As it relates to West Virginia basketball, revisiting the past is certainly more fun than experiencing it as it happened. There were some dark days at the Coliseum, when the Mountaineers were bowing out early in postseason appearances and generally bombing in March. This is nuts, but it’s true: WVU went 7-1 in the 2010 postseason and then went 3-9 in the five years that followed and didn’t win one conference tournament game. The win against TCU in last season’s Big 12 quarterfinal ended that streak.
Iowa State’s Monte Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans were named first-team all-conference, and Kansas’ Frank Mason was the player of the year. That’s three point guards, and that means there was no room for a player of Jevon Carter’s caliber. Morris and Evans are content with their spot but also convinced Carter is just as worthy.
“He sits down the whole time,” Evans said. “Most guards stand up. He just sits down and plays defense the whole time.”
If someone can’t drive past Carter when he lowers down into his stance, he has to pass it. Carter then changes his focus and tries to make sure his opponent doesn’t catch another pass.
“The way he face-guards you and makes it hard for you to catch it without fouling is amazing,” Morris said.
The skill is vital in the Big 12. Kansas senior Frank Mason, who is the Big 12’s player of the year and leading scorer, as well as Evans, Morris, Carter and Texas Tech junior Keenan Evans lead their team in scoring.
WVU’s press tries to make ball-handlers pass the ball, but Carter does what he can to make sure teammates don’t pass the ball back to the point guard. More often than not, Carter is minimizing a top scorer.
“I think it’s just knowing how to place his body as far as where I’m at and where the ball is and trying to keep me off the ball,” said Morris, who was 4 for 14 and had just two assists against WVU in a home loss on Jan. 31. “His body’s solid, and he’s got great footwork.”
For the second straight season, Texas Tech lost as the No. 7 seed and advanced the N0. 10 onto West Virginia. The Mountaineers, seeded second once again, and Texas play the day’s third quarterfinal at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
The Longhorns don’t really have anything to play for except the automatic bid and avoiding a three-game season sweep by WVU this season, so they’re eager to let it fly.
Q. Coach, just thoughts about playing West Virginia? You guys exerted a lot of energy tonight. They will take more out of you. What are your thoughts about playing West Virginia?
SHAKA SMART: Excited. Excited about the opportunity to play ’em. One of the two teams that played just now was going to get the chance to play them and one of them was going to go home. So we’ll definitely take the opportunity to play them.
We played them in two games. One at our place, one at their place. I thought we had some stretches where we really played well. They keep coming at you in waves. They’ve got a toughness about them. That obviously comes from Coach Huggins and his staff and the players they recruit, and I think for us it’s about turning the page quickly from this game, and as Snoop said, letting our hair down and being aggressive and playing with nothing to lose.
West Virginia’s women’s team set the bar earlier this week and might get rewarded with home games in the NCAA tournament, which would be another win for Mike Carey and deserved, to say the least, given his history of postseason placement. (Long story short, the top 16 seeds are hosts for the first two rounds. WVU is projected to be a No. 7 seed. In the same pod, Stanford is projected to be a No. 2 seed but can’t be a host because of a site scheduling conflict. Since it’s No. 2 v. No. 15 and No. 7 v. No. 10, the No. 7 gets to be the host. Lots of moving parts there, but it’s a possibility.)
If this happens, figure Bob Huggins will try to get to the Coliseum. He’s been a Carey fan for years, hence his Carey-themed salvo to begin his media availability Wednesday, but he caught the fever during the run to the program’s first conference tournament title since 1989.
“I watched the semifinal and the final game,” he said before his team’s shootaround Wednesday at the Sprint Center. “Probably the only time in my life I watched a women’s game. And I watched two of them.”
Once again, the unexpected has happened. Texas, the last-place team in the Big 12 and the No. 10 seed in the conference tournament, ended a seven-game losing streak and upset — upset? — the No. 7 seed Texas Tech. The Red Raiders crumbled at the end of this season, and the Longhorns will face 11th-ranked West Virginia, the No. 2 seed, at 7 p.m. on ESPNU in today’s third quarterfinal
This is of course the third time the two have played this season. The Mountaineers won the first two games by two and 15 points, and this means WVU will get one more — and maybe last — look at freshman forward Jarrett Allen. He’s made 13 of 16 shots and averages 17 points and seven rebounds against WVU.
“Allen’s pretty good,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “They don’t have anybody else up on the same caliber, but they’ve got a bunch of guys. They throw guys in there, and the guy making shots stays.”
Josh Eilert, the team’s coordinator of operations who’s filled in for assistant Ron Everhart since Everhart had back surgery in December, is in charge of the scouting report, as he was for the two regular-season games. Here’s what he had to say.
We’re live and mostly alone at the Sprint Center. Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia and Kansas have shootarounds and media obligations here today. The 11th-ranked Mountaineers speak at 3:25 p.m. EST and have their public workout at 4 p.m. Set your social media accordingly.
The Big 12 has had a 10-team field and made the No. 7 seed play the No. 10 and the No. 8 play the No. 9 since the 2012 tournament. The winners on the first day are 1-9 on the second day, and the nine losses have come by an average of 14 points. Six were decided by more than 15 points and three were decided by seven or less.
But history also defies that and suggests we should not treat WVU as a given. There were 90 conference games in the regular season, and 63 were decided by 10 points or less, including 45 of the final 63. The Mountaineers were actively involved. They played four of the Big 12’s seven overtime games — and went 1-3 — and 10 of the games decided by 10 or fewer points — and went 4-6, splitting two games with Texas Tech and winning one against Texas.
Plus, the Mountaineers don’t go away and won’t be blown out. The largest of the seven losses this season — six in Big 12 play, you’ll remember — was the last one, and it was by nine points on the road at Baylor, which was No. 1 in the poll for a while and No. 1 in the RPI for longer. The last time a WVU team went through the regular season without losing a game by 10 or more points was the 1960-61 season, when the Mountaineers lost by 12 in the second game of the Southern Conference tournament. WVU lost seven total games the two years before that, and each was by fewer than 10 points.
This is pretty special stuff, but it can be tough on your nerves. I’ve been keeping track of what’s gone wrong for the length of the conference season — What happened at Texas Tech, at home against Oklahoma, at Kansas, at home against Texas Tech, at TCU? — and brought it all together for a story today. You can expect a close game at some point with WVU, but not much else can be expected from the Mountaineers.
“We just go to sleep sometimes,” Huggins said. “You sit there and say, ‘I can’t believe he’s doing this.’ It’s hard to understand why they do some of the things they do, why they even think to try that.”
Quite often we’re told the Big 12 is the best conference in the country, and you don’t need to attend Harvard to build a defense for that. So then, the Big 12 tournament ought to be the best conference tournament in the country, right? If that is the case, then it’s adequate preparation for the bracket contests that arrive next week.
On a travel day for me, use this time to predict the bracket and a few other things. Copy, past and complete in the comments and we’ll see how you do.
This is an odd time for West Virginia, a team that, if nothing else after 31 games, is used to playing games. Practices have long been arduous chores under Bob Huggins, and though they’re lighter now, figure he’ll ratchet things up a click or two during the idle time before the postseason. The Mountaineers, after all, are in the unusual spot of getting a break in or perhaps even from the schedule. They were off Saturday while the rest of the conference(save Iowa State) played, and they’re off Wednesday when their quarterfinal opponent is playing for the right to face WVU’s press on short notice.
Sounds good, until you remember passivity spooks Bob Huggins.
“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.”
This is five days without a game. This is new. Will WVU be unusual (in one way or another)?
Dan Zangrilli’s notebook is littered with one-liners like this, and I will not argue about that. His call, though, is the memorable punctuation mark on West Virginia’s first Big 12 tournament championship and first conference tournament title in 28 years. Mike Carey had a 5 o’clock shadow back then!
We haven’t said it in a while but — all together now — Mike Carey’s a really good coach. He lost much of his rotation to season-ending injuries before the season ever started, but there goes West Virginia into the finals of the Big 12 tournament. The Mountaineers were probably on the NCAA tournament bubble when they landed in Oklahoma City. After wins against ranked Oklahoma (easy) and Texas (hard), they’re definitely in and perhaps also menacing.
Tonight’s game against the second-ranked Bears will begin at 9 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. WVU has one win against Baylor since joining the Big 12, and a seven-game losing streak in the series hasn’t been entirely embarrassing. The two went to the wire in the championship game in 2014, and WVU played quite well at the Ferrell Center in January. Baylor has won the last six Big 12 titles, but maybe Carey gets his biggest moment yet and another postgame news conference.