Houston Cougars vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Pick & Prediction JANUARY 6th 2024

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No. 3 Houston is resembling the powerhouse squad of recent seasons as it hosts West Virginia on Saturday in the Cougars’ first Big 12 Conference contest.

Houston (13-0) has held eight opponents to 50 points or less and leads the nation in scoring defense at 49.4 points per game.

Of course, the conference opponents will be tougher now that Houston has exited the American Athletic Conference and joined the Big 12. But the sturdy foundation is the same that has helped the Cougars go 106-14 with a Final Four berth over the past three-plus seasons.

The Cougars have won their first 13 games for the third time in program history, the other occasions being the 2018-19 (15-0) and 1967-68 (31-0) seasons. The latter squad was led by legendary Elvin Hayes.

But Houston coach Kelvin Sampson isn’t all that giddy about the strong start.

“I don’t overreact to wins and losses,” he said. “I’ve lost a ton of games, but I’ve never worried about losing a game. I’ve been disappointed a lot when we lost, but that’s probably the extent of it because we have another game to play. I don’t spend all my time looking in the rear-view mirror.”

The Cougars retained their unbeaten mark with an 81-42 romp over Penn on Dec. 30. LJ Cryer scored 16 points to lead the way and Jamal Shead added 14.

Joseph Tugler moved into the starting lineup with forward J’Wan Roberts ailing (knee) and had 13 points and seven rebounds. Emanuel Sharp had 12 points and reserve Damian Dunn added 11.

As for the 13-0 start, Dunn pointed to the program’s high level of expectations.

“Coach holds everybody accountable,” Dunn said. “When you walk on the court, you’re able to play with swag but still hold to our standards. That’s really just locking in on defense and just playing with intensity. I think our first group does that. Our second and third units, when we see it, we translate and carry that same energy.”

This will be the first true road game of the season for West Virginia (5-8), which has dropped seven of its past 10 games. The Mountaineers have yet to have their full roster for any game this season.

Mountaineers coach Josh Eilert isn’t shying away from the fact that playing the Cougars represents a formidable task.

Houston leads the nation in field-goal-percentage defense at 34.5 and also limits opponents to 27.2 percent from 3-point range.

“They are a very, very good defensive team and a very, very physical team,” Eilert said. “Obviously, taking care of the ball is going to be important, and if we do have a turnover, we’ve got to make sure it’s not a live-ball turnover so we can get our defense set.”

West Virginia lost 78-75 in overtime to Ohio State on Saturday in a neutral-court game in Cleveland. The Mountaineers made just 5 of 22 3-point shots.

“In an overtime game we only made five 3s, and in this day and age when you are trying to win basketball games, five 3s isn’t going to cut it,” Eilert said.

Star transfer RaeQuan Battle scored 24 points and is averaging 27.3 points through three games with West Virginia. Battle became eligible to play last month when a federal judge ruled that second-time transfers were immediately able to play.

Battle played two seasons for Washington and the past two for Montana State before transferring to the Mountaineers.

Among players who have played in more than four games, Quinn Slazinski is West Virginia’s leading scorer at 15.5 points per game.

This will be the first all-time meeting between the schools.

–Field Level Media

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