Mountaineer Magic or Mountaineer Malaise?
Kansas City has world famous steaks. It hasn’t, however, held a Big 12 tournament championship for West Virginia and its pressure defense.
Even with a No. 2 seed behind only regular season champion Kansas, the press-happy Mountaineers are an unlikely choice to wear the conference crown come late Saturday night.
Too many nights have found West Virginia holding little regard for its opponent.
A loss in overtimes at Texas Tech, a team with a first-year coach whose preparation and strategy is far ahead of last season’s coach, Orlando “Tubby” Smith.
A loss at home to second division scuffler Oklahoma. A loss at home to Oklahoma State.
The worst loss of the season to Temple on a neutral court.
Does anybody remember the first round of the NCAA tournament to No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin? The game wasn’t even close as sleep-walking West Virginia was thumped.
Is anything that much different about this team? Will its collection of players be more prideful, more focused on the general good of everybody concerned?
Or will it give little credence to the pleas of its coaches about the possibility of losing in the first round . . . again?
The Big 12 tournament won’t change West Virginia’s seeding in the NCAA event unless it loses badly in the first round or wins the whole thing.
By finishing second in the regular going the Mountaineers get to skip the opening round and then join the fray in the quarterfinals against the winner of the Texas Tech vs. Texas game.
As mentioned, Texas Tech defeated West Virginia in three overtimes in Lubbock in only the second game of the conference season. When the Red Raiders came to Morgantown, the Mountaineers themselves prevailed in another three overtimes.
Why any player would find playing hard against Texas Tech — should it beat Texas — to be undesirable is beyond reason.
And it was a lethargic two-point win in Austin against Texas by another go-through-the-motions Mountaineer team in mid-January.
Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title for the 13th straight time. But Kansas hasn’t been winning the conference tournament of late.
West Virginia comes to the conference tournament with a 24-7 record. It had a 12-6 league record, more than a few lengths behind Kansas and its 16-2 record.
Kansas City is not Charleston or Wheeling or Bluefield or any other so-called neutral site within the state of West Virginia. It’s not a true neutral court. Just ask the Jayhawks or Kansas State.
Coming into Kansas City, the Mountaineers are a consensus No. 11 team in the polls and rankings.
That would be a No. 3 or a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.
But a crumbling first-round loss or a pressure-providing Big 12 championship would change that seed a week later.
It would seem the Mountaineers would fall no lower than a No. 5 seed in the NCAA’s. That was the seed they carried to disaster last season when Stephen F. Austin all but chased them back to Morgantown.
A No. 3 seed in the NCAA event would pair West Virginia with a No. 14 seed . . . or opposite a team some of the players would not take all that seriously.
In the tournaments, Esa Ahmad should be there without his back spasms.
It’s Jevon Carter who gives West Virginia its emotional charge. He plays hard all the time. As lacking as Nathan Adrian is in many areas, at least he plays with energy.
Tarik Phillip is a third player whose effort is valuable. Elijah Macon may be out of position and without much merit at times, but he, too, shows effort.
Don’t look for Brandon Watkins, Lamont West, Teyvon Myers, Daxter Miles, Jr. or “Beetle” to show much sense of urgency against Texas Tech, Texas or the first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament.
Foul trouble, free throw problems, and finding anyone other than Carter to do its main biding could demonize these Mountaineers.
Miles, Jr., a guard, makes 50 percent of his free throws. Watkins is only a little better.
Opponents have to succumb to the full court pressure. Even the best of teams have faltered.
Look back to the recent game against Kansas in Lawrence. West Virginia had a 64-50 lead with only 2:58 remaining. It lost the game.
Realistically, no lead is safe.
But should Carter find himself surrounded by four others putting forth a valid effort then no opponent’s lead is entirely safe, either.
The Mountaineers can’t lose 10 games. They only lost nine times last year.
This has been a season to be toasted. But this is not a team that will reach the Final Four or the Elite Eight. The weaknesses cannot all be camouflaged by the full court pressure defense.