Not that we’re keeping score, but how many times has Bob Huggins followed a West Virginia win or loss and said something to the effect of, “I had the wrong players on the floor.” It wasn’t a tactical error — not intentionally at least. It was regret. He didn’t say it Monday night, but I think it’s fair to assume the team that was on the floor was not the perfect combination of players.
I also think it’s fair to assume some of the remaining games in regular-season and postseason play will feature finishes that will ask what some games have already asked of the Mountaineers. Let’s discuss this, because we’re likely going to need it later in the schedule. Close game, two or three minutes to go. Huggins has his team on the floor. Who are your five? I think two spots are locks, nevermind trouble with inbound passes Monday, but I think you can weigh variables about the other three and come out with different combinations.
We’re not going to know the answer to the supersedingly important third question — “What the heck happens next?” — for a while. At least Saturday. Perhaps much later. But as everyone waits and wonders and fills their time with certain trivia that I’ll get to, West Virginia attempted to make sense of the two most common curiosities or complaints that came out of the still-stunning-two-days-later loss to Kansas.
I don’t know what to tell you about what we witnessed last night. It was, truly, unbelievable. To be honest with you, I need to watch it – at least the final eight minutes of the 45 – again, which is to say for the first time. I’ve seen West Virginia do what it did a bunch this season, and I never saw that coming. Not with a 14-point lead and 2:58 on the clock. It was surreal. Should have never happened, either, but it did, and WVU’s greatest enemy was, as it so often is, itself.
The Mountaineers followed the script for how to lose a game they had no business – none – losing.
You are looking live at the calm before the storm at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, site of tonight’s top-10 matchup between No. 9 West Virginia and No. 3 Kansas. The Guinness World Record folks are here. We’ve already heard the primer about tonight’s endeavor, complete with details about the location of the microphone that’s recording the cheer. There will be a rehearsal just before the opening tip, and then the real deal comes later — and I don’t know exactly when because it was ironically too loud at that moment.
But there are people here to authenticate the accomplishment, and I really hope they serve a purpose and discover the rehearsal was louder than the official attempt and thus the record is in question.
Anyhow, Mountaineers v. Jayhawks for the second time this season. I think you know lot of the details. Kansas hardly ever loses here — 217-10 under 14th-year coach Bill Self — and there was already one home loss this season. The haven’t lost two conference home games since the 2006-07 season. The Jayhawks are 2-0 since the loss here 10 days ago to Iowa State, and both of those games were on the road. They haven’t lost back-to-back home games since 1988-89, and that was Roy Williams’ first season at Kansas.
Further, a win tonight would give Kansas 28 straight seasons with at least 23 wins and leave it one win away from a crazy 17 straight seasons with 12 or more conference wins. Remember, this is the sixth season with 18 league games. Before that, it was 16.
A loss? Doesn’t exactly delay the above superlatives, but here’s the nugget for you: Self has never been swept home-and-home. Never.
Good: West Virginia had five players invited to the NFL draft combine: Rasul Douglas, Shelton Gibson, Noble Nwachukwu, Tyler Orlosky, Rushel Shell. That’s the largest group in the Big 12!
Bad news: … that second sentence, I guess. Purists will say so, at least. The other nine Big 12 schools combined for 13 players. Eighteen total combine invitations? On the heels of just ordinary reception and reviews in signing day?
“Mike, there are just 10 teams. Of course the Big 12 will have the fewest invitations among Power 5 teams.”
About that …
Combine invites per team: SEC – 4.7 ACC – 4.3 Pac-12 – 3.9 Big Ten – 3.6 Big 12 – 1.8
OK, so this is weird. We’re having a common but also perplexing issue with the blog. I’m getting a constant ERR_CONNECTION_TIMED_OUT message when I head to the blog’s administrative page. I can get to any other website on the planet, including other WordPress sites, but I can’t access our blog. It appears to be solely my computer, because I can get in on my phone and tablet.
I say common, because we’ve all had this issue and many of us have fixed it or simply had it fix itself. Not me, hence perplexing. We’re searching for a solution. I’ve tried a swarm of trouble shooting suggestions to no avail. If any of this sounds familiar, I welcome your two cents. Right now, everything in the immediate future is up in the air. Indid this on my phone. I can’t do that at the game tonight.
We probably ought to start by saying 13th-ranked West Virginia has pressed us into a corner this season, and in that corner, we’ve struggled to know, never mind to predict, who and what the Mountaineers are except that they are capable of being extremely multiple. You know the routine. Up to the level of good teams and at or beneath the level of lesser teams. Excellent in half-court offense or defense, proficient in full-court pressure and transition scoring … and also the opposite.
This is now news, not after highs and lows, winning streaks and a losing streak, big leads and rugs yanked from beneath the Nikes.
It might be time to open our minds to the possibility WVU is settling in now as a team that’s going to play games that are hard for others to watch, hard for others to tolerate, hard for others to officiate and, certainly most importantly, hard for others to win. This is back-to-back games — against, at best, just OK competition — where the Mountaineers muddied it up but also didn’t let down. They’re headed to a place where they have to exert some control and will play a team it chose not to press last month.
If the keys are waves of players and contributions, a verve on defense and at the backboard that wears down opponents and an excessive amount of shots and a satisfactory number of simple scores, well, hasn’t WVU done that in back-to-back games? It hasn’t looked a whole lot like the first 15 games or even the six to eight that followed and did not rise up to or exceed the bar.
Saturday saw WVU overwhelm an overmatched opponent, and the Mountaineers didn’t merely reverse the results from last month’s loss to Kansas State to the rematch or even from the tight first half to the lopsided second half. They sort of rediscovered or reinvented or recommitted themselves.
The Mountaineers (20-5, 8-4 Big 12) turned a tied game at the half into a runaway near the end and would lead by as many as 22 points. They shot 50 percent for the game after shooting 37 in Wednesday’s win at Oklahoma and were 20-for-34 from the floor (59 percent) and just 2 for 5 from 3-point range in the second half.
“Obviously, we had a talk at halftime and said what we were supposed to do. Put your head down and attack the rim. Get on the boards,” forward Elijah Macon said. “They didn’t have a shot blocker. All we had to do was attack and make our free throws and constantly get stops.”
A week earlier, WVU played quite the opposite in a home loss to Oklahoma State, a team the Mountaineers beat by 17 points on the road at the start of conference play. In the second half of that game, which began with WVU ahead by four points, the offense was 4 for 8 from 2-point range and 6 for 20 from 3-point range, and Macon said afterward he was “confused” by some decisions.
He felt better Saturday.
“We need the guys who can shoot to shoot the ball,” he said. “Some guys on our team, nobody can guard them on a straight-line drive. That’s what I was trying to harp on. Just drive it, and we’ll do the best we can to clean it up. If not, we’ll try to get a stop.”
We’ll see if 13th-ranked West Virginia is ready for Kansas State. So far, the Mountaineers are 1-0 in games against teams that beat them in conference play. They can’t get back at Oklahoma State until maybe the Big 12 tournament, but they can get K-State today and Texas Tech a week from today the same way they got Oklahoma Wednesday. Imagine a world in which WVU doesn’t get swept in Big 12 play! Hasn’t happened yet.
Preparations for this one are dicey, though Bob Huggins likes having this one here as opposed to there.
“When I was when at Cincinnati, all those years we played all the teams twice, I always wanted to play good teams away first,” he said. “If you play them at home and beat them good, it was seemingly really difficult to beat them on the road. It was that way at Memphis and Louisville and the really good teams. I wanted to play them on the road first.”
Yeah, WVU plays at Kansas and Baylor still, but, hey, let’s call this a rare favor afforded by the schedule! The Mountaineers can apply that theory to the Wildcats, who haven’t played since Monday, flew here Thursday and practiced at the Coliseum yesterday morning. WVU is a little more weary, because this schedule is so screwy and complicated by bad weather and the travel trouble that comes with it.
The Mountaineers didn’t settle in until after 2 a.m. Wednesday, won that night and then got to their homes after 5 a.m. Thursday. Practice that afternoon was really light, and that’ll be the case again tomorrow before playing on the road against Kansas. This is not ideal.
“You try to talk to them, you try to show them film, you try to do everything you can think to do,” Huggins said. “You read them what other people are saying. If it had an effect, it maybe wasn’t enough.”
Huggins admitted that his team wouldn’t — and probably couldn’t — have done its normal thing during this stretch of games just for self-preservation, so it’s not a disaster. But consider the schedule and the travel as well as the injury to Dax Miles, the emerging freshmen and the tinkering with defensive approaches — “We were a little more conservative with the pressure. We were trying to make them catch it in front of us and kind of make them work a little harder and not give them the run-outs,” he said. — and you can see the problem.
It’d be nice to have all answers, but even absent those, you’d really like to have time to search for them. WVU’s practice time has been curtailed, and that’s a bummer for someone like Sagaba Konate, who can’t play as much as he maybe deserves because he’s behind on offense … and he can’t really catch up with mental reps. There’s a lot for Huggins to juggle, and he’d really like to have his team pushing the pedal toward the floor board here soon. Two losses to K-State won’t help the momentum.
“I just like to win, that’s all,” he said. “We’re at a point where we need to make a serious run here. Whatever it takes to win.”