It got very quiet at the WVU Coliseum in the last minute of today’s 88-75 loss to Baylor. Like the air leaving a basketball, the collective air left the arena... or a basketball season. Perhaps the packed house – elated when Eron Harris drained what would be his last of six 3-pointers – realized the enormity of what was happening . Harris led the Mountaineers with 32 points. Juwan Staten added 16 points to be the only other Mountaineer in double figures.
It is likely that any hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament has ended. As proof of the accuracy of this sense, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi immediately dropped WVU from his tournament field.
The late season home loss dropped WVU to 15-12, 7-7 in the Big 12. Why is this loss so deflating? It's not just because we had a 6 point lead at half and lost by 13 (a 19 point swing). It's primarily because conventional wisdom says the Mountaineers MUST have at least a .500 record in conference to combat their mounting losses and perceived soft non-conference schedule. The NCAA Committee rarely selects at-large teams with 13 losses, and with four games remaining, WVU must win 2 of 4 to maintain a .500 conference record - but that would give them 14 losses. In my opinion, we must be 18-13 (win 3 of 4) or WVU is headed for the NIT, in spite of a .500 conference record.
Baylor is streaking at the right time. It was Bears 4th straight win, which improved their NCAA resume (18-9, 6-8). All five of their starters were in double figures in scoring, but they were spurred on today by the literally flawless offensive performance by Royce O’Neale. O’Neal had a career first – going 8 of 8 from the field (including 4 from 3-point) and 2 for 2 from the free throw line to finish with 22 points.
WVU was beaten soundly today, and mostly because all we had offensively was Harris’ shooting. Baylor’s defense shut down Staten’s ability to distribute the ball, which effectively eliminated any sort of passing attack - the Eers dished out only 9 assists. This Mountaineer hoops squad can score. But our inside game is costing us, and today’s loss was more proof as the Bears outscored us 38-10 in the paint. Nationally, WVU is 30th overall in scoring. But being 151st in rebounds and 122nd in assists per game only underscores our lack of an inside presence – both offensively and defensively.
Four games remain: February 26 @ #17 ISU, March 1 at home vs. TCU, March 5 at Oklahoma, and the season finale vs. #8 Kansas at home. It could come down to a "Senior Night" upset. Problem is, we don’t have any Seniors.