In men’s college basketball, it is incredibly difficult to go undefeated. In fact, it has been over 40 years since a team managed to win the NCAA Championship sporting an undefeated record. WVU fans got to see a little bit of the reason why last week.
First, Baylor came to town. They were undefeated and ranked #1 in the country. While you would find few who would argue that Baylor was the best team in the land, they had undeniably earned that top rankings. They were undefeated – one of just two teams left – and they had a number of quality wins under their belt. They had knocked off Oregon, Xavier, and Louisville, all of whom are currently ranked in the top 20. In short, they had the best resume in college basketball.
And WVU crushed them. They forced 29 turnovers, which is the most by a power 5 team this year, and the most Baylor has had in a conference game ever. They broke open a fairly close game with a second half surge and made an emphatic statement with a 21 point win over #1 Baylor.
Baylor is a legitimately good team. But on the road, in front of an electric Mountaineer crowd, and facing a focused, motivated WVU team, they wore down under the relentless defensive pressure. WVU had its best game of the season, and showed themselves as a potential Final Four contender. Frankly, WVU would have beaten any other college team last Tuesday.
But a few days later, that same WVU team barely scraped past a Texas team that is below .500. A Texas team without its leading scorer (suspended) and a couple other key players (injured). Why the difference? A number of reasons – first, it was on the road. That can make a huge difference in basketball, and especially in the Big 12. Also, WVU had multiple players ill – which affected their ability to maintain their intensity. There is also the inherent variability in level of play. No team always plays at their highest level, which is part of the reason you see upsets so often. Coming off a huge win, there is often a letdown. In fact, this was the first time since 1957 that WVU has won the game immediately after knocking off #1.
Ironically, WVU beating Baylor could very well set up another clash against a #1 team. Kansas is expected to ascent to the top spot and has a good chance of being there when they come to the Coliseum next week. WVU would love to win that one too (I really like our chances in Morgantown). But first, there is some business to take care of.
First up is tonight’s game against Oklahoma. On paper, this should be a win. The Sooners are down this year after reaching the Final Four a year ago. They miss All-American Buddy Hield, and join Texas as the only Big 12 team with a sub .500 overall record. They do have enough talent that WVU can’t simply go through the motions and win. Jordan Woodward is a very good scorer, and Khadeem Lattin has had success in the past against WVU. Still, the Sooners should only be a threat in Norman – in Morgantown, WVU should win.
The second game is at Kansas State. This will be a tough out. The Wildcats are very tough at home, and as weird as it sounds, in might be tougher to beat a Top 25 caliber KSU team on the road, than a Top 5 Kansas at home. The Wildcats feature a stingy defense. If they can avoid giving up too many transition points to WVU, and force the Mountaineers into a halfcourt game, it will be either an ugly win or an ugly loss.
Kansas, of course, it the alpha dog of the Big 12. They have won every conference championship since WVU has joined the conference, and show no inclination to let up. They play well, and have no shortage of talent. Frank Mason is one of the top guards in the country, and he teams with Devonte Graham to form one of the best guard tandems in the country. (Also one that may be well skilled to combat the WVU press). They also have one of the top freshmen in the country and a potential #1 NBA draft pick with Josh Jackson. They aren’t especially deep, however, so there is potential for WVU to wear them down. I also expect an incredible atmosphere for the game as well.
Notes: the upcoming schedule is as follows: tonight (Jan 18) vs Oklahoma, 7:00 on ESPN2…Saturday (Jan 21) at Kansas State, 6:00 on ESPN2…next Tuesday (Jan 24) vs Kansas, 7:00 on ESPN2…Kadeisha Buchanan and Ashley Lawrence have signed to play pro soccer with two of the top women’s teams in the world. Lawrence is now a member of Paris St Germain, while Buchanan signed with perhaps the world’s top team Olympique Lyon. Congratulations to both and best of luck with their careers…Shelton Gibson has elected to enter the NFL draft. The redshirt junior earned his undergraduate degree in December, and felt it was best for him to turn pro. While he had the potential for a big statistical year with Will Grier taking over as QB, pros don’t care as much about stats. Good luck to him and best wishes…Also, Jake Spavital is returning to WVU to be Offensive Coordinator. He was an assistant under Holgorsen, and went on to Texas A&M. He was most recently offensive coordinator at Cal, where he directed a high powered offense for the Bears.