Routine is usually a way of life for college basketball players and coaches, especially once the conference season kicks in.
In 2020-21, however, nothing is routine, and that’s the challenge that Texas Tech and West Virginia are muddling through as they prepare for another matchup of ranked Big 12 Conference foes.
The 12th-ranked Red Raiders visit Morgantown, W.Va., on Monday to take on the No. 14 Mountaineers.
The game will be Texas Tech’s first since Jan. 16 after both of the Red Raiders’ scheduled matchups last week were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols at TCU and Iowa State. West Virginia just returned from a two-week pause on Saturday with a 69-47 road victory at Kansas State.
Prior to the shutdown, the Mountaineers (10-4, 3-3 Big 12) lost two of three games — decided by four points or fewer — as they adjusted to the loss of big man Oscar Tshiebwe, a second-team All-Big 12 selection last season.
“It was big since we came off a loss two weeks ago and then got hit with COVID,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said of the victory at K-State. “We really hadn’t had a time where we had more than four guys recently. Hard to get anything done with that.
“The guys that had been working out looked good, but the other guys struggled. We’ve got to get those guys back in playing shape, which is hard with our schedule.”
That degree of difficulty includes the showdown with the Red Raiders (11-4, 4-3), who split games against top-5 opponents Texas and Baylor before their unexpected week off.
Texas Tech brings plenty of confidence after winning its first three Big 12 road games — just the second time the Red Raiders have done so since the league began in 1996-97.
Coach Chris Beard said his team has used the COVID-caused break to give players some rest, but there also have been practices and video work with a goal of staying sharp.
Once it was clear that Texas Tech would not play Saturday, there was plenty of focus shifted to the Mountaineers, and Beard said he is impressed with how they have adjusted without the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Tshiebwe. Most notably, WVU has played more with four guards around 6-10 Derek Culver.
“They still have the ability to play two bigs,” Beard said. “They’ve made some adjustments for sure, but it’s still West Virginia basketball. It’s still in their DNA.”
Miles McBride tops the Mountaineers with 15.3 points a game and led them with 18 against K-State. Culver scores 13.4 points a contest and leads the league with 10.3 rebounds a contest.
“Culver is one of the best players in the Big 12,” Beard said. “He’s not just a back-to-the-basket center. He can stretch the floor and gets a lot of things done on the defensive end.”
West Virginia’s challenge will be to contain Texas Tech guard Mac McClung, who has been on a tear the last five games. Coming off a season-best 24 points in a loss to Baylor, McClung is averaging 20.2 points an outing since the January grind began.
West Virginia’s defense got back to work in style after the two-week hiatus by limiting K-State to 38.1 percent shooting (16 of 42) and forcing 28 turnovers, the most by a Big 12 team this season, which led to 26 Mountaineer points.
“I thought we were a bit rusty offensively, but defensively we stepped up and played one of our best games of the year,” McBride said. “We’ve been watching a lot of film and getting mental reps. Guys that could get on the floor did and we worked a lot on defense.”
–Field Level Media