By Jay Fisher
Typically, when you hit February, you have a decent idea of a basketball team’s identity. For WVU, it seems to be bit more difficult, given their seemingly Jekyll/Hyde method of playing well in some games, but not as well in other games.
At this point, I think I may have a handle on the team’s psyche, but it is just a guess. First, I’m not necessarily going to focus on “effort” – I do think the team plays hard, and they certainly didn’t want to lose all of the games they shouldn’t have. I do believe it is more an issue of focus. In some games, they come out with a razor sharp focus, which translates to better decision making, and better execution. In other games, they are playing hard, but not as sharp. It might show up in careless passes, poor free throw shooting (or shooting from the floor). It might show up in poor decision making on the defensive side of the ball, meaning opposing shooters are left wide open.
[private] Is there a rhyme or reason to the focus issue? It seems to be that if WVU expects a win, they have that lack of focus. You saw it at home against Oklahoma, and on the road against Kansas State, when they committed 23 turnovers. You even saw it in some wins, such as the escape at Texas, and the home win over Texas A&M. We saw it again at home against Oklahoma State last week. WVU had beaten the Cowboys on the road, so a win at home should be automatic, right? Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
The Oklahoma loss was particularly troublesome for two reasons: first it was at home; and second, it came on the same day Kansas and Baylor had been upset. That meant for a few hours, WVU controlled its Big 12 destiny. Until they blew it against OSU. They did bounce back with an uglier-than-the-final score 11 point win at Oklahoma, and another ugly Kansas State win.
In each case, WVU has reason to be better focused, since both were “revenge” games against a team that had beaten the Mountaineers earlier. In both games, WVU had a slow start (again, troubling), but pulled away in the second half.
So which games should WVU play “well” and which should be a cause for concern? The games at Kansas and Baylor should be good games, but playing well might still result in a loss, because it is very difficult to beat a Top 5 team on the road. Texas Tech at home is another “revenge” game, so WVU should be OK.
The other three might be traps. TCU lost to WVU earlier, but the rematch is at TCU, and they will be desperate for a quality win to boost their NCAA resume. Texas and Iowa State are both teams that lost to WVU earlier and will be coming to Morgantown – just like Oklahoma State.
[/private] Notes: WVU’s next two games are at home: Texas Tech on Saturday at 2:00 (ESPN2), and Texas on Monday the 20th at 9:00 (ESPN)…The NCAA tournament committee released a preliminary Top 16 teams this past weekend. WVU was overall 14th, and was placed as the 4-seed in the West Region. Kansas and Baylor were both 1-seeds, and Virginia was a 3-seed…Congratulations to the wrestling team. They beat Iowa State 22-20 for their first Big 12 dual meet win. They had expected wins from nationally ranked Jacob Smith and Dylan Cottrell, but the clinching match was at heavyweight, where Brandon Ngati scored a pinfall for six points and that gave WVU the winning margin.