The 12-5 Cowboys (2-3 in Big 12 play) certainly have talent. They were ranked as high as No. 15 in the AP poll after a 5-0 start to the season, which included blowout wins over Tennessee and then-No. 6 North Carolina State.
Things have cooled a bit of late, as OSU has lost four of its last six games -- a one-point decision against Gonzaga, a 73-67 setback at Kansas State, a 77-68 loss to in-state rival Oklahoma and a 64-54 loss at Baylor. The Pokes’ only two Big 12 wins have come against presumptive cellar-dwellers TCU and Texas Tech.
Still, the athleticism coach of Travis Ford’s team will provide quite the test for the Mountaineers, according to Huggins.
“Well, they're very athletic. Extremely athletic,” Huggins said. “[Marcus] Smart is probably the best, most-well rounded point guard in our league -- a McDonald's All-American. He's very, very good -- 6-3, 225. He makes 3s. They post him. They do a lot of things with him.
“Le'Bryan Nash is also a McDonald's All-American. They kind of go to Smart and Nash when they need a basket. [Michael] Cobbins is extremely athletic, their power forward. [Markel] Brown is probably the best athlete in our league -- just a sheer athlete, and he shoots the ball well. And [Phillip] Jurick is 7-foot [actually listed at 6-11]. He takes up a lot of space.”
As a result of that athleticism and size across the floor, Huggins said his “small” lineup probably won’t be very effective. That means the play of big men Deniz Kilicli, Aaric Murray and Dominique Rutledge will likely prove pivotal if WVU hopes to earn a win in Stillwater.
On the defensive end, Huggins said the biggest key will be denying Oklahoma State the ability to run its offensive sets. The Mountaineers hope to accomplish that with ball pressure -- yet another facet of play that has been far too inconsistent for Huggins’ liking this season.
“Ball pressure has the tendency to take people out of sets,” Huggins said. “TCU didn't run a lot of sets. You go back to when we didn't have much ball pressure at Purdue, and they ran pretty much whatever they wanted to run. We've got to take people out of what they want to do. That's what defense is about, making people do things they're not comfortable doing.”
The WVU team was scheduled to fly out of North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport at 6 p.m. local time. The Mountaineers were set to practice for three hours, starting at 1 p.m. before bussing out of Morgantown at around 4:45 p.m. Huggins was optimistic the team’s travel plans would not be adversely affected by snow in the area.
Shooting woes have troubled WVU all season long, but a turnaround might only take one strong performance. Huggins noted the way Purdue had struggled from the field before the Boilermakers’ blowout win over the Mountaineers, when they made 8-of-11 3-pointers.
Purdue followed that up by hitting 7-of-13 from beyond the arc in the first half against No. 2 Michigan on Thursday before cooling off in the Wolverines’ 68-53 win.
“A lot of it is confidence,” Huggins said. “I think everybody thought Terry Henderson was our best perimeter shooter. He goes 1-for-4 from 3 [against TCU], and he had great looks. But the kid sat out two games, and he didn't shoot the ball well last game.
“Eron Harris has been our most consistent shooter. Gary Browne shoots 80-some percent from the foul line. He ought to be able to make a shot. Jabarie has shot it better of late. Jabarie has not had a very good field goal percentage, but a lot of that is the shots he takes going to the basket.”
Huggins offered a final look at the TCU win, which he said was encouraging -- at least for much of the game.
“I thought for 25 minutes of the game, anyway, we played the way we have played in the past -- with a lot of ball pressure,” he said. “I thought our help was good. We didn't necessarily rotate every time the way we need to rotate, but I thought our help was good. We kind of caught anything we would have lost because of ball pressure.”