All things considered, perhaps No. 18 WVU didn’t fare too poorly when it fell from the No. 2 seed in this week’s Big 12 men’s basketball tournament to the No. 3 seed.
Had the Mountaineers finished No. 2, they’d have played a team — either Texas or Iowa State — to which they’ve lost this season. In Baylor, the 9 p.m. Thursday opponent in Kansas City, West Virginia is facing a team it’s defeated twice, once 57-54 in Morgantown and, more recently, 71-60 in Waco.
WVU fans might remember the latter. The Mountaineers, still stinging from a heart-breaking loss at Kansas, built a 28-point lead, allowed it to dwindle to 12, yet got the job done. A Dax Miles 4-point play was big there.
Lately, BU has lost three of four, including the regular season finale at Kansas State. Yet Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins on Tuesday pointed more toward the Bears’ season turnaround. They went on a five-game winning streak before the recent skid and are now 18-13 and in line for an NCAA tournament berth.
“[Coach] Scott [Drew] has done a terrific job, first,” Huggins said. “They were struggling but he found a way to get them back. They’re playing extremely well right now. They’ve got multiple guys capable of going for 20 points on every given night. And it’s hard to play against that zone.”
Indeed, 6-foot-9 forward Nuni Omot went off for 30 points on 8-of-11 shooting against K-State.
Meanwhile, West Virginia lost its last game, 87-79 in overtime at Texas, but won three straight before that.
“I see the same thing I always see out of them: causing a lot of turnovers and really getting after it defensively,” Drew said. “They have the best perimeter defender in the country in Jevon Carter and arguably the best interior defender in Sagaba Konate, so it makes it real tough on the [offensive] end. And then they’re very good, obviously, when they cause turnovers in transition.”
Huggins said he doesn’t expect the chippy play from the last game to carry over.
“No, I don’t,” he said. “I didn’t think it was anything, really, except two teams playing hard. At that time, we were struggling a little bit and they were struggling a little bit. It was two teams wanting to win.”
Carter, by the way, was announced on Tuesday as one of five finalists for the 2018 Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award, named after Hall of Famer and former Boston Celtic guard Bob Cousy. It honors the top point guards in Division I men’s basketball. The other five finalists are Devonte’ Graham of Kansas, Joel Barry II of North Carolina, Trae Young of Oklahoma and Jalen Brunson of Villanova.Huggins was asked what makes Carter special.
“I think it starts with his work ethic,” said the coach. “He has a great, great work ethic. He has great feet. He has very, very quick hands. And he has a great desire to guard. He takes a lot of pride in being able to defend.”
On the Big 12 teleconference, many coaches were asked how many Big 12 teams would make the NCAA tournament. Also, TCU coach Jamie Dixon made some comparisons to the old Big East. He used to be Pittsburgh’s coach before moving to his alma mater.Huggins, of course, coached WVU both in the Big East and Big 12.
“This [Big 12] league doesn’t have a bottom,” Huggins said. “There were five or six teams [in the Big East] you were supposed to beat. If you were a middle-of-the-pack team you played two of those twice. If you were a West Virginia or Pitt you’d play each other twice — that was a given — and then another really good team twice. They did a great job, I think, of putting as many teams as possible in the NCAA tournament. But it had a bottom. There’s no bottom in this league. There’s no bottom in the coaching.”
According to WVU basketball sports information director Bryan Messerly, the Mountaineers will attend classes Tuesday morning before departing in the afternoon and practicing later in Kansas City.