Fast-closing WVU rises to useful seeds in tournaments
Useful records of 13-5 in the Big 12 Conference and 24-7 overall have earned West Virginia favorable seeds for this week’s league tournament and also next week’s NCAA marathon event.
There were no “bad losses” to ordinary teams. Outside the conference, WVU lost only to fourth-ranked Virginia and Florida on the Gators court in Gainesville. Inside the Big 12, West Virginia lost to Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas — all NCAA Tournament bullies.
The Mountaineers swept two-game sets with Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas Christian and Iowa State.
That spit-shined 13-5 conference record gave the Mountaineers an unshared second place in the final regular season standings. It brought the No.-2 seed in this week’s league tournament in Kansas City.
The final regular-season poll conducted by the Associated Press had West Virginia stationed at No. 9 in the country and ready to accept a No. 3 or even No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the field is announced on Sunday evening at 6 p.m.
Being seeded second in the Big 12 gives the Mountaineers a first-round bye and had them beginning play on Thursday, March 10, against the winner of the Texas Tech vs. Texas Christian game in the quarterfinals.
Even though this is only West Virginia’s fourth season in the Big 12 it has yet to win a conference tournament game.
A win over either Texas Tech or TCU would throw the Mountaineers into the semifinals against either No.-3 seed Oklahoma or No.-6 seed Iowa State. Oklahoma defeated the Mountaineers both times they played and Iowa State fell both times it saw West Virginia.
Top-seeded Kansas is also the No.-1 ranked team in the country after winning a 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title.
The Jayhawks, which split two games against the Mountaineers, begin play on Thursday when they face the winner of the Kansas State vs. Oklahoma State game. Also in that part of the bracket are No.-4 seed Texas and No.-5 seed Baylor.
The conference championship game is slated to be played on Saturday with a 6 p.m. start time on ESPN.
When the back slapping, high-fives and hugs had been completed in the aftermath of Saturday’s 69-58 win on the road over Baylor, the Mountaineers had finished the regular season with three straight wins.
There were no new injuries and both Jaysean Paige and Daxter Mills, Jr. seemed recovered from the leg problems both had faced in the last few weeks.
Nathan Adrian was still starting in the place of Jonathan Holton while guard Teyvon Myers and forward/center Brandon Watkins were not being trusted to contribute anything.
Devin Williams had not done much lately — scoring little, missing scads of free throws and even getting into foul trouble. It would be difficult to win against Kansas in a possible tournament championship game if Williams didn’t find his scoring touch, get 10 rebounds and stay on the floor uninhibited by fouls.
West Virginia’s season seems much heavier with results than the sum of its parts would indicate it could have.
Paige became the school’s only player in over 100 years to lead the team in scoring as a reserve, who started only once when Miles, Jr. was injured.
Though neither gave all-conference performances toward the close of the season, both Adrian and Esa Ahmad have done better than earlier in the season.
Tarik Phillip has seemed to relish his role as a reserve who plays from 22 to 34 minutes a game. His double-figure scoring and nearly-best-on-the-team field goal and three-point percentages have become vital in conference wins.
Jevon Carter has quietly become the point guard of choice and his turnovers have been declining in number.
Any contributions found from Elijah Macon, Watkins and Myers from now on would be unexpected gifts.
There is no obvious world-beater in the coming NCAA field. Every team still alive is either very young, has little or no depth, has obvious holes in its lineup or lacks quickness, quality field goal shooting or the schedule to toughen it for a six-game grind through the tournament.
As for West Virginia, it has to make its free throws in end-game situations, stay free from numbing fouls on its most useful players and not incur any more injuries.