MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Upset Saturday in the Big 12 saw four of the league’s top five teams lose, and No. 19 West Virginia must shake the sting of blowing a late six-point lead at home against Oklahoma State.
The Mountaineers’ defense unraveled during the 88-85 loss, allowing 16 points over the final 2:50. Those vulnerabilities must be shored up as they prepare to face the conference’s most efficient offensive team, TCU, on Monday night.
The Frogs (17-8, 5-7) are an NCAA bubble team backed by solid metrics — 24th in RPI, 22nd in Ken Pom — yet probably needing at least eight league wins to feel good about an at-large bid.
“(The NCAA talk) is always going to be in the back of your head. With Social media, TV, you see it everywhere,” said guard Desmond Bane. “We’re just going to be focused on West Virginia and the quick turnaround to be ready and get it done Monday.”
TCU dominated Texas 87-71 on Saturday by shooting 54 percent and committing only six turnovers.
“Then you throw in 11 offensive rebounds, and that’s about as efficient as an offense can be,” said coach Jamie Dixon.
Cueing the nation’s No. 5-rated offense according to KenPom, 6-foot-10 forward Vladimir Brodziansky scored 25 points and Kouat Noi sank four 3s on his way to 18 points.
But TCU has not beaten a ranked team on the road since the 1997-1998 season, and on Monday expects to encounter an ornery opponent. West Virginia (18-7, 7-5) missed its chance to make a jump in the Big 12 standings and instead fell two games off the pace.
“I feel like the winner this league is going to have four or five losses,” said West Virginia forward Esa Ahmad. “We just can’t lose any more.”
Three weeks ago in Fort Worth, after TCU beat West Virginia for the first time in 12 tries, students lifted the Dixon onto their shoulders. That signature victory featured WVU going nearly 10 minutes without a basket, a rare stretch of pesky guarding by the Frogs, who KenPom rates only 128th defensively.
It seems as if Dixon has accepted that his team must score in the mid-70s to have a chance, especially with point guard Jaylen Fisher lost to a season-ending knee injury.
“It’s still not good enough, but we know what our deficiencies are,” he said. “You have seven guys, and there’s never been a good defensive team playing seven guys. We play 40, 40 and 38 minutes on the perimeter (vs. Texas), so you’re not going to be as good as you need to be defensively.”
Opposing coach Bob Huggins isn’t sure from game to game whether “Press Virginia” is a lethal weapon or a liability. Despite being ranked sixth nationally in forced turnovers (18.2) and 10th in steals (8.7), the Mountaineers repeatedly have backed off into a 1-3-1 zone when the defensive gambles led to easy buckets and foul problems.
Nothing worked toward the end of their most recent loss, when Oklahoma State scored on seven of its final eight possessions.
That squandered a career-high 33-point performance by Jevon Carter, the team’s top producer at 17.2 points and 6.7 assists per game. On the interior, West Virginia seems perpetually intent on getting Sagaba Konate (10.5 points) and Ahmad (10.7 points) more involved.
TCU counters with Brodziansky (15.6 points) and forward Kenrich Willams (13.7 points). From the perimeter, Bane (12.0 points) and Noi (10.3 points) spark one of the country’s top 3-point shooting lineups, better than 41 percent.
TCU (17-8, 5-7) at No. 19 West Virginia (18-7, 7-5)
Tipoff: Monday, 9 p.m. in Morgantown, W.Va. (ESPN)
The skinny: West Virginia is 5-0 vs. TCU at home, a streak alive only because then-freshmen Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles teamed up for an exhilarating overtime finish in 2015 (Relive it here). … Watch for Noi when he’s matched up against Lamont West. The two tangled in Fort Worth and Noi, who was was ejected for shoving West to the court. Noi had 13 points in 15 minutes at the time and was replaced by Shawn Olden who sank three shots from 3-point range. Olden is questionable with concussion protocols after missing the Texas game.
Scouting WVU: Held to only five shots during the loss to OSU, Konate’s streak of seven straight games in double-figures scoring ended. He remains fifth nationally at 3.1 blocks per game. … West Virginia is 58-44 in Big 12 games since joining in 2012. … West Virginia’s strength-of-schedule stands at 44th, while TCU’s ranks 14th. … Shooting 50 percent from the floor typically has been the magic threshold for WVU, which is 65-5 in such games under Huggins. One of the exceptions came Saturday when they shot 51.9 percent and lost.
RPIs: TCU 24, West Virginia 34
Line: West Virginia favored by 6
Prediction: West Virginia 81-74