It seems the Big 12 coaches agree. Sports Illustrated is doing its pre-tournament anonymous scouting reports, and they see what we see … plus a good bit more about the Mountaineers.
The format, if you’re not familiar.
I started with three of the top leagues—the ACC, the Big 12 and the Big Ten—and spoke with three coaches from each league, including head coaches and assistants. In exchange for their anonymity, I asked them to provide their assessments of the top teams in their respective leagues. If you find that these reports are overly negative, that is my doing, not theirs. We already know these teams are good. I wanted to know their vulnerabilities, because that info can mean the difference between a second-round exit and a trip to the Final Four.
Hot damn, that’s a good screen cap. As for the popular descriptions you’ll see if you do a Google search today, I mean, it’s a good jam, and Sagaba Konate is no joke, but is this really college basketball’s dunk of the year? I actually thought this play was better.
We can agree on this: Allen’s bad news. He’s 6-foot-11 and we can safely assume his wingspan is even longer, but he has some grace to his game, this soul-snatcher notwithstanding. Seeing as if this is a loaded draft coming up — and you’ll find Grayson Allen before you’ll find Jarrett Allen in some reputable mock drafts — and Texas is so young with a chance to be quite good next season, the really bad news is he might be back for his sophomore season.
You are looking live at the Coliseum floor, site of tonight’s Big 12 Big Monday showcase. The stage loves No. 12 West Virginia, even if the feeling isn’t always embraced. The student section can wear their sunglasses at night, if they so choose. They’re also set up with participation cues as well commemorative T-shirts. (Aside: You caught the meaning of the T-shirt, yes?)
Not a lot to add to this here post that we didn’t already cover today, but I think there’s a broad view of the Mountaineers to consider if not take. A win tonight, when they’re a 15 1/2-point favorite, would make them 7-2 in their last nine games. One loss was, true, at home to Oklahoma State … but the Cowboys are 8-1 in their last nine games. The other loss was at Kansas, and the way they gave that one away feels almost as uncommon as a Jayhawks home loss. Getting seven of nine in this league is good. It wasn’t long ago when I was writing about and we were considering WVU building toward a peak. It was right before the home game against Kansas State, in fact. WVU won that one and should have won at Kansas.
Baby, bath water, ya know?
So, consider that attempt at momentum, albeit with a massive misstep at Allen Fieldhouse, and perhaps take solace in a team that maybe rubbed its eyes in key spots Saturday. The Iowa State-Oklahoma State-Oklahoma-Kansas State-Kansas grind was brutal, and Bob Huggins was legitimately worried Friday about what would happen Saturday after his team had two days off. I mean, legitimately worried.
“When we won the Big East Tournament, we took two days off, and when we came back I didn’t think we were ever the same,” he said … of the Final Four team! “We were so used to playing the game and kind of having a lighter practice and practicing and playing another game. We were in such a routine that I think just the break in the routine hurt us a little bit. I didn’t think we had the same kind of pop we did before.”
Big news early, though. Esa Ahmad is in a navy blue sweatsuit. He’s has a back problem and will not play. I would guess Dax Miles starts. He has the starting experience, which Huggins values, and Texas starts three guards. But the Longhorns can also play big with their reserves. Ahmad hasn’t been particularly good lately, but he plays because he’s a talent and because he’s long. More importantly, WVU’s bench wasn’t really long in the second half Saturday, and now you’re really down two subs because of Tarik Phillip and Miles now starting. Funny how that’s worked out, if only for a night.
OK, so this didn’t look good or turn out well for West Virginia and for Beetle Bolden Saturday. This was at least symptomatic of the sort of errors the Mountaineers make throughout and seemingly especially at the end of ball games. This, of course, exasperated the head coach, Bob Huggins. “It’s hard to imagine what goes through some guys’ head sometimes,” he said.
Kansas is going to win the Big 12 regular-season title one of these days, and that’ll be 13 in a row and that’ll match UCLA’s NCAA record from 1967-79. The sport was very different back then. Nine of these will be outright titles. Four are shared, and the Jayhawks tidied things up by winning the conference tournament title in three of those years and a national championship once. It’s a truly amazing run, and this, for some reason, is perceived by many to be bad for the league … and they might be wholly dismissed if not for Bill Self’s five first-weekend exits in those 13 seasons. But then again, the RPI has had the Big 12 No. 1 the last three years. (It’s No. 2 and gaining ground this year.)
However you look at it, the Big 12 title race is over. It either ended when Kansas finished win an 8-0 run to win by two at Baylor Saturday or, more likely, when Baylor lost at home to Texas Tech and Kansas outscored WVU 34-16 in the final 7 minutes, 58 seconds a week ago today.
But this is not to say the fun is over in the Big 12.
Tony Dews might be new to coaching running backs, as his new and second stint at West Virginia is also the first time he’s ever coached the position, but he’s not new to recruiting. Doug Welk? That’s a different story.
I think there’s a need to be careful when characterizing yesterday’s game. It was a fourth overtime game and it was defined by an opponent getting what it needed to give itself a chance. But this wasn’t Oklahoma or Kansas State or Texas A&M or Kansas. Ninth-ranked West Virginia plays and lives in different canisters, and some fit inside others, sort of like Russian nesting dolls. Disregard the outcome, which is an obvious distinguishing factor. Winning tends to do that. But what happened yesterday doesn’t fit inside what happened Monday.
You are looking live at the Coliseum, site of today’s GRUDGE MATCH between No. 9 West Virginia and teetering Texas Tech. Today’s game is sold out, and the student section has its crib sheet as well as foam fingers.
I find the finger poignant today, because there was some finger-pointing yesterday. It was the first time the Mountaineers have met with the media since Monday night’s loss at Kansas. Well, check that. It was the second time. The first was the postgame postmortem, and that was odd. Ordinarily, Bob Huggins talks to reporters in a news conference setting, and the players are available before or after that outside the locker room.
It was different Monday. Huggins went to his news conference with Nate Adrian and Esa Ahmad. First time I remember that happening in a non-invitational regular-season game. I don’t know that that means anything, but maybe it does. Because when Huggins entertained reporters Friday, try as he might, he was not exactly subtle.
“I’m going to have a lot of things to say when I retire — how’s that?” Huggins said Friday. “A lot of things to say. For now, I’m going to save my money so I can retire.”
Commenting on officiating is prohibited, and violations can draw reprimands and fines. Huggins censored himself, but there was no mistaking the Mountaineers (20-6, 8-5 Big 12) were upset with the loss as well as how they lost.
“We turned the ball over too much, but — I can’t say a whole lot of things about what happened the other day, but you can’t guard guys out of bounds. That’s illegal,” Huggins said. “There’s just a lot of stuff that went on that shouldn’t have went on. You can’t plan for that.”
Welcome to the Friday Feedback, your fifth starter and finishing the week (at times!) for 302 editions. Hold your applause.
Good work this week, everybody. It wasn’t easy, but it was honest and raw and informative. It actually gave me some ideas for stories I want to pursue, namely one about the clutch lineups. You’ll notice we don’t touch that post today, and I think you know what we’re going to discuss. You’ve been waiting for the next game, so let’s not any longer to spend even more time on the last game.
Onto the Feedback. As always, comments appear as posted. In other words, look alive.
Sid Brockman said:
I would argue this could end up as the worst loss in WVU basketball history. Both because of how they lost the game, and also because of what a win would have meant. I don’t know how they recover from this one.
The story of this team is yet to be written, but the early draft should be “Missed Opportunities”.
To me, the recovery thing is a big deal. This identity isn’t new to WVU. Honestly, it’s not an identical match, but the behavior started in the Temple game, and it persists. That sort of shortcoming can weigh on a team. I think it bothers this one, and I think that it has been a trait for so long suggests it bothers the players and coaches that much more. Sooner or later, you realize it’s out there and it’s coming.