by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
January 4th, 2021
#9 West Virginia at Oklahoma State
Spread: Oklahoma State (+1); O/U: 143
Moneyline: West Virginia -117; Oklahoma State -103
Time/Location: 9:00 ET, Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Oklahoma
West Virginia Mountaineers (8-3, 1-2)
Despite being one of the top teams in the nation with a hugely bright future ahead of them, the biggest news of the season for West Virginia is that star big man Oscar Tshiebwe has left the team and plans to transfer. The timing isn’t that odd considering players need to complete a year’s worth of schooling before playing for the school when transferring at this point, but it isn’t clear if the all-encompassing eligibility clearances will apply to the #28 recruit from 2019. It’s likely it will not.
In their first game without Tshiebwe, the Mountaineers felt his absence, losing a game at Oklahoma by four points. Tshiebwe might not have been able to prevent the loss considering the unreal shooting performance of Umoja Gibson, but he could have helped.
However, the players on West Virginia could have prevented the loss (obviously), namely Derek Culver and Sean McNeil. The players, 2nd and 4th in scoring respectively, combined for just seven points on the night, wasting a wonderful game out of Taz Sherman. Of course those scoring numbers won’t be regular, but they might highlight an inconsistency that could have been solved with quality depth. Maybe Tshiebwe could have won that game.
Regardless, West Virginia is looking to get back on the wagon against one of the best players in the country in Cade Cunningham. Culver will need to be sure to avoid foul trouble to keep the paint protected and whoever is guarding him, probably Emmitt Matthews will have one of their toughest tasks of the season. He and Gabe Osabuohien (who will be running with a bigger workload) will probably have most of their energy expended on the offensive end, so don’t be surprised to see their scoring dip slightly.
Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-2, 1-2)
Oklahoma State may be ranked by the time you’re reading this considering their victory over Texas Tech and close game with Texas, so optimism is rampant in Stillwater. The Cowboys are only 1-2 in the division, but seeing how close the team was able to keep it with Texas will be a big lift for the entire team, proving to themselves that they can compete with any team in the conference (maybe until they play Baylor).
As expected, Cade Cunningham is tearing the court up with a ridiculous stat line and replicable shooting numbers. He and Isaac Likelele are the main offensive propellers, though there are plenty of players who can make a difference on any given night. There’s still a lot to come from this team in terms of shooting as they’re skewing towards the wrong side of the midway point in the Division 1, but there’s time to turn it around. Luckily, their size gives them plenty of rebounding to reduce chances for opponents.
Something I’m more concerned about than shooting though, is their defense. On the inside they’re doing well, an attribute that speaks volumes about their size and length, but on the perimeter they’re being burned night after night. They’re allowing opponents to shoot 25.8 attempts per game and they’re obviously good looks considering the 34% average. If they don’t do a better job in that department they’re going to really struggle when they run against the better teams. Not every team will be under-equipped in terms of size like Texas Tech is.
Analysis and Pick
I really like Oklahoma State in this game. There’s still a lot of adjustments being made in Morganstown as Tshiebwe is leaving the program and the scoring problems that West Virginia had away from home aren’t a fluke, they’re really struggling away from their home court. Oklahoma State is riding high on confidence from beating Tech and will be inspired by their game against Texas. I don’t think anyone is really equipped to stop Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys will be targeting Derek Culver to clear up the lane. Take Oklahoma State to win the game.
Zack is 9-5 picking College Basketball games this season.