NCAA bid in hand, West Virginia faces Baylor
Winning 23 games is enough.
Finishing with an 11-7 record in the almost-bigger-than-life Big 12 is enough.
West Virginia will be included in the NCAA tournament field when the 68-team group is announced on Sunday at 6 p.m.
The Mountaineers are also assured a decent seed will come their way . . . no matter how they do against Baylor in a third meeting against the Bears.
Baylor defeated the Mountaineers by double-figure margins both times the teams met during the regular season.
West Virginia has the No. 5 seed in the Big 12 tournament and Baylor has the No. 4 seed. The winner meets Kansas, the tournament’s No. 1 seed in the semifinals where the crowd in Kansas City won’t be harboring any warm and fuzzy feelings for the underdog Mountaineers or underdog Bears.
The Big 12 tournament seems to be a wide open event with only Texas Tech and TCU having to swim too far upstream to win the whole thing.
How can West Virginia win three straight games and take the tournament?
They could get Juwan Staten back from his knee problem that kept him out of the final three regular-season games.
They could get Gary Browne back from an injury that kept him out of the last few games.
If they are missing the team’s only two seniors again, then Jevon Carter will have to be on-target with his three-point shots, and Devin Williams will have to score in bunches, rebound in bunches and stay away from foul trouble.
Jonathan Holton, Elijah Macon and even BillyDee Williams will have to contribute — especially Holton as the point man in West Virginia’s fullcourt pressure defense.
Daxter Miles, Jr. can’t miss 80-percent of his shots. Tarik Phillip can’t play 10 minutes and appear in the sheet of statistics with nothing more three personal fouls.
Nathan Adrian will be on the floor, but will he be sitting on the floor or doing more than going 1-for-6 on his three-point attempts?
Baylor brushed past West Virginia’s press in both games the Bears won by handy margins.
West Virginia did manage to beat Oklahoma State and Texas in the last weeks, and they did so by making their free throws.
Should the enthusiastic Mountaineers ease past Baylor, they could find Kansas more vulnerable to their pressure than were the Bears. Kansas has center Perry Ellis, its best player, nursing an injury that could keep him out of the tournament.
Even a loss in its first tournament game shouldn’t do much to change West Virginia’s NCAA tournament seeding. Even winning the tournament won’t elevate the Mountaineers any higher than a No. 4 seed in next week’s NCAA tournament.
Bob Huggins has been named the league’s Coach of the Year. Staten has been selected to the all-conference first team. Carter has been named to the all-freshmen defensive team.
West Virginia will be using its press, trying to disrupt any composed flow its opponent wanted; trying to get 15 or more offensive rebounds from the disruption it can cause. The Mountaineers will foul at least 20 times, but can they cause at least 20 turnovers from their opponent of the day?
Baylor is not the team the Mountaineers would have preferred in the first round.
But with a 23-8 overall record before dining on Kansas City sirloin, the Mountaineers have impressed the right people to earn the right to sink their teeth into some of the food provided them in the NCAA free-for-all.