The emotions experienced by Mountaineer fans over the last three days could be expounded by literary scholars much more eloquent than me. The satisfaction of finally winning a Big 12 Tournament game against the Horned Frogs to the disbelief of surviving Buddy Hield's internet breaking final shot that was but wasn't and then the constriction of finally surrendering to Literally Hitler. So much emotion in three days, but not all of it will be tainted by the final 20 minutes of basketball. A great number of good things have happened this season and I want to share my thoughts.
1. I think Buddy Hield was 0.018 seconds too late.
Hield touched ball for 108 frames, or 1.8018 seconds— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) March 12, 2016
18 one-thousandths of a second separated Oklahoma from a win. As the old saying goes, sometimes its better to be lucky than good. The Mountaineers were extremely lucky, because had Buddy's shot been good, the narrative would have been much different. West Virginia was ahead 61-50 at the 6:28 TV timeout. Oklahoma then went on a 17-8 run and erased an 11-point deficit to build 3-point (67-64) lead with 65 seconds left in the game. A lot of credit goes to the team for not giving up and battling back, but to let a team erase a lead like that? You go home early in the tournament when that happens.
Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip need to get a lot of love for guarding Hield and forcing him to double-clutch that shot. That second clutch was the 0.018 seconds that WVU needed. Neither of them fouled while being draped all over Buddy and forcing him to hold the ball just long enough.
2. I think free throw shooting is going to haunt this team
The Mountaineers have taken an insane amount of free throws. They rank second in the nation in Free Throw attempts at 945. TCU is second in the conference at 845 attempts. West Virginia is sixth in the nation in made free throws at 633, yet the team is 284th in the nation in free throw percentage (67%). If you think that doesn't make a difference, try this one on for size. Kansas went 22-25 behind the charity stripe while WVU only made 17 of 24 attempts. In the 8 losses for the Mountaineers they shot slightly below their season average at 66% but had four games at 60% or below. The inability to make free throws has cost the team this season and if they want to make a deep run, it will need to improve.
3. I think I'm deeply saddened that Devin Williams won't be remembered for his game
Devin Williams notched his 15th double-double of the season in the Mountaineer's loss to Kansas, leading the Big 12. pic.twitter.com/F6fwHFBe8h— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 13, 2016
Devin notched his 15th double-double of the season with an incredible 31 point outburst, 10 rebound performance against Kansas in the Big 12 Championship. That 30/10 game put Devin in some elite company as only the third player in Big 12 history to record a 30/10 game in Big 12 Championship. The other two players were Kevin Durant in the 2007 Big 12 Championship game and Paul Pierce in the 1998 Championship game. It is a real shame that Devin joined those two players in championship lore but his effort will be forgotten because Kansas won another conference title. Devin did everything he could and it just wasn't enough against the onslaught that in Rock Chalk Jayhawk.
4. I think the committee got it right
Joe Lunardi had West Virginia as a 2-seed before the game against Kansas. Joe's logic was that WVU's resume was solid enough and with wins over #1 Kansas in Morgantown and #6 Oklahoma on a neutral court while being a top-10 RPI team, the 2-seed was a solid choice. Joe's not wrong in his facts but Oklahoma owns two wins over the Mountaineers, including one in Morgantown. Villanova losing in the Big East tournament and knocking them out of the #1 seed hurt the Mountaineers chances at a 2-seed but its a blessing in disguise. Given the way the committee ranks the seeds, WVU most likely would have gotten the weakest 2-seed, meaning we would be paired with Kansas and Maryland in the South. Instead, West Virginia is in the East. If the 'Eers can get past S.F. Austin in the first round, a Michigan/Notre Dame round of 32 game likely awaits. After that, the possibility of Pitt in the Sweet 16 can be seen on the horizon. I'll take those matchups. Of course the team is once again sharing a bracket with John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats but that matchup can wait until the Elite 8.
5. I think this is the best basketball team in school history
Watching this team this year, you could quickly see that the players continued to buy into "Press" Virginia and grew into a more rounded team. Last year's version relied too much on Juwan Staten to create shots in order to create offense. If Juwan had an off night, the team struggled. Jonathan Holton could not stay on the floor without drawing a foul, Jaysean played sparingly and the team itself was very young. This year, Holton has been able to rebound and guard without fouling, Tarik Phillip has been a sharpshooter when his number has been called and the players are averaging fewer minutes per game, allowing them to stay fresh at the end of the season. Sports-Reference.com has an analytic metric called "Simple Rating Score" which takes into account average margin of victory and strength of schedule. The current year ranks as the highest score at 23.2 with the 2009-2010 Final Four squad coming in second at 19.16.
Some historians may choose to point out the 1957-1958 squad that feature "The Logo" Jerry West and played for the National Championship. That team, however, did not play nearly the schedule that the current squad played. This year, WVU played 12 ranked teams, going 6-6 against those squads, including the aforementioned victory over #1 Kansas. The 1957 squad only played five ranked teams all year, including two in the tournament, going 2-3 in those contests. WVU played in the old Southern Conference at the time, which had 9 teams. Five of the nine teams were .500 or worse.