West Virginia faces top-ranked Baylor aiming for rebound win

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Two teams with vastly different forms will meet in Waco, Texas when the 14th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers face the top-ranked Baylor Bears on Saturday. The action tips off at 4 p.m. ET at Baylor’s Ferrell Center on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

The Mountaineers have hit a rough patch. Their most recent contest happened to be their first loss on their home court, but their road struggles have been well-documented behind their 1-4 away record.

Baylor, on the other hand, has been on fire. Ever since they were defeated by Washington in their second game of the season, the Bears clawed their way to the top five at the beginning of conference season before reaching the coveted no. 1 spot in the AP Poll.

Fans will clearly remember the only meeting between West Virginia and a top-ranked Baylor team, when the 10th-ranked Mountaineers pressed their way to a 21-point upset over the Bears at the WVU Coliseum in 2016. This Baylor team, however, is much different than that of years past. While Scott Drew’s teams have predominantly found success behind their offense, the 2019-2020 iteration of the Bears boasts the top defense in the Big 12 and the fourth-best nationally.

This contest will be the 18th meeting between the two programs with the all-time series favoring Baylor, 10-7. Interestingly, the Mountaineers have had success in Waco recently, winning two of their last four games there.

Here are some of the biggest matchups to look out for on Saturday:

The Bears go man

As stated, Scott Drew-coached Baylor teams have flourished on the offensive end — but behind a new-look defense, the Bears have roared to the top of the Big 12 standings with their defense.

“Scott was primarily known for the 1-1-3 zone that morphs into a 2-3, but I think here of late, I think he has gradually gone more man-to-man,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.

Drew’s scheme is definitely different than it has been before. A primarily man scheme, the Bears utilize switches, aggressive close-outs and help defense to limit penetration and force jumpshots.

They’re able to achieve this with a group of dynamic athletes who can guard several positions, namely Freddie Gillespie (who leads the team in blocks) and Mark Vital (who leads in steals).

“It’s not like we’re not getting shots. We’re not making any”

While West Virginia basketball in the Bob Huggins era has become synonymous with tough defense, this year’s squad has had particular trouble in scoring the basketball. Their struggles can be summed up in this quote from Huggins on The Bob Huggins Show:

It’s like a plague. It’s not one guy, it’s everybody. [We] can’t score it close, can’t make open shots, don’t finish transition situations….We’re struggling at the offensive end. I think defensively we’ve been good enough to win games.

Bob Huggins on his team’s offensive struggles on The Bob Huggins Show

The Mountaineers have made just 42.7 percent of their shots, which puts them 236th nationally in field goal percentage. On top of that, the Mountaineers had their two worst shooting performances in their last two contests, shooting 31.6 percent against Oklahoma and 31.7 percent against Kansas.

If they’re going to succeed offensively, the Mountaineers will obviously need to make some shots — something that Baylor is quite good at preventing. The Bears allow their opponents to make just 38.6 percent of their field goals, which is third in the conference.

Don’t miss a moment

The Mountaineers tip off against the Bears at 4 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. WVIllustrated will have live updates on our game log right here on our website, while Anjelica Trinone will be at the Ferrell Center with highlights after the game concludes.

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