It’s another Big Monday on the West Virginia campus, as Texas (10-11, 2-6 Big 12) continues the parade of Big 12 teams making their first sojourn to Morgantown. Both teams are treading water near the bottom of the conference standings and in desperation mode to turnaround their seasons.
West Virginia (10-11, 3-5) has dropped three of four league games at the Coliseum, including a 61-56 loss to Kansas in last week’s Big Monday matchup. Tonight’s game features a 9 p.m. tip on ESPN, with radio coverage launching an hour earlier on MetroNews affiliates throughout the state. Until then, here’s a five-point primer on the game:
1. Longhorns, long memories
For WVU, tonight’s game is a rematch of the “Find a Way” comeback in Austin. Recall that quasi-magical night, the Mountaineers trailing 47-37 with 3:14 left in their first Big 12 road game, when Kevin Noreen sank a 3-pointer to spur a 13-0 run.
Though UT’s Jonathan Holmes sank a last-second 3-pointer to force overtime, WVU prevailed 57-53, delivering a gut-punch few saw coming. It remains one of the Longhorns’ most damaging discouraging losses of the season, which says a lot for a team that’s 0-3 in OT games and just 1-5 in games decided by six points or less
“They’re going to come back like they want some revenge,” surmised Gary Browne, “but we’re going to play at home and we have to protect our home floor.”
The Longhorns certainly haven’t forgotten that first meeting, as forward Ioannis Papapetrou noted just 36 hours ago: “They came here and won a tough game. So we have to go there and get one back.”
2. McClellan back on track
Sheldon McClellan has reached double-figures scoring 19 times in 21 games this season, and among the exceptions was his nine-point output against West Virginia. A putrid 2-of-13 from the floor that night in Austin, McClellan’s was 0-of-6 on 3-pointers, with struggles that extended to the free-throw line where the 79-percent foul shooter made only 5-of-10.
McClellan played only one minute in the ensuing 82-62 loss at Iowa State, as Rick Barnes showed that no player on the Texas roster is beyond benching. “He went in, first play of the game, gave up an offensive rebound,” Barnes said. “We’re not going to continue to talk about coaching effort.”
In the five-game span since his benching, McClellan has responded with 16.6 points on 43-percent shooting.
On Monday morning, Barnes said McClellan has superstar potential “when he’s dialed in,” but the guard’s season shooting accuracy — 37 percent overall and 29 percent from 3-point range — reveals that’s not always the case.
“His shot selection hasn’t been good because he hasn’t done his work early (in the possession), using screens,” Barnes said. “When he’s lazy, when he’s floating around, he’s not ready, and that’s when he struggles.”
3. Under the boards
Among the prominent takeaways from the first meeting, Barnes referenced West Virginia grabbing 17 offensive rebounds and out-rebounding Texas 45-39 overall. That wasn’t a fluke: WVU ranks 15th nationally in offensive rebounds per game (14.5) and 27th in offensive rebounding percentage, claiming 38.1 percent of its own missed shots.
In total rebounding percentage, West Virginia ranks 82nd in Division I (52.5) with Texas all the way down at 183rd (50 percent).
Only minutes after Texas defeated TCU 60-43 on Saturday, Barnes turned his team’s mindset toward the rebounding effort needed to compete in Morgantown.
“We need to get our hands up. We need to have all five guys ready to do it,” he said. “It’s going to be a rebounding game, just like it was here. It’s going to be a very physical game. There is no doubt about it.”
4. Shots falling
Both teams enter Big Monday coming off their season-best shooting performances: Texas made 52 percent against TCU and West Virginia sank 56 percent at Texas Tech.
You can imagine the simultaneous cases of film-study shock this created on Sunday, considering how neither team could “find a way” to make shots in Austin (WVU shot 30 percent, Texas 34 percent).
West Virginia freshman Eron Harris was 1-of-6 shooting in Austin, though his make was a memorable one. His 3 from the right corner with 16.4 seconds left gave WVU its first lead of the second half. Harris resisted the temptation to look back on that night as “a big game” in his development.
“It was more like a big couple of seconds for me, because the rest of that game wasn’t too good for me,” he said. “I hope I can have a better individual game this time, and therefor help the team have a better game.”
Harris, playing with added confidence and more minutes, is averaging a team-high 13.8 during the past six games.
5. Unsung recruit
The Longhorns typically bring in star-laden recruits — witness the signing classes from 2009 (No. 2 in the Rivals team rankings), 2010 (No. 8), 2011 (No. 8) and 2012 (No. 11). But a hidden gem of the most recent class, 6-foot-8 forward Ioannis Papapetrou, was nowhere to be found on national lists of elite recruits.
That lack of notice was attributable to the fact that Papapetrou, originally from Greece, played only two years of high school ball in the United States (at a military school in Florida) and avoided AAU the circuit all together.
Still, with Kansas and Florida lining up among the finalists for Papapetro, he wasn’t unknown to the coaches who matter. Now, along with being the most accurate 3-point shooter for Texas (42 percent), he can work in the low post and even play point forward. He threw up an 0-for-4 against WVU in the opening matchup, but has has averaged 11.2 points in the six-game aftermath.