After West Virginia defeated Kansas State by four on February 11th, there was a feeling going around Morgantown that that might be the last time the team wins in the regular season. WVU had a terrifying stretch of games that included two games against Kansas, two games against Oklahoma State, as well as road games with Baylor and Iowa State. As we now know, the Mountaineers not only survived, they thrived, going 4-2 during the stretch leading into this week’s tournament. So how will WVU fare in the Big 12 tournament? Can they actually win it? Let’s take it team by team (based on educated guesses on their side of the bracket).
Baylor: Some of the worst news WVU could have possibly gotten is that they have to face Baylor in the first round of the tournament. Baylor and Iowa State are the only teams in the Big 12 that the Mountaineers haven’t beaten this season. Not only haven’t they won, but games against the Bears haven’t exactly been close. The first game was an absolute debacle, it was the first time Press Virginia had been truly exposed. Baylor didn’t break it every time but when they did, they immediately made West Virginia pay (L 87-69). In the second game, WVU played better, but not having Juwan Staten and only having Gary Browne for three minutes, really seemed to seal the deal for West Virginia making that game a little harder to analyze (L 78-66). The first game showed that Press Virginia is a sensitive formation sometimes and when it goes awry, everything gets out of control. In the first game against Baylor, WVU forced 19 turnovers which means their special defense technically worked. But, they also gave up wide open shots that Baylor did not miss which led to 87 points being scored. The 16 turnovers by the Mountaineers didn’t help either. If West Virginia is to beat Baylor then they need an at least 85 percent healthy Staten and Browne, they need to cut down on offensive mistakes, and they have to keep Baylor from getting out to an early lead. In both games, an early lead is what ultimately sunk WVU. The Mountaineers are built to go on big runs and take big leads, not give them out.
Kansas: The Mountaineers have fared well against Kansas so far. They beat them in Morgantown in a thriller and then nearly defeated them in a game in Lawrence where Browne and Staten both didn’t play. I think many Mountaineers may have favored a match up with the Jayhawks in the first round rather than facing Baylor. If WVU is able to triumph over Baylor, they will more than likely meet Kansas. This is actually a favorable matchup for West Virginia. Kansas really struggles against the press and adjusting to it doesn’t typically seem to work for them. West Virginia can’t do much more than what they did in the two games against Kansas. The worry for West Virginia is whether Kansas’ talent gets the better of the Mountaineers. Kansas is just more talented, there’s no way around that.
Oklahoma: So far this season, Oklahoma has truly been a tale of two games, it was the best of times and the worst of times. The first game was a blowout of Oklahoma by the Mountaineers 86-65. The second game was the other way around (L 71-52). Devin Williams had a significant impact in both games. In the win, Williams contributed 14 points and 11 rebounds down low, and in the second game, he didn’t play at all due to illness. A couple other major factors include the fact that Oklahoma shot at an alarming rate, over 61 percent, in the second game. The press was not really working for the Mountaineers, and Oklahoma was not wasting any opportunities that breaking the press provided them. Bob Huggins said that his team failed to pressure hard enough, citing that as the major difference between the two games. Bench play was also critical especially in the first game where WVU exploded in bench points outscoring the Sooners 55-8.
Iowa State: West Virginia has played Iowa State and has two losses to show for it. That being said, the first matchup with the Cyclones showed many positives. West Virginia actually played their game perfectly. Juwan Staten played at a high level, they were able to get 18 turnovers, and they didn’t let the game get away from them. Unfortunately, they only scored 14 points off those 18 turnovers, Staten was one of only four players who scored above four points. In the second game, it was a classic bad WVU game: bad shooting, letting the game get away, couldn’t get turnovers, couldn’t shoot, and the other team shoots at a very high percentage. Unlike Baylor, WVU has shown success against Iowa State. If they can convert turnover chances and if Staten can get highly involved, they will stand a pretty high chance.
In the last month, West Virginia has proved that even when teams are used to Press Virginia, it doesn’t mean they can necessarily stop it. The Mountaineers are a very dangerous team that has serious strengths and serious weaknesses. WVU must shoot at least decently and cannot allow too many wide open shots. They must convert turnovers into points, they must convert free throws, and they can’t let the game get away from them. Like I said above, they are built to go on runs, not allow them. I give West Virginia a chance against any of these teams, but the first round matchup against Baylor with a banged up Staten and Browne will make this a much more difficult for the Mountaineers. I think if they get past Baylor, the sky is the limit, but that “if” is a very large one.