Will WVU do anything in the Big 12 tournament?
Kansas City: home of some of the finest steaks ever enjoyed by meat lovers. Kansas City: home of the World Champion Royals baseball team.
Kansas City: home of the Big 12 Conference men’s basketball tournament, an event where West Virginia’s Mountaineers have yet to win a game in three tries.
Stationed alone in second place in the 10-team conference, West Virginia has two games left (at home against Texas Tech and on the road on March 5 against Baylor) to finish off its regular season schedule.
It’s been since the 2009-10 season since a West Virginia team has won a game in a conference tournament. It was that season when the Mountaineers were the Big East champions (beating Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Georgetown) and reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
But in the last five seasons there have been first-round losses to Marquette and Connecticut in the Big East and then lowly Texas Tech in 2013, Texas in 2014 and Baylor in 2015 in three Big 12 tournaments.
Since it has already won 11 conference games, West Virginia has been impressive enough to those selectors that fetch teams for the nearly omnipotent NCAA Tournament to gain a berth there even if it staggers down the home stretch.
Conference teams Kansas, Oklahoma and Baylor are going to join West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament. It seems that Texas and Iowa State have also probably done enough winning to be given berths in the field of 68 teams. With Texas Tech beating several highly-ranked conference teams of late, the NCAA Tournament selection committee could also bring in the Red Raiders should they win at least once this week and they grab at least one Big 12 tournament win.
Only Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Christian have no chance of entering the NCAA Tournament.
The Jayhawks of Kansas have won their 13th straight Big 12 regular season championship and are healthy and depth-stylish enough to move on to the comforts of Kansas City and its friendly home crowds and win the tournament.
The Midwest crowds have little knowledge of West Virginia, but could throw their allegiance toward the Mountaineers if they played a team like Oklahoma that the home folks feared could beat their Jayhawks.
Oklahoma and Texas have both beaten West Virginia twice this season. The Mountaineers own two wins over Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Christian.
Mountaineer injuries to Daxter Miles, Jr. and Jaysean Paige as well as a four-game suspension leveled by Coach Bob Huggins against Jonathan Holton have changed the player rotation the team uses.
Miles, Jr. and Paige have returned and Holton has been used as a ready reserve since being reinstated.
Should the Mountaineers find a way to control a fast-paced tempo and keep their most-necessary players out of foul trouble they could make some waves even in far-away Kansas City.
For that to happen, Paige and fellow reserve Tarik Phillip have to play the majority of minutes any West Virginia guard will see. Holton has to be in the starting lineup and play at least 25 minutes.
Little can be expected from Esa Ahmad, Elijah Macon, Teyvon Myers or Brandon Watkins.
Should Nathan Adrian or Jevon Carter shoot well or provide steady minutes in West Virginia’s press, it would be a welcome surprise.
The Mountaineers still miss too many foul shots and don’t do much against zone defense, but their numbers usually tire teams with too few reserves like Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
Hoarding as many offensive rebounds as the Mountaineers get is another real key to them winning in Kansas City.
Huggins generally tries 11 players, but he knows Devin Williams, Paige, Phillip and Holton are his most-needed resources.
If Miles, Jr. or Carter could make even a reasonable percentage of their shots, West Virginia’s stock would rise like some Silicon Valley value on the New York Stock Exchange.
And then comes the NCAA Tournament where West Virginia defeated Buffalo and Maryland last season before being ousted by Kentucky by the tune of 78-39.