With the second week of conference play largely completed, WVU has positioned itself to challenge for the conference title, a high seed in the NCAA tournament, and maybe more.
By virtually every metric, WVU, as ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla has said, is the best defensive team in the country. They currently rank first in Kenpom’s defensive ratings, rank second in overall shooting and three point defense, and have more deflections by one player than some entire teams.
We’re used to WVU having tough defense, though. We made a brand of “Press” Virginia after all, but this isn’t that kind of team. This is “Stress” Virginia. While WVU occasionally still presses, the 2019-2020 defensive effort is built on old-fashioned, in-your-face man-to-man that never lets up. It’s like watching your very own defensive clinic every possession.
Looking back through box scores, there’s some absolutely remarkable results. In the victory of Texas Tech, the Mountaineers held the Red Raiders to 28-percent from the field for the game. Twenty Eight Percent. That is the worst shooting performance by a Texas Tech team since a 81-36 loss to Oklahoma all the way back in January 2015. That team struggled to a 13-19 record and won just 3 conference games. This Tech team beat top ranked Louisville and seems like lock for the tournament barring some sort of total collapse.
The offense, of course, remains a concern but even then, WVU is ranked 47th in Kenpom. Against TCU, whose defense ranks 30th in the same rankings, WVU scored 81-points, the most the Frogs had allowed against any opponent all season. To be clear, even with the #1 defense, WVU needs to be better on offense if they want to be truly special, but the development of Deuce McBride could be the piece WVU has been missing.
There are no “off” weeks in the Big XII, but WVU’s next three games are as close as they will get with a trip to struggling Kansas State, and then home stands versus Texas and SEC bottom feeder Missouri.
Big XII Power Rankings Week 2
- Baylor Bears, 14-1 After a big win in Lawrence, the Bears have solidified their place as the best team in the conference and in my view the nation. Their conference schedule is a bit backloaded, though. They won’t face another ranked team until February 15 when they host WVU in Waco, then have their return games with Kansas and Texas Tech. They finish the regular season in Morgantown.
- Kansas Jayhawks, 13-3 The Jayhawks showed their quality in rebounding from the Baylor loss, cruising to 14-point victory in Norman.
- West Virginia Mountaineers, 14-2
- Texas Tech Red Raiders, 11-5 After getting buzz sawed in the second half in Morgantown. Tech took care of business in the always tricky Octagon in Manhattan.
- TCU Horned Frogs, 12-4 So far, Jamie Dixon’s squad have won every game they were supposed to win, but if the Frogs want to get into the tournament, somewhere along the way, they’re going to have to win a game they aren’t supposed to win.
- Oklahoma Sooners, 11-5 What I just said goes double for the Sooners, particularly as they picked up a bad loss over the weekend, getting ran out of Ames.
- Texas Longhorns, 12-4 The Longhorns got a much needed wins against bottom feeding Oklahoma State and Kansas State to remain in tangentially on the bubble ahead of Saturday-Monday swing that features games against Kansas and a road trip to WVU.
- Iowa State Cyclones, 8-8 What a difference a weekend can make, huh? After losing four out of their last five, including a horrendous loss to 2-9 Florida A&M, the Clones dominated Oklahoma for a big win. To be sure, that could be just an aberration, but given Oklahoma State and Kansas State have yet to win a conference game, its enough for eighth place.
- Kansas State Wildcats, 7-9 Despite having a worse record, both in the league and overall, I think the Wildcats are marginally better than Oklahoma State by virtue of actually being competitive in their conference losses.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys, 9-7 The Cowboys looks nothing like the team that won their first seven games. In their first three conference games they scored 50, 41, and 40 points respectively before an explosive 64 in a loss to Texas.
WVU Weekly Awards
- MVP Deuce McBride The freshman guard was my December MVP and is making a case to get starting minutes, having scored in double figures in five consecutive games.
- Hustle Award Gabe Osabouhien Not only is the Arkansas transfer a spell-check nightmare, but he has provided a huge spark on defense for the Mountaineers. I think this kid spends more time on the floor than GOAT Hustle Player, Mike Gansey. Osabouhien leads the team in deflections and steals, but also assists.
- Most Improved Player Chase Harler I really wanted to give this to Brandon Knapper, who I think is having a great season, but looking at Harler’s numbers it’s hard to argue again the senior. At times, people have questioned Huggs sticking with the undersized Harler, particularly last year when he seemed to lose his shooting touch. Through 16 games this year, though, Harler is shooting a career best 45% from the field. Not bad.