A Little Know-Howe: All Not Lost for WVU in Hopes to Win Big 12 Title, but Return to Win Column Critical
All is not lost.
I know it may seem that way after two straight losses for the WVU basketball team. Will it be tough to win the Big 12 regular season title now? Yes. Can it be done? Yes.
The margin of error for West Virginia has shrunk considerably, but the balanced nature of this league should ensure some losses coming for the contenders. Just this week, we’ve seen Oklahoma get upset by Kansas State. Texas Tech went down to Texas.
Those are certainly not the only losses we'll see moving forward.
Over the last five seasons (since WVU joined the league), the Big 12 league champion (Kansas in every instance) has averaged 3.6 losses per year. It feels like this year's champion will go over on that number, doesn't it?
I think it’s clear to anyone who watched the game on Monday, Kansas isn’t the same Kansas we’ve seen since WVU joined the league. That doesn’t mean the Jayhawks can’t win the Big 12 though. In fact, with a streak like they have (13 consecutive regular season conference titles), they are the favorite until they are mathamatically eliminated.
The bigger question is how will West Virginia respond to losing two straight?
The Mountaineers are in the toughest stretch of the season. They are four games into a seven game run against teams that are all likely to make the NCAA tournament. Not an ideal time to try and halt a losing streak, but such is life in the Big 12.
The good news? While this two game mini-skid isn’t all that unusual, losing three in a row would be.
In each of the last two seasons, WVU also had a stretch in mid-January where it lost two games in a row. Last season, WVU dropped a game to Oklahoma on January 18 and on January 21 at Kansas State.
In 2016, West Virginia lost back-to-back games at Oklahoma (January 16) and to Texas on January 20. WVU hasn’t lost three games in a row since the 2013-14 season.
Given West Virginia has bounced back to make the Big 12 tournament championship game in each of the last two seasons, this current losing streak isn’t enough to throw in the towel on this season just yet.
Can West Virginia right the ship today? That’s no easy task as the Texas Longhorns come to town. Texas has been a tough matchup for WVU over the years, although the Mountaineers were able to beat the Longhorns three times last season.
The Horns aren’t all the way back yet under Shaka Smart, but they have pieces. Super freshman, Mo Bamba is the only guy in the league who can match Sagaba Konate’s ability to block shots. The former five star recruit leads the Big 12 with 77 blocks. Bamba is also averaging a double double on the season (11.9 ppg/10.5 rbg).
6-9 junior, Dylan Osetkowski is another big body inside that could present problems for West Virginia. Osetkowski is averaging 15 points and nearly eight rebounds per game.
Texas received a boost earlier this week when guard Kerwin Roach returned from injury earlier than expected. Roach put up 20 points in 29 minutes against Texas Tech.
For a team that has struggled at times offensively, getting Roach back was critical. His return came as leading scorer, Andrew Jones was tragically forced to sit out the rest of the season. As many of you have probably heard, Texas announced last week that Jones has leukemia.
Earlier this week on the Citynet Statewide Sportsline, we spoke with Craig Way, Texas’ play-by-play announcer about Jones. According to Way, those around the program and Jones know it’s a long road ahead, but they feel optimistic that they have gotten a good jump on fighting the disease.
Losing Jones has put further pressure on a Texas team that has struggled offensively. Texas has been very good defensively, however. The Longhorns come into the game today, second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and three point field goal percentage defense.
The obvious key today...can West Virginia make shots against Texas?
Yes, that would seem to be the first question for any team during a basketball game, but it’s the especially relevant for a Mountaineer team coming off a game against Kansas in which it scored just 10 baskets in the second half.
Turn the game today in a high scoring affair and I like West Virginia's chances. If it gets ugly and is low scoring, the Longhorns have the edge.
All is not lost.
But, West Virginia needs to climb back into the win column quickly if it wants to keep its Big 12 title hopes alive.
Editor's Note: Photos by Ben Queen of www.benqueenphotography.com.