West Virginia will leave behind the non-conference portion of the schedule this weekend when the Mountaineers (8-5) dive head first into Big 12 Conference play with back-to-back road games in the state of Texas.
First on deck for the Mountaineers will be a much-improved TCU squad that has started the season 9-3 almost bypassing their win total of 11 from a season ago. The Mountaineers swept the Horned Frogs a season ago, but this team has improved on both ends of the floor beginning with their defense where they will create points off turnovers and mistakes, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said.
The Horned Frogs also are shooting the ball much better and aren't relying necessarily on as much half-court game as they had to a season ago, Huggins said.
"The pace of the game they are playing faster," he said.
The Mountaineers will travel to TCU for Saturday's 4 p.m. tip and will remain in Texas to travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech Monday at 6 p.m.
"It saves us a trip and saves us a couple nights of sleep," Huggins said. "I think that helps considerably."
While West Virginia is only entering its second season in the Big 12 Conference, Huggins said that league play brings about a sense of familiarity because the two teams have played in the past. And the head coach believes that confidence shouldn't be an issue for the group as they were able to compete well on the road in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but they must learn to close games.
As part of that West Virginia must learn how to play a full 40-minutes of basketball and stop being careless with the ball in certain situations, as well as avoiding taking shots that players typically wouldn't in other circumstances.
The Horned Frogs feature a big front line that includes 6-foot-10 freshman center Karviar Shepard, who averages 8.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, putting pressure on the Mountaineers to defend the basket as well as rebound the basketball.
"They didn't have that kind of size a year ago," Huggins said.
Even with the games so close, Huggins said the team's complete focus has been on the Horned Frogs and the young Mountaineers can't afford to look ahead on the schedule because every win will matter for this club.
"When that's over with on Saturday night, we'll start on Texas Tech," he said.
When asked about his team's positive results from the free throw line in recent games, Huggins said that he was shocked the Mountaineers weren't shooting better from the stripe to begin with in large part because of how much time is dedicated to shooting them on a daily basis. Each player must make 100 free throws at every practice and many often stick around to make more once the session is done.