Now that football season has come to an end for the Mountaineers, it is time to officially move on to winter sports at WVU. Three teams in particular are getting national attention, including men’s basketball, women’s basketball, and the reigning national champion rifle team. These three teams are all ranked in the top 10 nationally, and the rifle team is ranked number one. The WVU rifle team is also undefeated, and the men’s and women’s basketball teams each only have one loss coming into the new year.
Honorable Mention: Men’s Basketball at #10 TCU (January 22)
The fact that a men’s basketball game against a team that is currently ranked 10th in the nation has to be honorable mention on this list shows how many great matchups are on the calendar for Mountaineer athletics this month. TCU was undefeated throughout non-conference play to start its season. The Horned Frogs dropped their first Big 12 game at home to #12 Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a legitimate team in the conference this year. Head coach Jamie Dixon has instantly turned the program around, and in his second year in Fort Worth he has TCU looking like they will definitely be a tournament team. Like every Big 12 road game, this will be no easy task for the Mountaineers. TCU will likely remain ranked leading up to this game, which will be nationally televised on ESPN.
5. Women’s Basketball vs #6 Baylor (January 28)
The West Virginia women’s basketball team is off to an incredible start this season. The Mountaineers are currently ranked ninth in the nation. The team started the season 13-0 and only has one loss to a great Texas team that is ranked eighth nationally. WVU has been led this season by senior Teana Muldrow, who is averaging 22 points and nine rebounds per game. Baylor also has a dominant leader with the same averages, Kalani Brown. This matchup will be an important one for the Mountaineers, who are one of the three Big 12 teams ranked in the top ten nationally. This game will be at home for WVU and will be televised on FS1.
4. Rifle at #5 Alaska - Fairbanks (January 21)
The West Virginia rifle team is arguably one of the most consistent and successful athletic programs not only at WVU, but in all of college sports. The rifle program has won 19 national championships, including five in a row. That is more national championships than Alabama has in football (16) or UCLA has in basketball (11). This year, the Mountaineers are currently undefeated entering the month of January. WVU will also face four ranked opponents this month with Alaska - Fairbanks likely being the toughest matchup for the Mountaineers. Alaska is also currently undefeated. Hopefully Olympic Gold Medalist Ginny Thrasher and the Mountaineers can give Alaska its first loss and continue toward a sixth consecutive national championship.
3. Men’s Basketball vs #12 Oklahoma (January 6)
The Big 12 will have a chance to showcase the tremendous offensive and defensive talent of the conference in this game. Trae Young of Oklahoma is currently averaging a double-double with 29 points per game and 10 assists per game. Jevon Carter of West Virginia has been commonly called the best defender in all of college basketball, while averaging four steals and 18 points per game. Young is the currently the national leader in points per game and assists per game, and Carter is currently the national leader in steals per game.
Oklahoma recently gained an impressive win on the road at TCU, snapping the Horned Frogs undefeated start to the season. The Sooners also have impressive wins over Wichita State and USC. Both WVU and OU are on winning streaks. This game will be a battle between the highest scoring team in the nation and the team notoriously known for its relentless defensive pressure. It is shaping up to be an epic night game in Morgantown. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN2.
2. Men’s Basketball vs #16 Kentucky (January 27)
This is a game that Mountaineer fans and Wildcat fans have had circled on their calendars for months. West Virginia and Kentucky have never been traditional rivals despite the close proximity, but they have had some interesting matchups in the NCAA Tournament in recent years. The last three meetings between the two have been in the National Tournament. The first of these three tournament meetings was in 2010 when #2 seeded WVU upset #1 seeded UK to go to the Final Four. The next meeting was in 2011 when the #4 seeded Wildcats narrowly defeated the #5 seeded Mountaineers in the second round on their way to the Final Four. The last meeting between the two teams was in 2015. The #1 seeded UK handled the #5 seeded WVU in the Sweet 16, on its way to another Final Four.
This year, the Mountaineers and Wildcats will be facing off in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and the game will be nationally televised on ESPN. Coming into January, Kentucky has two losses – one being its only matchup against a ranked opponent, Kansas, and the other to UCLA. Before Kentucky plays the Mountaineers, the Cats will also face #5 Texas A&M, the only team West Virginia has lost to this season. “Press Virginia” will have to be in full force considering five Wildcats average more than 10 points per game. It will also be a battle between two contrasting coaching styles – John Calipari with the “one and done,” flashy style and Bob Huggins with the player developing, blue-collar style. The nation will be watching as the storied Kentucky program comes into one of the toughest venues in college basketball and with both teams having great seasons thus far. This could potentially be the fourth time in a row that the winner of this game goes on to the Final Four.
1. Men’s Basketball vs #11 Kansas (January 15)
The West Virginia and Kansas games have become one of the biggest games in Big 12 basketball. The past two seasons WVU has been right behind KU in the conference standings, and the two have split their regular season matchups every season except one. Kansas comes into January with two losses, one being to a highly ranked Arizona State team. The Jayhawks continue to have a short, but extremely talented bench. KU is led by Lagerald Vick and senior Devonte’ Graham, who both average more than 17 points per game coming into January. This game also features a matchup of two elite college basketball coaches.
Many of the recent games have been instant classics, and this year will likely include two more. The first meeting will be in Morgantown, where Kansas has not won since 2013. The game will also be nationally televised on ESPN. This matchup will be very important for both teams moving forward in the conference. The Big 12 looks to be one of the toughest conferences again this season, and as conference plays begins a majority of the teams look like they could beat anyone on any night. With that in mind, every win becomes important, and defeating Kansas early could lead to the Mountaineers winning their first regular season Big 12 title since joining the conference.
January will be a month full of big games in Mountaineer athletics. Coming into the month there are 12 matchups where a WVU team ranked in the top 10 will be taking on a ranked opponent. This includes six in men’s basketball, two in women’s basketball, and all four matchups for the WVU rifle team. These rankings could potentially change, resulting in even more big games for Mountaineer teams in these programs and others.