Ahead, WVU moves competition level upward vs. Ohio State, Kansas
MORGANTOWN — Northern Iowa was finally overtaken at the end. Then-unbeaten Wichita State couldn’t rebound against West Virginia. And Akron, Pittsburgh, Northern Colorado and Boston University had already been stopped as the Mountaineers moved to a 4-0 record to begin the 2019-2020 season.
Heads began to look over the horizon toward late December and early January, when national powers Ohio State and Kansas have to be played on the road.
West Virginia was 6-0 and with successes against Northern Iowa, and Wichita State had won a tournament held in Mexico.
Rhode Island, St. John’s, Nicholls (Louisiana) and Youngstown State were next on the pre-Big 12 Conference schedule.
And then the Buckeyes of Ohio State and the Jayhawks of Kansas awaited the Mountaineers.
Even with a 6-0 beginning to the season, West Virginia had been inconsistent and in danger of losing to Akron and Northern Iowa. A number of the players had also been reliable only one night, but then contributed little in other games.
In beating Pittsburgh on the road and Wichita State on a neutral court, West Virginia had its best moments so far. Any win over Pittsburgh is to be celebrated, and the Shockers of Wichita State carried a 6-0 record into its date with West Virginia.
After defeating Boston University to move to 4-0, the Mountaineers received their first vote in the coach’s poll of the Top 25 teams in the country.
What do the first six games mean in terms of how the Mountaineers will do in the Big 12?
There is no clear favorite to take the league’s 18-game regular season championship.
With Kansas under the NCAA microscope for possible infractions, there is a possibility the Jayhawks could be sanctioned before the season closes and even made ineligible for the NCAA tournament.
There are no terribly weak teams in the league, and all 10 of them can make an early-season case for possible inclusion in the NCAA tournament. Any team that can win five of its nine road games will have a chance to be the regular season champion.
Baylor is more than competent. Winning over Texas Tech has become more and more difficult. There are going to be sure-fire upsets, especially since the teams know each other so well.
There could be only a few games separating first place from eighth or ninth place. Winning games at Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Kansas takes a visiting team shooting well, staying out of foul trouble, doing enough rebounding and closing a game in the last minutes.
Nobody will take Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Christian or West Virginia for granted.
Texas Tech was able to reach the Final Four a year ago.
In West Virginia’s win over Wichita State, coach Bob Huggins played 12 men. Other conference teams can go at least 10 players deep, and find somebody to score well and rebound well.
The Big 12 race won’t go to the swiftest. It will go to the grittiest and healthiest.