reaves (14.7) and Brady Manek (14.4). Despite Doolittle’s graduation, Reaves and Manek are still putting up impressive numbers while the rest of the scoring is spread more evenly among the Sooners’ roster.
Reaves (15.9) and Manek (14.6) are still the team’s leading scorers, but five other players are now averaging at least seven points per game. Last season, only one player besides Doolitte, Reaves and Manek scored that much.
The Sooners have not played a game since Dec. 22, a loss to Texas Tech, but they are catching WVU at a rough time for the Mountaineers. On Friday, WVU announced that all-conference big man Oscar Tshiebwe was stepping away from the team and coach Bob Huggins said he would not return this season. Despite this, Huggins said he feels confident the Mountaineers will be ready to play Saturday.
“We’ve got great guys,” Huggins said Friday morning. “They were all there yesterday so they know what the gameplan is, they know what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it.”
Tshiebwe’s departure came just days after it was revealed that freshman big man Isaiah Cottrell would miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles, depleting WVU’s frontcourt. With less available forwards, that could make the Mountaineers vulnerable against a versatile big man like the 6-foot-9 Manek.
“I think he’s a stretch-four and that’s how they’re playing at the next level,” Huggins said of Manek. “They’re not playing with power forwards. You don’t see the Danny Fortson’s, my guy. You just don’t see those kinds of guys anymore. He’s not a back to the basket guy and his release is as quick probably as anybody’s in the country.”
Manek leads the Sooners in three-point shooting, 18 of 41 (43.9%) and is also second on the team in rebounding, 4.4 per game. He scored 26 total points in two games against the Mountaineers last season.
WVU will be looking for just its third win in Norman since joining the Big 12 when the Mountaineers and Sooners tip-off at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Lloyd Noble Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.