When Saturday started, the same West Virginia University men’s basketball team that struggled through February and tumbled out of the Associated Press Top 25 needed a long list of unlikely events to go down for the Mountaineers to finish as the No. 3 seed for this week’s Big 12 tournament.
When the day ended, it took a monumental individual effort and a buzzer-beater to send West Virginia to Kansas City as the No. 6 seed after a unforgettably unpredictable final day of the Big 12 regular season.
West Virginia’s long list of must-haves when the day began started with a tough test at home. The Mountaineers had to beat No. 4 Baylor — the team that spent more weeks at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 than any other this season and a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament — or risk falling out of the league’s top six teams and having to play an extra game to get through the conference tournament.
WVU’s day got off to an unexpected start when senior guard Chase Harler used the Senior Day festivities as an opportunity to propose to his longtime girlfriend Lindsey Baker, who was a pretty good player herself back in the day for the Wheeling Central High girls basketball team. Baker, Harler’s girlfriend since they were both in the eighth grade, said yes, then the Mountaineers came back from a 9-0 hole to start the game and whipped the Bears to handle the part of Saturday’s business they could control.
Harler didn’t want to create any unwanted distractions, so he asked permission and received Bob Huggins’ blessing to pop the question, but Huggins had the line of the day.
Asked if he had any advice for his newly engaged senior guard, Huggins saw an opportunity to get in some shots while he still has Harler around.
“I think he’s marrying up,” Huggins said. “I thought he out to grab it while he could.”
Was the result against the Bears really that unexpected? Not according to oddsmakers, but if you saw the first meeting between WVU and Baylor it absolutely was unexpected. West Virginia’s work was done, now Texas Tech had to lose to Kansas. Despite a strong effort in the second half, the Red Raiders could not beat the league-champion Jayhawks.
Next up on the list was a Texas loss to an Oklahoma State team that opened Big 12 play 0-8 but had been playing much better in recent weeks, and there was no drama to this one. The Cowboys thoroughly whipped the Longhorns in front of their home fans and locked West Virginia into either the No. 3 or No. 6 seed. If TCU was able to defend its home court against Oklahoma, the final domino would be down to slot the Mountaineers in at No. 3.
As we know now, the Horned Frogs and Sooners capped the day with an all-time choke job by TCU and an all-time clutch performance by OU’s Austin Reaves.
The Frogs were ahead 44-26 at halftime before the Sooners outscored TCU 52-32 in the second half thanks in large part to Reaves, who scored an unfathomable 41 points and dropped the hammer on TCU — as well as the Mountaineers’ hopes for the No. 3 seed — with a buzzer-beater to give Oklahoma a 78-76 win in Fort Worth, Texas.
Technically West Virginia finished the regular season tied for third-place in the Big 12 along with Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas, but the Mountaineers go to Kansas City as the No. 6 seed to take on No. 3 OU in Thursday’s late game. The Mountaineers appear to be a lock for the NCAA tournament, while Oklahoma — despite two wins against WVU already this season — could need some help to get there. It was a strange season with a strange end that produced another clash between two teams that are no strangers to strange games in Kansas City. Whether you’re making the trip to be there in person, watching from a bar stool somewhere or at home on your couch, it seems like a good time to expect the unexpected.