Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Texas guard Javan Felix (3) leads a fast break against Oklahoma State during the Longhorns’ 87-68 win Tuesday.
AUSTIN, Texas — The most striking element of Saturday night’s West Virginia-Texas rematch is how the profiles of both teams have improved since the first meeting in Morgantown.
Texas used that 80-69 win on Jan. 13 as a springboard into Big 12 title contention, whereas West Virginia—still reeling that night from a loss to Oklahoma State 48 hours earlier—repaired its psyche enough to become an NCAA at-large candidate.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins views the second meeting with No. 19 Texas as “a great chance to move up in the Big 12 standings, and a great chance to move up in the RPI.” Leaning on history to convey how close his team is to reaching its postseason goal, Huggins said only five or six Big 12 teams have had an RPI in the 50s and been left out of the NCAA field.
West Virginia’s RPI entering Saturday was 66, substantially better than the high-80s mark it brought into the first game against Texas. Huggins said his team’s mindset has improved as much as its RPI.
“I’m not trying go make an excuse, but I think we had a hangover” in the first meeting, Huggins said. “The guys had put so much in (the Oklahoma State game) and thought they should have won the game, and I don’t think we bounced back very well.”
Indeed, Texas dominated from the midpoint of the first half, eventually building a 21-point lead before WVU made the final score respectable. But the Mountaineers have played defense more to their coach’s liking in the interim.
“We’re better because our understanding is better,” Huggins said. “(The players) have been able to experience more.”
Tipoff: Saturday, 8 p.m. in Austin (Longhorn Network)
Records: The Longhorns (19-5, 8-3) dominated WVU 80-69 on Jan. 13, part of a seven-game league winning streak that included a triumph over Kansas. … West Virginia (15-10, 7-5) has zoomed into NCAA contention by winning four of five games.
RPIs: Texas is No. 22 and WVU is No. 66.
Coach: The rumors of Rick Barnes’ demise were exaggerated as Barnes (579-294 overall) has lifted Texas back into Big 12 title contention. Texas is headed to its 15th NCAA berth in 16 seasons. His record since coming to Austin in 1998-99 stands at a robust 377-160.
Texas top players: Javan Felix (12.4 points per game) sank career-high six 3-pointers in a 27-point effort against Oklahoma State on Tuesday night. The fullback-shaped point guard scored 19 on 8-of-13 shooting against WVU in the first meeting. “He scores off the bounce, he’s a good 3-point shooter, he’s strong and he’s got a great base,” Huggins said. “He can play point or he can play off the ball.” … Bulky sophomore center Cameron Ridley (10.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks) had a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double in Morgantown. However, he’s only 13-of-36 from the floor in his last five games. … Leading scorer Jonathan Holmes (13.1 points, 7.3 rebounds) sat out Tuesday’s 87-68 win over OSU with a knee injury. HIs status for the WVU game remains unclear. Huggins anticipates Holmes being available: “We heal everybody. We’re the Earnest Angley of basketball.” … True freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor (12.5 points, 3.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds) has been on an 18.8 scoring binge the past five games.
WVU roster notes: Eron Harris (17.4 points) was ejected late in Monday’s win over Iowa State for a flagrant 2 foul. That appears to be the extent of his punishment, meaning he should be available for Texas. The sophomore endured his worst performance of the season (six points on 3-of-11 shooting) in the first meeting with the Longhorns. … With Marcus Smart suspended for three games and facing PR deductions, Juwan Staten (18.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.9 rebounds) might have become the frontrunner for Big 12 player of the year honors. He was among the lone bright spots against UT lat month, scoring 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting and committing only one turnover. … Terry Henderson (12.2 points) has made only 5-of-20 shots in his last three road games. … Remi Dibo (7.8 points, 41-percent 3-point shooter) sank a season-high six 3s against Iowa State. … Devin Williams (8.4 points, 7.0 rebounds) hasn’t scored in double figures in nine games and his field-goal percent has dipped to 40 percent.
Line: Texas favored by 6.
Prediction: Texas 77-70