Mountaineers see Sooners in Big 12 tournament
MORGANTOWN — Kansas City is a comfortable home away from home for the Kansas Jayhawks. And Kansas City is the venue where this week’s Big 12 Conference tournament will be played.
The Jayhawks will be the tournament favorite, coming in with just three losses, the league’s regular season title and the No. 1 national ranking in several polls.
After trimming then fourth-ranked Baylor in Morgantown last Saturday, West Virginia moved its conference record to 9-9 — the same mark that Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma showed in their regular seasons.
The Mountaineers began tournament play on March 12, against Oklahoma, a team that defeated WVU twice in the regular season.
A WVU win over Oklahoma would likely send it against Baylor (which faces TCU on March 12) in the semifinals on Friday.
By beating both Iowa State and Baylor in its final two league games, the Mountaineers have likely done enough to be invited to the NCAA tournament.
Even a loss to Oklahoma just yesterday wouldn’t be a death knell blow to WVU’s NCAA chances.
What sort of damage can the Mountaineers do in either the Big 12 or NCAA tournaments?
In any close game the team could be doomed by its anemic free throw shooting. Derek Culver just went 0-for-6 in the homecourt win over Baylor. Culver was 91-for-176 for the season or a troubled 51.7 percent success rate. Jermaine Haley made 57-of-93 or 61.3 percent. Emmitt Mathews was 28-for-45 or a 62.2 percent success rate. Chase Harler, a senior guard from Wheeling Central Catholic High, was 14-for-26 or 53.8 percent and Gabe Osabuchien went 26-for-48 or 54.2 percent.
At least freshman Oscar Tshiebwe made 8-of-9 free throws against Baylor.
The Mountaineers have to win three straight games to become tournament champions in Kansas City.
Only lowly rated Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and TCU have to win games on four straight days to be tournament champions.
West Virginia has not played well in many games away from Morgantown, whether they were true road games or ones played at neutral sites. All of these dates in Kansas City are technically “neutral site” games — even an improbable date against Kansas in the tournament finals.
Following the Big 12 tournament comes the NCAA tournament selection show on Sunday, March 15. West Virginia has seen its chances for a reasonably high seed fly down the Monongahela River when it lost six of seven games just before tripping Iowa State and Baylor in its last two regular season games.
Free throws can’t be squandered in either tournament’s atmosphere. If Culver can be kept off the foul line, and the Mountaineers rebound well in any game with a pedestrian pace, they could produce an upset. But a lengthy string of upsets isn’t likely, and neither is keeping Culver away from the foul line.