WVU’s unique style smothers Missouri, bodes well for March

West Virginia disposed of an overmatched Missouri team, 74-51, at the WVU Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. It was a solid victory by a comfortable margin over a non-descript team in the first game of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Saturday’s contest was the Mountaineers (16-3) final non-conference game of the regular season. With the win over Missouri (9-10), WVU finishes 12-1 in the regular season against non-Big 12, with the lone loss coming at St. John’s in December.

There’s not a lot to take away from Saturday’s victory. The Mountaineers disposed of a smaller, less talented and less deep opponent with ruthless efficiency. But that’s what West Virginia has done all season against its overwhelmed opponents (sans Kansas State).

If you’re looking for a big-picture take from Saturday’s win, it’s this: An unfamiliar foe was perplexed, overwhelmed and intimidated by the style, size and strength of the Mountaineers, especially their front line.

“I’m not sure if there is another team … that functions like that in the country” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game. “In the second half they turned the heat up. Whether their bigs were scoring the ball or not, they had a presence.”

That’s the most significant take from Saturday’s win. When the unfamiliar play West Virginia, they struggle with the Mountaineers style. Analytics have moved the game of basketball further and further from the post. West Virginia lives and thrives there. Until teams see WVU up close and in the flesh, they don’t know what hit them. It’s an uncommon style and philosophy in 2020.

This novel approach should serve as an asset for WVU when the Mountaineers begin NCAA Tournament play in less than eight weeks. Few teams bring the ingredients and the recipe to the table that WVU does. Facing it for the first time is the equivalent to being woken up by a bucket of ice water.

In Saturday’s game itself, there was plenty of good and a little bad from West Virginia.

On the plus side, Miles McBride and Gabe Osabuohien continue to give the Mountaineers the kind of production they couldn’t possibly have hoped for coming into the season. McBride once again led West Virginia in scoring, tallying 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting. The freshman’s ability to create scoring opportunities – and capitalize on them – has become invaluable to a team that doesn’t consistently shoot well.

Osabuohien has turned the Mountaineers inside-the-paint two-headed monster (Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe) into a three-man wrecking crew. The Arkansas transfer led WVU with 12 rebounds off the bench and tortured the Tigers with his frenetic defensive effort.

Culver’s afternoon featured play on both sides of the good/bad divide. The sophomore forward had three fouls with 18 minutes left to play. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins stuck with Culver despite the foul-trouble risks. It paid off. Culver never picked up a fourth foul.

On the good, Culver played like Shaquille O’Neal inside, grabbling 11 rebounds and blocking two Missouri shots.

On the bad, Culver played like Shaquille O’Neal at the foul line (0-for6). This is becoming a serious issue for WVU and Culver. The sophomore is down to 60 percent from the charity stripe, but even that percentage doesn’t encapsulate the depth of the issue. Since WVU opened Big 12 play, Culver has hit just 48 percent of his foul shots. This is a problem.

Overall, Saturday was a very satisfying performance across the board. The next time West Virginia sees someone from outside the Big 12 it will be in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

You’ll hear the phrase “a team no one wants to play” thrown around as March Madness approaches. The Mountaineers are one of those teams.