The West Virginia University men’s basketball team takes on its final non-conference opponent of the regular season Saturday when the No. 14 Mountaineers host Missouri. Yet don’t let the Tigers’ 9-9 overall record and 1-5 mark in Southeastern Conference play fool you.
Is Missouri a great team? No. But the Tigers are perhaps the best team in the nation when it comes to one aspect of the game — making foul shots.
Last Saturday in a loss against Alabama, Mizzou was perfect at the foul line, making all 31 of its free throw attempts. The Tigers set the all-time NCAA record for consecutive made foul shots in a 66-64 loss Tuesday against Texas A&M, passing the 50 Wake Forest made consecutively in 2005 to set the record at 54 before a miss came against the Aggies.
Still, even with all those free points, the Tigers are struggling for wins and are teetering on the brink of a lost season. They’ll have a chance to get back on track Saturday at the Coliseum against WVU in their part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge (noon on ESPN).
“The pain is the loss, but the pleasure is those guys did something that’ll go down in history,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin told the Columbia Tribune following the loss to Texas A&M. “But all those guys will say they wanted to win the game more than anything. We’ve got to keep plugging along.”
A close game against the Tigers might not bode well for West Virginia. If it comes down to foul shots, WVU is among the worst in the Big 12 at the stripe, having made 283 of 442 attempts (64%) this season — ahead of only TCU among league teams.
West Virginia does have its fair share of players who can sink those shots, but those are not the players regularly going to the foul line for coach Bob Huggins’ team.
Among the regulars in West Virginia’s lineup, sophomore guard Jordan McCabe has been the best with 17 of his 20 foul shots going in (85%) this season. Sophomore guard Brandon Knapper has also been solid at the line, hitting 10 of his 12 attempts (83.3%).
The players who find themselves at the foul line the most, however, have not been so good. Sophomore forward Derek Culver has come back down to earth after a surprising start at the foul line and now sits at 60% (63 of 105) this season. Freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe has only been been slightly better at 65% (54 of 83).
KIND WORDS FROM CALIPARI
The No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll has been a revolving door this season, which makes it easy to understand why so many coaches have trumpeted the parity currently present in college basketball.
Just ask Kentucky coach John Calipari. He’ll tell you how wide-open the sport is right now when it comes to narrowing down the top teams.
“The players, the teams, the leagues — there’s just parity,” Calipari said on Thursday’s SEC coaches teleconference. “There were times I can remember being on phone calls and saying, ‘Look, guys. There are eight teams that have a chance to win the national title, and there are 20 teams that have a chance to get to the Final Four.’ I’ll tell you right now — there may be 25 teams that can win the national title. There may be 60 or 70 teams that can get to the Final Four.”
Among those 60 or 70 that could make the Final Four and the 25 that could win the national title, according to Calipari, is this West Virginia team and his longtime friend Huggins.
“I talked to Bob Huggins not long ago, and I told him,” Calipari said. “I said, ‘Geez, you’ve got rebounding, your toughness, your defense, your scoring.’ I said, ‘Bob, you guys could do this.’ ”