West Virginia, Texas both look to get it right

AUSTIN, Texas — Good day from the state capitol of Texas, where some odd history will be made in the Bob Huggins era of West Virginia basketball. Today’s game marks the latest date for a true road game for the Mountaineers under Huggins, who took over the program in 2007.

The Mountaineers have played five neutral-court games to this point of the season — spanning from Myrtle Beach to New York City to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut — with a 2-3 record to show. The good news here is Texas is tied with Baylor at the moment with the most losses at home (3) among Big 12 teams, and the Frank Erwin Center is not known for its huge home-court advantage.

Whether any of that will help improve on West Virginia’s 2-4 record here remains to be seen, but this place may be as good as any to play the first conference road game this season.

Like West Virginia, Texas has shuffled its lineup throughout the season and the Longhorns are looking for the right combination to help turn around a season that has seen victories against North Carolina, Purdue and Arkansas, but also home losses to Radford and Virginia Commonwealth.

Texas’ latest shuffle has seen 6-foot-11 freshman Jaxson Hayes inserted into the starting lineup, as well as junior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long, who had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists against the Mountaineers as a guard at Mount St. Mary’s, back in 2016.

West Virginia might be doing a little more shuffling to its lineup today, which we will get to more in a minute.

Here’s what you need to know:

TV: ESPN2 for the 9 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: Texas is a 7-point favorite.

THREE GOOD QUESTIONS

So, what’s up with West Virginia’s lineup? The latest in the saga of Huggins trying to get his point across to his players about being more committed to the game came from the coach’s TV show, where he said he was leaning toward starting walk-on freshman Taevon Horton (Fairmont Senior’s own), because Horton was showing up early for practices before anyone else. Aside from that, Huggins has also gone with freshman Jordan McCabe at point guard the last two games, but McCabe has struggled defensively and his minutes were limited in both games. Beetle Bolden has come off the bench the last two games and played well aside from the five turnovers he had in Wednesday’s loss against Texas Tech, which that is pretty hard to overlook. Huggins said Bolden’s hand has been feeling better, so he could look to move Bolden back to the starting point guard and if Horton does start, it will likely be in place of Chase Harler, who hasn’t made more than one field goal in a game since the Mountaineers played Florida in NYC.

What’s the positive/negative spin here? Well, a loss hands the Mountaineers their first-ever 0-2 start in Big 12 play and then two of their next three conference games are on the road (at Kansas St. on Wednesday and at TCU on Jan. 15). After that, WVU gets to host No. 5 Kansas, so you can see how disastrous an 0-2 start could be. A win suddenly leads into the road game at Kansas State, which is hurting health-wise just as much as the Mountaineers. Wildcats’ forward Dean Wade is out for likely the first half of the conference season with a foot injury and guard Kamau Stokes is also out for an undetermined amount of time with his own foot injury. That would lead to a home game against Oklahoma State, which is struggling, so a win could actually lead to a possible 3-1 start in Big 12 play with the one loss against No. 11 Texas Tech that was there for the Mountaineers’ taking. Confidence and momentum are have a lot to do with conference play and WVU has an opportunity to make a positive spin out of a tough start.

What’s the key matchup against the Longhorns? It could very well be at point guard, where Texas has the highly-recruited and talented Matt Coleman III and the Mountaineers have a big question mark. Bolden will likely get the call here, because he has some experience in guarding top-notch Big 12 players and McCabe and Brandon Knapper do not. The other key factor will be the 3-point line. Texas leads the Big 12 with 352 3-point attempts, but are eighth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (35.5 percent). In a weird stat, West Virginia gives up 33.5 percent from 3-point range, which is ninth in the Big 12, with only Oklahoma State (33..9 percent) giving up a higher percentage.

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