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Mountaineers Preparing for Kansas Rematch as if it Were a Chess Match

Cody Nespor

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – One of the unique things about the 10-team Big 12 conference is that every team plays every other team two times every season, once at home and again on the road.

This gives every team the chance to play an opponent the first time, learn about them first-hand and then make adjustments for the rematch. The No. 14 Mountaineers are 1-1 in Big 12 rematches so far this season, dropping a rematch at Texas Tech and winning the other against Kansas State. Their next game is a rematch with No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks at home on Wednesday night.

Kansas defeated WVU in the Big 12 opener 60-53 in a game where halftime adjustments made by KU coach Bill Self seemed to make all the difference. WVU players are expecting adjustments by both teams to play a factor in this game.

“It’s a chess match, basketball’s always like that in one way or another,” sophomore guard Jordan McCabe explained. “They’re making move, we’re making moves. We’re more confident in the fact that we’ve got Coach (Bob) Huggins playing chess for us than another coach, whoever that may be. We believe in that and drink the kool aid and just keep moving.”

Sophomore wing Emmitt Matthew Jr. said rematching a team is almost like playing a completely new team because of how different the gameplans always are.

“Every team has to adjust, but also we have to adjust so it’s kind of like you’re playing a new team with the same guys,” Matthews said. “You never know what you’re going to get, they might throw something different at us but we’re going to throw something different at them. That’s really all it is when you’re playing the second time around…It’s just a matter of switching it up every time you play and making sure your gameplan is ready.”

McCabe said West Virginia has been expecting teams to adjust in ways that counter the size advantage WVU has with big men Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver.

“They’re trying to find ways to combat our size, combat how we score, a large portion of our points and production comes from the block,” McCabe said. “That’s to be expected in the Big 12 with the great coaches that we have that we go against each night. But, we’re working in the opposite as well.”

In the first meeting with the Jayhawks, Huggins’s gameplan worked wonders in the first half, with the Mountaineers holding a 10-point lead at halftime. In-game adjustments made by Self, however, lead the Jayhawks to the win.

“They made the adjustments, but I think we just didn’t stick to the whole gameplan the whole way through,” Matthews said. “If we would’ve stuck to the gameplan the whole way through we probably would’ve won that game…So we’ll stick to the gameplan this time and see how it goes.”

With Wednesday’s game being at the WVU Coliseum McCabe is expecting the team’s energy to be better.

“They made adjustments coming out of halftime, we were a little bit flat,” McCabe said. “We’ll just have to figure out a way to kind of maintain energy. It’s generally been our energy and how we maintain it or don’t maintain it through games. We have little lulls, especially on the road obviously, and we need to try and nip that right now because there’re no home games in March, at least come tournament time.”

The rematch with Kansas is not just an opportunity for the Mountaineers to avenge their earlier loss, it is also a chance for WVU to climb in the Big 12 standings. West Virginia currently sits in third place behind only Kansas and Baylor, both of whom they play this week.

Tip-off from inside the WVU Coliseum will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday with the game being broadcast on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

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Cody is currently a second-year graduate student at West Virginia University studying journalism. His graduate research focuses on the effects newspaper closures have on local communities. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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