There’s no doubt that West Virginia’s upcoming string of four games in eight days, followed by the Big 12 tournament, followed by the NCAA Tournament is a rugged stretch of basketball at the most important time of the year.
But at this point, the Mountaineers are left with little choice but to take it head on and do the best they can in terms of staying as fresh as possible.
To that interest, WVU coach Bob Huggins said it’s up to his team to do the right things the rest of the way out.
“It’s kind of like old guys like us, we don’t have to get fat — we choose to,” Huggins said. “And that’s what I told them: ‘You guys can take care of yourself when the game is over with, go home, or go in and get in the cold tub, get in the cryochamber,’ we’ve got everything humanly possible available for them here and they need to use it.”
That’s certainly not lost on the players.
“It’s just preparation,” senior guard Taz Sherman said. “Make sure we all stay healthy, get treatment and stuff like that. That’s why we have these gadgets and things in the facility that can help with our bodies. It’s just like glorified AAU right now.”
Though this stretch will be rough, it also presents plenty of opportunity. The Mountaineers are being projected as either a No. 3 or No. 2 NCAA seed right now, with WVU moving up to the two line in ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s latest “Bracketology” piece, released on Friday morning.
After West Virginia’s win over TCU on Tuesday, Sherman talked a bit about his team’s national standing. So how much do the players pay attention to where they could possibly fall in the NCAA tournament?
“We just talk about stuff like that all the time,” Sherman said. “We try to get the highest rank possible. I think we’re like a three, we could possibly get up to a two with these four games and possibly even a one seed, so we just keep going. We don’t really focus on it too heavily, but at the end of the day, we know it’s a possibility that we can get to a top seed, so we’re aiming for that for sure.”
In terms of which players are the most likely to stay on top of the projections, Sherman pointed to the team’s two primary point guards — Miles “Deuce” McBride and Jordan McCabe — as being the team’s resident analysts.
“They are very in-tuned to things like that,” Sherman said. “Their two minds are super great, their IQs are super great for the game. They pay attention to stuff like that, but we always talk about seedings and just trying to be as high a seed as we possibly can. They do a great job of talking to us and having conversations about what we need to do to be a top seed or who lost and where we could be placed at.
“Jordan and Deuce definitely have the lead in the Bracketology department.”
Big 12 seeding
The Mountaineers would be the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament if the season ended today, but a lot can and likely will change over the next week and half, both within the conference and nationally.
But this season, with COVID-19 postponements and cancellations, the playing field isn’t necessarily even. Baylor, which stands at 10-0 in the league but with just four games left on the schedule, will finish the regular season without playing four scheduled conference games.
Does Huggins feel it’s fair for the Bears to be awarded with the tournament’s top seed despite playing fewer games, if that situation comes to pass?
“My understanding is that the conference [tournament seeding] is going to be on percentage, and if they have then … I would feel different about it if you feel like they were able to pick and choose who they were going to play and not play, but obviously that didn’t happen,” Huggins said. “If they have the highest percentage, they should be the league [regular-season] champion.
“If we’d made a couple free throws down the stretch against Texas or we’d made a couple easy shots against Oklahoma, we wouldn’t have had to worry about anything. Those are two games we had right there to win, but we didn’t. We didn’t finish it.”
Another topic Friday was the health of McBride, who Huggins said should be OK and pointed to McBride’s time as a high school quarterback as a good reference point on how to play through pain.
“He’s a little dinged up, but he’ll be fine,” Huggins said. “He took a lot of hits in football, he knows what it’s about.”
While on the subject, Huggins compared his own high school football career to McBride’s and spun a yarn of his own about being injured on the field.
“I tell him every day that I was a better high school quarterback than he was,” Huggins said. “I got knocked out. I got tackled after the whistle and I rolled over, actually I was looking for the official I was going to punch the guy in the neck that hit me after the whistle and I get speared and man, I was out. I was two-and-a-half weeks where I was in a dark room. Any light killed me. Couldn’t read, couldn’t do anything.
“And my dad was really, really upset about it, you know why? Not because I got hurt, because I couldn’t practice.”