Sound the alarm. The master thieves of the NCAA hardwood roll into the Erwin Center on Saturday, and Texas better keep a close eye on its belongings. Namely, the basketball.
Tenth-ranked West Virginia, is doing things defensively even it hasn’t done before. Press Virginia leads the nation in turnovers forced per game (24.6), turnover margin (+13.9) and total steals (207). Through 16 games, the Mountaineers have created turnovers on an astounding 32.6 percent of their opponents’ possessions.
They also don’t give the ball away often, just 10.8 times per game, and they’re 12th in the NCAA in assists. Small wonder the Mountaineers top the country by a wide margin in scoring margin at +28.3.
“It’s difficult to prepare for because you rarely see that style any more, not like 30 years ago when a lot of teams pressed,” said Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood.
Top-ranked Baylor couldn’t handle the heat. The Bears, averaging 12 turnovers, made 29 and were blown out 89-68 in Morgantown on Tuesday, one day after being elevated to No. 1 for the first time in school history.
“They have guards who have been doing it for three years. That’s why they’re so darn good … and keep getting better,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew.
Jevon Carter is fifth in NCAA Division I play with 52 steals this season, and he’s one of four juniors or seniors in the starting lineup, unusual for a Power Five program. All four have 20 or more steals apiece.
“West Virginia has a tremendous press, a unique press,” said Texas coach Shaka Smart. “They’re terrific at trapping. The key is their connectivity. When they force live-ball turnovers, they do a phenomenal job of turning them into layups or open shots.
“You’ve got to have poise, understand spacing and keep the ball in the middle of the floor. I also think when you’re playing an aggressive team, you’ve got to attack it with aggressiveness.”
That is a tall task for anyone, least of all a young, stumbling Longhorns team that just had one of its best ballhandlers, Tevin Mack, suspended for a violation of team rules.
“It’s not your typical zone press where you trap in a corner and do it off a made shot. They pressure all over,” Underwood said. “You need multiple ballhandlers on the floor, keen awareness and the ability to quickly pass and move the ball.”
There’s another thing that makes Press Virginia different.
“They do it for 40 minutes,” said TCU coach Jamie Dixon. “For sheer frequency, you’re going to have a higher number of turnovers.”
Dixon did note that WVU has more success with the physical nature of its press at home. On the road, the Mountaineers get hit with a lot more fouls for reaching and grabbing.
A few coaches singled out a frontcourt player — 6-foot-9 senior Nathan Adrian — as a key to the Mountaineers’ pressure because of his active style and long reach that disrupts passing lanes.
“Nathan understands angles,” Huggins said. “He makes great rotations and does a good job guarding smaller guys. I think I’m playing him too much (a team-high 28.2 minutes), but it’s hard to take him out of the game.”
Huggins is measured in assessing his team’s 14-2 start.
“A lot of our numbers are up from last year, but we got away from the fundamentals for a while,” he said. “We’re starting to get back to the basics. We’ve got some improving to do.”
Bank shots: Four Big 12 players — Kansas guards Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, Baylor forward Johnathan Motley and Iowa State guard Monte’ Morris — made the 25-man midseason cutdown for the Wooden Award. … Underwood on Morris’ 30-point, five-rebound, five-assist, four-steal game against his Cowboys: “That was his show. We were just a puppet in it.” … Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said guard Jordan Woodard, who missed nearly a month with a leg injury, is fine after playing 24 minutes against Kansas and “just needs to shake off some rust.”
BIG 12 POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;W-L (conf.);Next opponent;Comment
1. (2) Kansas;15-1 (4-0);vs. Oklahoma State (10-6), Sat.;Speaks volumes that Jayhawks’ 15-game winning streak is only sixth longest in Bill Self’s reign.
2. (3) West Virginia;14-2 (3-1);at Texas (7-9), Sat.;Mountaineers have five guys with 20 or more steals. Some teams don’t have anybody with that many.
3. (1) Baylor;15-1 (3-1);at Kansas State (13-3), Sat.;That thud you heard was top-ranked Bears’ 21-point crash landing in Morgantown. Will it carry over?
4. (4) Iowa State;11-4 (3-1);at TCU (13-3), Sat.;PG Monte’ Morris past two games: a combined 52 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists, 7 steals, zero turnovers.
5. (5) Texas Tech;13-3 (2-2);at Oklahoma (6-9), Sat.;Red Raiders own 15-game home winning streak dating to last season; this is one they need on road.
6. (6) Kansas State;13-3 (2-2);vs. Baylor (15-1), Sat.;Potential ice storm and ornery Wildcats to greet Bears. Cats just four points from being unbeaten.
7. (7) TCU;13-3 (2-2);vs. Iowa State (11-4), Sat.;Jamie Dixon on beating Texas: ‘It’s big. They have their own network. What else do you need to know?’
8. (8) Oklahoma State;10-6 (0-4);at Kansas (15-1), Sat.;Jeffrey Carroll only player to be ranked in Big 12’s top eight in scoring, rebounding and FG shooting.
9. (9) Texas;7-9 (1-3);vs. West Virginia (14-2), Sat.;For those wondering … Longhorns finished with losing record (16-18) as recently as four years ago.
10. (10) Oklahoma;6-9 (0-4);vs. Texas Tech (13-3), Sat.;Sooners have dropped seven in a row. Lon Kruger, 590-game winner, isn’t sure he’s ever done that.