Kansas City: Road not paved with gold for Mountaineers
The game-filled last week of the regular season saw that. Instead of being ranked fifth in the country and standing alone in second place in the 10-school conference, the Mountaineer finished the awkward 2020-2021 season with an 18-8 record and dim 85-80 loss at home to Oklahoma State. The loss allowed both Kansas and Texas to move by WVU and settled the team into an uncomfortable fourth place. There was no more No. 5 national ranking and no more late-season spark in enthusiasm or body energy.
It’s true the Mountaineers played three games in five days, but if there is any winning success in the Kansas City-based tournament, they’ll be playing every day. And they’ll be on the road doing it.
With its record, WVU has done enough to already qualify for the 68-team NCAA tournament to be played entirely in the basketball-crazy state of Indiana.
A golden nugget in the way of vastly improved free throw shooting gives room for optimism and a stream of realism when it comes to speculating about the twin futures of the Big 12 tournament and then the NCAA March Madness chase.
Even before connecting on 73 percent of their foul shots in the loss to Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers made 28-of-32 free throws and 26-of-30 free throws in the two games previous to that.
The NCAA scenario at the foul line may not decide the winner or loser of a national tournament game, but a disheartening showing will almost always bring the heartburn of a loss.
At least the Mountaineers have a stable of usually steady scorers in Taz Sherman, Miles McBride, Derek Culver and Sean McNeil. Emmitt Matthews and Jalen Bridges are able to contribute in ways other than always scoring, with Bridges becoming an effective rebounder. Gabe Osabuohien is applauded for his defense, but is a liability when visiting the foul line.
Kansas City is rightly known for its mouth-watering steaks and other tempting midwestern food pleasures. If the Mountaineers defeated Oklahoma State on Thursday (yesterday) and then stop twice-beaten Baylor on Friday (today), they just might find a steakhouse willing to bring out the choicest of cuts to prepare the team for Saturday’s finals.
There won’t be any arena-wide cresting of noise here this week. The crowds will be limited and scattered wide because of the grip of the coronavirus. Kansas, the second-seed, won’t have the crackling enthusiasm of a packed house to spur it on this year.
There is the probability that seven of the league’s 10 teams will be selected to play in the NCAA tournament. It seems only TCU, Kansas State and Iowa State are in desperate need to win this Big 12 tournament to get into the NCAA event.
WVU coach Bob Huggins now has 899 career wins from his stints at Walsh (Ohio), Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia. He is now 67 years old.
The roster for this team has only two seniors — Sherman and Osabuohien. Culver and others could decide to plunge into the professional ranks or leave through the “transfer portal” for what they or their confidants see as greener pastures.
Since their entrance into the Big 12, the Mountaineers have never won the conference tournament.
The roads in Kansas have never been paved with gold.
Baylor is the logical favorite, but the Bears just lost to quickly-rising Kansas — a team that has looked like it is using yeast here in March.
The so-called Selection Sunday is only two days away. No speculation as to where the selection committee will be sending your team. Every NCAA tournament game will be played in Indiana with diminished crowds dressed in masks with team colors and socially distanced.
The team winning the national championship won’t be too worried about any in-place protocols when it will come to celebrating.