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We’re Back: West Virginia Men’s Basketball December Wrap-Up

Stress Virginia Is Back Baby. Power rankings, awards, and a word on ESPN+

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Ohio State
Background: Dec 29, 2019; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Bob Huggins argues a call during the first half against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Before we get into power rankings and awards, I wanted to take a moment to address an issue roiling the fanbase: ESPN+ and our upcoming tilt with Kansas.

A number of people have commented that it’s “disrespectful” to WVU and its fans to put the game on ESPN’s streaming service exclusively. It’s not. I could write an entire article explaining why the decision to use ESPN+ vs. a dedicated Big XII network was an incredibly smart idea by the conference, but that’s not really related to the question posed by some fans.

The reason the two Kansas games are on ESPN+ is pretty simple: the network wanted to make the product worth the (relatively low) price of admission. No one wants to pay $4.99 a month for TCU vs Kansas State, but they will pay $4.99 to watch Kansas vs WVU twice. (Also for $12.99 you can get ESPN+/Disney+/Hulu as a bundle, which is a really good deal.) That’s also why Kansas—easily the biggest name in the conference for basketball—has more games on the network this season than anyone else.

A few other things to sort of dispel. Yes this is a top-25 matchup and an opportunity for WVU to get some national attention. Basketball, for good or for bad, doesn’t operate like college football. Network coverage is set months in advance and it is extremely rare for it to be flexed. Again, there’s an article to be written about how college basketball scheduling works (or doesn’t) but this isn’t really about an animus against WVU.

The other issue I’ve heard is a concern about production value or “choppiness” in the stream. ESPN (and their parent Disney) has put a ton of work into the platform, because they know it’s the future. My own personal experience using the app has been pretty smooth. I know that some parts of West Virginia do not have the best internet connection, mainly due to the continued failure by the government in Charleston to properly invest in infrastructure, something ESPN can or should be worry about.

So yeah, to sum up. No, West Virginia, ESPN isn’t disrespecting WVU. Please find something else dumb to be mad about. Or actually, better yet, just actually enjoy the moment. After the disaster of last season, complaining about crap like being on ESPN+ seems silly.

Big XII Power Rankings Through December

  1. West Virginia Mountaineers, 11-1 The Mountaineers scored a major victory against #2 Ohio State in Cleveland. It was a big deal, not only because of the historical implications, but by the way WVU won — only getting 22 points from the bench and holding an incredibly good Ohio State offense to 30% from the field. The first weeks of January are, brutal, though.
  2. Baylor Bears, 10-1 There is a very good case for putting Baylor at the top spot. Despite an early season loss to Washington, the Bears have been very good since and have three top 25 victories. Like WVU, they have early a tough slate the first few weeks of 2020.
  3. Kansas Jayhawks, 10-2 Kansas has a weird resume. They’re 1-2 versus top 25 teams, but four pretty solid wins (Colorado, Stanford, BYU and Dayton). Their first three games in conference will tell us alot about them, though. They have WVU and Baylor at home (natch) and a trip to always tough Iowa State.
  4. Texas Tech Red Raiders, 9-3 The next four teams could basically be all tied, to be honest. Tech lost three straight to admittedly pretty good teams before stunning top ranked Louisville on a neutral court. However, the Raiders have not looked very good against bad teams, beating Southern Miss and Texas-Rio Grande by a 5 and 10 points respectively.
  5. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 9-3 The Cowboys have come back down to earth, dropping three games to power 6 opponents, but there’s still a lot to like about this squad.
  6. Oklahoma Sooners, 9-3 Likewise, their counterparts on Norman missed chances against Creighton and Witchita to solidify their resume.
  7. Texas Longhorns, 10-2 Don’t let the ten wins fool you. Texas is still not a good basketball team. Good teams don’t get blown out by Providence.
  8. TCU Horned Frogs, 9-3 I really like this group (except their new court is a war crime), but they have NIT written all over them. They had three chances to score wins versus power 6 teams and missed all three. In a lesser league that might be okay, but in the gauntlet that is the Big XII? Nope.
  9. Iowa State Cyclones, 7-4 The ‘Clones got revenge against Seton Hall, but looked pretty miserable in a loss to Iowa. This is still a dangerous team and the homefield advantage makes them a tough out. I fully expect them to finish in the top half of the conference again.
  10. Kansas State Wildcats, 7-5 The Bruce Weber Experience.

December WVU Awards

  • Most Valuable Player — Deuce McBride Tough competition, but in WVU’s biggest game, McBride shined.
  • Most Improved Player — Derek Culver Though he still has moments where you just shake your head, Culver is really finding his place on this squad.
  • Biggest DisappointmentThe St. John’s Loss The Red Storm are a pretty good team, and that was a big win for them, but looking back you wonder how we lost that game.
  • Biggest SurpriseHolding Ohio State to 30% shooting I thought we could maybe win that game. I didn’t expect us to do it the way we did.