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Big 12 Showdown: Can the Knights Outshine the Mountaineers?

GAME INFO:

Tue 2/20

19:00

ESPNU

UCF -2.5


In a Pivotal Big 12 Clash

West Virginia and UCF, both eyeing a late push for the NCAA Tournament, face off once more. The Mountaineers (8-17 overall, 8-17 against the spread, and 3-9 in the Big 12) are set to host the Knights (13-11 overall, 14-10 against the spread, and 4-8 in the Big 12) in Morgantown. The matchup is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 PM ET.


Their previous encounter on January 23 saw UCF coming out on top with a 72-59 victory in their initial conference duel of the season. Despite a shooting performance of just 37% from the field, Jaylin Sellers led the Knights to their win. On the other side, Josiah Harris was a standout for West Virginia, contributing 15 points and securing eight rebounds. This upcoming game offers a chance for redemption for the Mountaineers and an opportunity for the Knights to solidify their conference standing.


Navigating their first season in the Big 12

UCF and Coach Johnny Dawkins are adjusting after transitioning from the American Athletic Conference. Despite notable wins against powerhouses like Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, the Knights are currently in a slump, with recent losses to Texas Tech (66-59), BYU (90-88), and Cincinnati (76-74). The defeat against Cincinnati, a familiar adversary from their previous conference, was particularly tough as UCF was outrebounded 45-33, allowing 18 offensive boards to the Bearcats.

Darius Johnson led UCF with 16 points and five assists in their last outing, with Shemarri Allen and Jaylin Sellers contributing 15 points each. Despite Allen's seven assists, his game ended prematurely due to foul trouble. Coach Dawkins expressed his admiration for the team's spirit and determination but emphasized the necessity of converting efforts into wins, stating, "We can't settle for near wins; it's all about overcoming for us."


Jaylin Sellers, a 6-4 guard from Ball State, is making significant contributions, leading the team with an average of 17.0 points per game. Meanwhile, Darius Johnson, returning from last season, is adding 13.6 points and 3.9 assists per game. Despite these individual performances, the team's overall shooting efficiency has been lacking, with a field goal percentage of 42% and a 31.9% success rate from beyond the arc. Defensively, UCF stands strong, reflected in their 16th rank in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency by KenPom, although they're letting in an average of 66.5 points per game. The Knights are focused on tightening their game as they navigate the competitive landscape of the Big 12.

Stepping into a difficult season in Morgantown

Josh Eilert has been thrust into a challenging position as the interim head coach after Bob Huggins resigned due to a DUI incident. This change in leadership came abruptly in late June, leading to turmoil within the program as several players exited via the transfer portal. The result has been a trying season for West Virginia, which now holds an 8-17 overall record and a 3-9 standing in the Big 12.


Currently, the Mountaineers are on a downward spiral, having lost four straight games and six out of their last seven. Their only win during this stretch was against Cincinnati on January 31. Since that game, they have suffered losses to BYU (86-73), Texas (94-58), TCU (81-65), and most recently, Baylor at home (94-81). These setbacks reflect the significant challenges facing Eilert and his team as they attempt to find some form of success in the remainder of their season.


During their matchup against the 12th-ranked Baylor Bears on Saturday, RaeQuan Battle led the Mountaineers with a striking 25 points, contributing significantly to West Virginia's offensive efforts. Despite their commendable 53% shooting from the field, including 8 for 19 from beyond the arc, the Mountaineers were hindered by 13 turnovers.


Defensive issues persisted for West Virginia, allowing Baylor to capitalize with a 54% shooting performance. KenPom rates the Mountaineers 149th overall and 189th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. RaeQuan Battle, who joined from Montana State, is the team's leading scorer, averaging 16.2 points and pulling down 4.3 rebounds per game, albeit with a 40.2% shooting accuracy and 30.3% from three-point range. Jesse Edwards, the team's center and a Syracuse transfer, is also a key player, contributing 14.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game.


Offensively, West Virginia faces challenges, averaging only 68.4 points per game, ranking them 306th nationally, with an overall shooting percentage of 41.7% (315th) and 33.1% from three-point territory. Defensively, they surrender an average of 74.8 points on 44% shooting by opponents and 34.1% from three-point land. Additionally, their rebound rate, 48.7%, places them 237th in the nation.

Tough Country Road Ahead

The remaining schedule for West Virginia offers limited opportunities for victories. Their home record of 8-7 showcases better performance compared to their winless 0-6 road record. UCF, on the other hand, struggles away from home with a 1-6 road record and faces its first test as a road favorite against West Virginia. On the road, UCF's shooting drops to 39% from the field and 28.8% from beyond the arc, a decline of 3-4% from their home shooting percentages.


Winning on the road is a significant challenge, and Morgantown remains a daunting venue for visiting teams in the Big 12. This setting could provide West Virginia with a critical advantage, as they seek to capitalize on UCF's road woes and improve their standing.


Prediction: Knights -2.5



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