Time running out for nonleague wins
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia's basketball players are well aware of the opportunities they've let get away so far this season, losing four games — all by single digits — to schools over which wins would have helped their postseason chances immensely.
The Mountaineers have another today against Purdue and they don't want to let that one slip away, too.
"We need this win,'' sophomore guard Terry Henderson said. "We need this win bad.''
True, a win over Purdue (9-3) in today's 1 p.m. game at the Coliseum (ESPNU) wouldn't be quite the magnitude of some of the others WVU (7-4) could have earned.
Wisconsin, for instance, is No. 2 in the latest unofficial Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and beat West Virginia by just seven points in Mexico. Gonzaga, which had to rally to beat WVU, is No. 13. Missouri, which beat the Mountaineers by nine, is No. 23. Combined those three teams went into the weekend 32-1. Even Virginia Tech, the other team that beat WVU, is a Top 75 RPI team and will go into the New Year leading the ACC thanks to an early win on the road at Miami.
Still, a win over a 9-3 Purdue team that is at least in the RPI Top 150 would be a great step forward for West Virginia, which has only one other game — a week from today against William & Mary in Charleston — before conference play begins. That's because to date, none of the seven teams WVU has beaten are ranked in the Top 200 and four are on the fringes of or outside the Top 300.
"You have to win games like this,'' said junior guard Gary Browne. "Look at where some of the teams we've played are [ranked]. Those would have been good wins. We need every win we can get in the non-conference games.''
And that non-conference schedule is now down to just these next two Sunday games. West Virginia will have plenty of opportunities to pick up quality wins in its 18-game Big 12 schedule that begins Jan. 4, but going into it without a win over a Top 150 team would certainly increase the pressure.
Of course, Purdue is in a bit of the same predicament. The Boilermakers are 9-3, but eight of those wins have come at home and all but one were over low mid-majors. Purdue hasn't played a true road game this season and is 1-3 on neutral courts. At home, Purdue is shooting 48 percent and scoring over 83 points on average, but on those neutral courts the numbers drop to 40 percent and less than 70 points.
Still, the Boilermakers have a nice history against West Virginia, having won six of the seven meetings. West Virginia's only win came three years ago at the Coliseum, 68-64.
This is a Purdue team without any real stars. Brothers Terone and Ronnie Johnson, both guards, are the top scorers at 13.5 and 10.5 points per game, respectively, but nine players play relatively equal minutes and all are capable of double-figure scoring performances. The Boilermakers are perimeter-oriented in their scoring, but have 7-foot sophomore A.J. Hammons and 6-10 Jay Simpson to clog up the middle.
Purdue has also led in every game it has played this season with the exception of a 97-87 loss to Oklahoma State in Orlando in which the Cowboys led by 24 but saw that cut to six when Marcus Smart went to the bench with four fouls.
If nothing else, perhaps after all the single-digit losses West Virginia has suffered this season, this could be a test to see if the Mountaineers can win another game if it is close at the end. They did that last weekend against Marshall, erasing a game-long deficit in the final four minutes before winning by 10.
"That was a good win for us because we came back and beat a team that was ahead of us and had a lot of good athletes,'' Henderson said. "It showed what we can do in a tough spot. Now we have to keep doing it.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1