After earning their second consecutive No. 2 seed in the Big 12 Conference Tournament, coach Bob Huggins and WVU basketball are primed for another title run. The Mountaineers lost in a thriller to Kansas in last year’s title game, 81-71.
They didn’t start in the championship round, though.
Down 67-66 with 11 seconds left, senior Jaysean Paige nailed a step-back jumper to put West Virginia up one. After Oklahoma missed a layup, Johnathon Holton was fouled and connected on one of two free throws for the ‘Eers.
What came next was absolute madness.
Down two with 1.8 seconds to go, Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield heaved a half-court prayer and drained it, only to have it waived off after an officials’ review. Mountaineers advance!
WVU met No. 1 Kansas in the championship. The game was highlighted by junior Devin Williams’ best career-game in a Mountaineer uniform; he notched 31 points and 10 rebounds in a devastating loss.
Fast-forward to 2017, and WVU finds themselves in familiar territory. Potential rubber matches with Baylor and Kansas are looming large, but don’t think for a second Huggins will be looking ahead.
WVU opens tournament play against the winner of No.10 Texas and No. 7 Texas Tech. WVU swept Texas this season, but went 1-1 against Texas Tech after losing in overtime at Lubbock.
Barring a collapse by the Mountaineers in their opening game, they will await the winner of No. 3 Baylor and No. 6 Kansas State. Don’t sleep on Bruce Weber’s Wildcats though, as they’ve already defeated Baylor this season and are fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives.
West Virginia will most likely be rooting for another shot at Baylor, however. After embarrassing the No. 1 ranked Bears in Morgantown earlier this season, WVU let one slip away in Waco. Senior Jonathon Motley erupted for 19 second half points to doom West Virginia.
A third installment of WVU vs Baylor would shine a national spotlight on the Mountaineers, and capitalizing on that spotlight with a win would almost certainly guarantee no less than a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
If the Mountaineers can reach the title game, No. 1 Kansas is expected to be waiting for them.
Kansas opens against the winner of No. 8 TCU and No. 9 Oklahoma. If the Jayhawks survive there, they’ll play the winner of No. 4 Iowa State and No. 5 Oklahoma State.
Iowa State versus Kansas would be a game of significant interest to the Mountaineers. Iowa State is the only team to defeat Kansas at home this season, and are winners of seven of their last nine games.
You know what you’re up against when facing a Bill Self-coached team; he’s won the Big 12 Tournament seven times during his time at Kansas. This rematch would garner the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Kansas will be looking to lock down a No. 1 overall seed, while WVU will be looking to prove their worth as a top-two or three seed.
How can WVU run the table and win the conference tournament this year? It’s simple: Press Virginia.
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The Mountaineers are at their best when they force turnovers and wreak havoc. Both Baylor’s and Kansas’ trips to the Coliseum this season proved that.
Esa Ahmad will hopefully return to the lineup after a back injury sidelined him for the last couple games. Ahmad, along with senior Nathan Adrian and newly-named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter, will look to carry WVU through the postseason.
Elijah Macon has been red-hot down the stretch for the Mountaineers too. He’ll need to continue this play if he wants to give WVU a chance inside against Baylor and Kansas.
Daxter Miles will hope to build off the momentum of his 23-point game against Iowa State in the regular season finale. Carter and Miles prove to be one of the most dangerous back-courts in the country when Miles is in a groove.
Last year’s championship loss to Kansas stung harder than any. With momentum and something to prove, don’t be surprised if WVU is the team cutting down the nets in Kansas City this year.
WVU (24-7) will play March 9 at 7 p.m. ET against either Texas (10-21) or Texas Tech (18-13) on ESPNU.