Power structure remains the same in the Big 12
Iowa State has a new coach. The same goes at Texas.
Allen Field House in Lawrence once again houses the Big 12 favorite.
And Oklahoma, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas all expect to land in the NCAA tournament after chasing Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks through the wilds of another midwest/southwest winter.
Through games of Dec. 18, the Big 12 has three teams ranked in the Top 5 in the nation, and both Oklahoma and Iowa State are unbeaten.
Only TCU and Texas Tech are expected to hatch only a few conference wins.
All the others will be playing for more and more national recognition.
West Virginia just tamed Marshall by 18 points, leaving Charleston with only a loss to Virginia keeping it as far down as No. 20 in the land.
On the horizon are the expected fratricidal battles within the league.
Jan. 2 is the date when intraconference games begin. In the first week of the season come games pitting Kansas against Oklahoma and Kansas against Iowa State.
The Mountaineers open their Big 12 firing on January 2 on the road at Kansas State and are still away from home on Jan. 4 when they face TCU in Forth Worth. West Virginia’s first game in the Coliseum against a conference opponent is on January 9 against Oklahoma State.
Can West Virginia possibly renounce its past history of being a midpack team that can’t move ahead of the likes of Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma? There will have to be wins on the road at places besides TCU, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State if such a move forward can be made.
Why can’t the Mountaineers find wins at the other places?
They would have to make late-game or overtime free throws to win. There could be no hindrances from foul problems clinging to their best players. Somehow, WVU’s halfcourt offense has to be more productive; that means more inside scoring and drawing more fouls on the opponent’s more important players. The guards — Jevon Carter, Daxter Mills, Jr., Jaysean Paige, Tarik Phillip and Teyvon Myers — have to collectively minimize their turnovers as well as make at least 40 percent of their field goal attempts.
What about the much-publicized pressure defense?
The major players in the Big 12 hierarchy of teams won’t be spewing turnovers and bleeding uncontrollably in the presence of a pressure defense.
West Virginia will have to win with solid halfcourt play any time it sees one of the powers.
Devin Williams is the mainspring of any success. Players like Jonathan Holton, Esa Ahmad and Carter have to be able to contribute fluid performances without the chains weighing on them from too many fouls, too early in games. Holton seems to always be in foul trouble in games on the road.
Coach Bob Huggins has pared his player rotation to nine, and there are no injuries at this time.
Can the Mountaineers get through any road games against the elite without at least one negative raising its ugly head? Poor perimeter shooting? Foul problems with Williams, Holton or Ahmad? Demoralizing free throw shooting? Poor passing from the guards in a halfcourt setting? A less than dominating rebounding game?
Any team can be beaten if that team is savaged on the boards. And the Mountaineers own the rebounding in nonconference games.
West Virginia won’t successfully press Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Baylor or Texas on the road. Winning in Lawrence, Norman, Ames, Waco or Austin will take finding success with a halfcourt offense and a halfcourt defense.
Keeping Williams, Holton, Ahmad and the bevy of guards free of game-altering fouls will be imperative if the Mountaineers are to finish in the top four teams in the conference standings.