It’s a gold mine for the media.
A bubbling crude. Black gold. Texas tea.
This WVU-Marshall matchup, that is, in Beverly Hills, er, San Diego on Sunday.
But I shall stay away from that for the moment. I’m sure the folks in my beloved Mountain State are already sparked over the game. Those that love Bob Huggins. Those that love Dan D’Antoni. Huggins insisted it’s not “a Hatfields and McCoys thing.”
I don’t know if I can true dat. I’ve been around both teams’ followers and administrators far too long to say it’s not. It certainly is “a dogs and cats thing” if nothing else. Emotions have flared.
Yet before we go there, allow me to point out something about this WVU victory over Murray State. And it is this:
That Mountaineer lead over the Racers on Friday was pretty solid throughout.
Other than a short second-half hiccup, erased by a 7-0 run, West Virginia kept Murray State at arm’s length for most of the game.
That’s progress for WVU. Also, after disappearing in the Big 12 title game against Kansas, Esa Ahmad turned in a fine game. Wesley Harris hit a couple big treys.
West Virginia will need both going forward if a deep run is expected. Jevon Carter’s production is a given. Sagaba Konate is always a force. Dax Miles will defend until his legs give out. But when Ahmad and Harris help, the Mountaineers move from a good team to a very good team. One that can do damage in this tournament.
Now, let’s get to that bubbling crude.
It’s a gold mine for the media.
Well, the Vingle has landed. This time in beautiful San Diego.
I’ll spare those not here the details. About the palm trees. About the mild weather. About the incredible architecture. About the Weather Channel warning of a “small craft advisory” when a slight rain breezed through. About that Pacific Ocean thing.
What I will frame, though, is the basketball setting. The Viejas Arena is on the campus of San Diego State University, which has its Spanish Revival architecture. (In my next life, I promise it will be a college option.)
Anyway, the arena is small. The seating is steep. The place holds but 12,414 folks, although it is neat. I would think that’s very small for an NCAA tournament site.
The problem, however, is the distance from West Virginia. It’s a five-hour flight from the Mountain State. It’s about 2,300 miles from home. And that’s a problem.
The cost of airfare here was insane. Even Murray State coach Matt McMahon told me some of his school’s die-hard fans couldn’t afford the trip. And if you tried to get a rental car at the San Diego airport on Wednesday, well, you were out of luck. There were none. Thankfully, there are shuttle services and, for the media, shuttles from the media hotel to the Viejas Arena. (Funny story: On Thursday morning’s first shuttle run, the van driver got lost trying to find the drop-off. Apparently, GPS doesn’t track media drop-offs.)
Anyway, it’s a shame more WVU – and, for that matter, Marshall – fans can’t afford to experience this exciting time and beautiful venue. The airlines and hotels gouge fans. And the NCAA committee didn’t help by sending the Mountaineers all the way here. It seems to me it could do a little better – especially since the team finished No. 2 in the brutal Big 12 – placing squads.
Rest assured, however, the Gazette-Mail will keep you covered. I’m here to provide the WVU news. Doug Smock is here to blanket Marshall.
If you’re a WVU fan looking for a team to cheer in the Super Bowl, you should take a look at the Philadelphia Eagles.
Philly has four Mountaineers on its active roster — CB Rasul Douglas, LB Najee Goode, RB Wendell Smallwood and WR Shelton Gibson — which is tied with Wisconsin, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Oregon and Arkansas for the second-largest number of alumni from any one school in the Super Bowl. And all four have made some sort of contribution to the Eagles’ cause this season.
Douglas, a rookie and a 2017 third-round pick, has two interceptions and 25 total tackles for Philadelphia this season. Goode, a sixth-year player used mostly on special teams, has 22 tackles. Second-year back Smallwood has 174 yards and a touchdown on 47 carries, and Gibson, a rookie and a fifth-round pick, has two catches for 11 yards.
There are no Mountaineers on the New England Patriots roster, so your game-day loyalties wouldn’t need to be split.
It was shaping up to be one heck of a home stretch in WVU’s current five-game streak. A visit to TCU and visit from Kentucky could have given the Mountaineers four ranked opponents in those five games.
Yeah … about that …
The new top 25 polls came out Monday and both the Horned Frogs and Wildcats fell from the list. For Kentucky, it’s the team’s first week outside the top 25 since 2014. The Mountaineers are in Fort Worth tonight. They host Kentucky on Saturday with College Gameday coming to town, an event announced when that was a much more enticing game for the casual fan.
The Horned Frogs got a little less dangerous with the news that point guard Jaylen Fisher was out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, yet they should still be a concern. Of their five losses, none of them have come by more than five points and two of them came in overtime. TCU will stick around.
Kentucky is another story. Sure, the Wildcats have lost three of their last five. But the big thing when facing them is to get them before their young players have a chance to figure things out. Last season, a Kentucky roster with 12 players either freshmen or sophomores lost three of four between late January and early February. After that February loss, UK didn’t lose again until the Elite Eight. There’s always a chance for Kentucky to remember that it’s Kentucky and play as such.
These next two games are crucial for WVU, especially now that both are unranked. Losing to a pair of unranked teams will not help them at all in terms of NCAA tournament seeding.
As if you didn’t already think next Saturday’s game against the University of Kentucky was a big deal, ESPN is upping the ante.
The College Gameday crew — Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg and Jay Williams — will be posting up in the Coliseum and broadcasting from there for the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Mountaineers and Wildcats mark the only matchup of the challenge between ranked teams so Dan Shulman and Bilas will be on the call for ESPN.
It’s only the second time Gameday has come to WVU for a basketball game — WVU-Louisville in 2009 was the first — so don’t be surprised to see some special stuff from WVU for this trip. A good game gets an even better lead-up.
Probably the most interesting quote from John Feinstein’s recent story on Bob Huggins in the Washington Post comes at the very end. Huggins, who essentially will coach at WVU until he no longer wants to, talked about what might lead him to finally call it a day.
“I’ve always said my dream is to bring a national championship to West Virginia,” he said. “Then I’d take the trophy, we’d put it on a bus and we’d go to every town in the state. We’d have [West Virginia play-by-play man] Tony Caridi on every radio station saying, ‘Smithers, come on out, the trophy’s arriving in 15 minutes.’ We’d have everyone touch it, hold it, take a picture with it.”
He paused. “Then,” he added, “I think I’d be done. There’d be nothing left to do.”
Disregard the retirement mention for a second. Does Huggins’ plan for the national championship trophy surprise anyone? His love for the state is evident, and to take it on a statewide tour like the Stanley Cup is a perfect way for WVU fans, as Caridi will say, “from Weirton to Welch, Martinsburg to Matewan and all points in between” to celebrate that championship. It would also be a heck of a way to ride off into the sunset.
Now, the Mountaineers will have to work to snap their current two-game skid, but chances are WVU will earn a high NCAA tournament seed and start their quest just an hour or so up the road in Pittsburgh (Joe Lunardi has the Mountaineers as a No. 3 seed starting in the Steel City.) It’s as good a place as any to make a run.
On Saturday morning, the WVU men’s basketball team was 15-1, owners of a 15-game winning streak and ranked No. 2 in the country. As of Tuesday morning, that No. 2 ranking had become a No. 6 ranking and the Mountaineers were owners of a two-game losing streak and a 15-3 record. And life won’t get much easier the next three games with home contests against Texas and Kentucky and a road trip to TCU on the horizon.
So what has changed over the last two games? In comparing a lot of the numbers, plenty.
Let’s look at how WVU has fared and how opponents have fared against WVU before the two losses and in those two losses. For brevity’s sake, we’ll call the two categories “Before” and “After.”
|Points||82.8 ppg||68.5 ppg|
|Assists||16.3 apg||9.5 apg|
|Turnovers||11.9 topg||14.5 topg|
|Rebounds||40.2 rpg||34.5 rpg|
|Points||64.9 ppg||71.5 ppg|
|Assists||11.5 apg||12 apg|
|Turnovers||20.3 topg||13 topg|
|Rebounds||35.3 rpg||31 rpg|
Summary: In that two-game skid, the Mountaineers are scoring more than 14 fewer points per game and allowing more than six more per game. Shooting 29 percent from 3 won’t help at all. Assists are way down, nearly seven per game, and that’s really not good. Turnovers are up, and that’s really not good. And WVU is forcing a lot fewer turnovers, and that’s really, really not good. West Virginia forced more than seven fewer turnovers per game against Texas Tech and Kansas as opposed to everyone else it has played. Considering the fact that forcing turnovers is WVU’s defensive identity, that is something that needs turned around by the time the Mountaineers host Texas on Saturday.
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills V were prolific this year.
The duo combined for 18 touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards of offense.
They both announced that they will stay in Morgantown for their senior seasons, both taking another year of experience at the collegiate level instead of an early attempt at the NFL.
With both returning for 2018, Mountaineer Nation is a buzz at the possibilities of what the two can do next year. And after what we saw this year, who can blame them?
Grier and Sills have been a great combination so far, but here are some former WVU QB/WR duos to show how good they’ve been.
Grier and Sills
2017 season – 10+ games
- Completions: 60
- Yards: 980
- Touchdowns: 18
- 20+ yard plays: 14 (6 for touchdowns)
- 100+ receiving yard games: 4
- Multi-touchdown games: 7
Notes: Over half of Grier’s 34 touchdown passes were thrown to Sills. Sills had the second-most touchdown receptions, fifth-most points for non-kickers, and ninth-most catches for a single season in WVU history this year.
Geno Smith and Tavon Austin
2010 – 2012 Seasons – 39 games
- Completions: 273
- Receiving Yards: 3,262
- Receiving TDs: 28
- 100+ receiving yard games: 13
- Multi-touchdown games: 6
Note: Tavon set and then re-set the all-purpose yards record in 2011 and 2012
Geno and Stedman Bailey
2011 – 2012 Seasons – 26 games
- Completions: 186
- Receiving Yards: 2,901
- Receiving TDs: 37
- 100+ receiving yard games: 14
- Multi-touchdown games: 9
Notes: Stedman set the receiving yards (1,622) and receiving touchdowns (25) single-season record in 2012. He also set the scoring record for non-kickers in 2012, tallying 150 points.
Austin and Bailey tied to set the school mark for receptions (114) in 2012.
Smith set and then re-set the school record for total offense in 2011 and 2012. He set the passing yards mark in ’11. The following year, he set the completions and touchdown passes record, with Austin and Bailey being major contributors.
Marc Bulger and Shawn Foreman
1997 – 1998 Seasons – 24 games
- Completions: 140
- Receiving yards: 1,876
- Receiving touchdowns: 13
- 100+ receiving yard games: 6
- Multi-touchdown games: 2
Notes: Bulger set the then-record for passing yards (3,607) in a season in 1998. That season he also set the school mark for completions. Foreman’s 945 receiving yards that season was the second-most in WVU history at the time. His 77 catches the year prior was also the school record.
Happy Esa Ahmad Is Back Day.
The forward will be in the lineup when West Virginia visits Texas Tech this afternoon. (Whether he starts or not is a secret Bob Huggins is apparently taking up to game time.) But his return will be a big boost to the No. 2 Mountaineers’ lineup.
How big? And how much does that mean for WVU’s next five games, a march through fire that, if the Mountaineers can win them all, should cement them as the top team in the country. Here’s the list: at No. 8 Texas Tech, at home versus No. 12 Kansas and Texas, at No. 16 TCU and at home against No. 21 Kentucky.
Ahmad didn’t face Kentucky last year, but here’s how he did against the other four teams:
Texas Tech — 2 games, 9.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Kansas — 2 games, 23.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg
Texas — 2 games, 3.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
TCU — 1 game, 16 pts, 5 rebs
Long story short, Ahmad is a Kansas-killer. And that’s who the Mountaineers face Monday. It may take some time for him to get his game legs under him, but any Ahmad is better than no Ahmad.
With the spring semester at hand, there have been a couple of early departures from the WVU football roster. Nothing earth-shattering, but here’s what we know for sure from comparing the 2017 and 2018 roster lists:
— Jalen Harvey, DL — Would have been a redshirt senior in 2018. Came to WVU from Northwest Mississippi CC this past season, played in five games and recorded five tackles.
— Ray Raulerson, OL — Would have been a redshirt senior in 2018. Transferred from Tennessee after the 2015 season and sat out 2016 for NCAA transfer requirements. Played in one game in 2017 as the backup to Matt Jones at center.
— Ricky Rogers, WR — Would have been a redshirt senior in 2018. Saw limited action in his three seasons on the active roster. Caught one pass for 26 yards while playing in eight games in 2017.
— Alec Shriner, OL — Would have been a redshirt junior in 2018. Moved from defensive line in 2016 to offensive line in 2017. Was named the offensive scout team champion for the Iowa State game, but did not see game action this past season.
Those are the names we know are gone by comparing the two rosters. Others may follow (some reports have K/P Jonn Young on the way out, but his name remained on the 2018 roster as of Friday afternoon) , so we’ll keep you posted if that happens.
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