See, I told y’all ESPN+ wasn’t that bad. And if you didn’t get to watch the Kansas game, well don’t worry the officiating crew didn’t watch a lot of the game either! (Editor’s Note: The author has been fined $10,000 for this comment.)
We’re now fully into conference play (though all ten teams still have one more non-conference game in a few weeks as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge) and now know a little more about the conference and more relevant for Musket readers, the Mountaineers.
Entering conference play, there were plenty of reasons to wonder about the legitimacy of Bob Huggins squad. The Ohio State win had done a lot to raise the profile of the team, but there were plenty of valid concerns based on the non-conference performance, particularly the number of close shaves against lesser opponents.
Fast-forward and it turns out this WVU team is legit. The Mountaineers led at half-time against a very good Kansas team and had chances late to win in a very difficult place to play, when the whistle (as always) made it harder than it should have been. They then follow it up with a dominating performance against a pretty decent Oklahoma State team to finish their road the four game extended road trip 3-1.
Still, as with seemingly every team not just in the conference but the nation, there are something to keep you eyes on if you’re the worrying type: turnovers and more broadly offensive production.
WVU generally under Huggs, and very much this season, isn’t going to wow you with pretty offense but you do need to be able to have someone, down the line, who can reliably create their own shot. That was what made the 2010 team work — that ultimately even if WVU had gone cold, late in games they could always depend on Da’Sean Butler to make his magic happen. Right now, that seems to be Deuce McBride, but he’s not a starter yet.
Which brings us to one other “thing,” that I am curious to see resolve itself — who is going to be the point guard. Jordan McCabe has struggled shooting and isn’t going to be a guy who creates his own shot, but it’s clear Huggs thinks that he’s got the most “intangibles” and is the guy he wants running the offense (if not shooting) when a game is dicey. Then there’s Brandon Knapper. The sophomore from South Charleston, WV has, at times, great. I personally thought he was a big reason we won against Oklahoma State, but he’s also, at times, been error prone. He’s clearly more athletic and (so far) a better shooter who can create his own shot, but does Huggs trust him? Then there’s McBride. He’s got it. He can create shots, run the offense, and hit daggers. Look for a late game setup that has two of the three on the floor at the same time, especially if Emmitt Matthews Jr and Jermaine Haley continue to struggle to produce.
Speaking of Matthews — he was easily one of the most important players on the WVU roster and carried WVU at key moments during the non-conference schedule, but in the four game road swing, he has averaged just two points a game, and shot 3-21 from the floor, and 0-9 from three. WVU needs Matthews to produce if they want to seriously challenge for the conference crown. The cornrows didn’t help, obviously, but he was a non-fact against both Youngstown State and Ohio State and he had his regular hair then.
A positive though, and I feel compelled to mention this, is just how good WVU’s defense has been in the last three games. Ohio State and Kansas have been two of the nations best offenses and WVU strangled them. Against Oklahoma State, WVU held the Cowboys to a historic 41 points. How many times Monday did we see WVU players diving for balls or just straight eating someone’s lunch money? This may be the most physical WVU team Bob Huggins has ever had at WVU, which given the Big East teams... yeah.
So, what’s next? Texas Tech clearly rises to the level of their opponent and WVU needs to hold serve at home Saturday if they want to remain in contention for the title. The Raider’s play tough, physical defense too and there is plenty of reason to believe neither team may break 50.
Big XII Power Rankings Week 1
- Baylor Bears, 11-1 In Smoking Musket’s last edition, I said there was a good argument for putting the Bears on top. That argument is even stronger now. In fact, Baylor has one of the best arguments to be #1 in the nation. Scott Drew’s squad are the only team to have beaten 4 Top 25 teams and their lone loss was to Washington, way back on November 8, in Alaska.
- Kansas Jayhawks, 12-2 The Jayhawks want to reclaim what is, to them, essentially a birthright in the Big XII regular season title. After watching them against WVU, they absolutely have the ability to do that but I am really curious to see if they can get road wins against Baylor, WVU and Texas Tech.
- West Virginia Mountaineers, 12-2
- Texas Tech Red Raiders, 10-4 Since losing three straight, the Red Raiders have won five of their last six, including the upset of Louisville in NYC and gave Baylor a scare in Lubbock. They also had close calls against Southern Miss and UT-Rio Grande Valley. The scheduling gods also gave them WVU immediately after Baylor (on the Road) and then later rewarded them with Kentucky and WVU again four days later.
- Oklahoma Sooners, 11-3 The Sooners separated themselves a little bit with wins over Kansas State and Texas. Up next, Ames then home to face Kansas.
- TCU Horned Frogs, 11-3 TCU gets the nod at number 6 for being undefeated in the league even if both of those wins came but just 2 points each and against the worst two teams in the conference. Still this is a results oriented industry and those are games you must win if you don’t want to go to the NIT.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys, 9-5 After winning the first seven games, the Cowboys have won just 2 out of their last 7 games. In fairness, all five of those loses came to likely tournament teams. A road test versus TCU is a chance to course correct.
- Texas Longhorns, 10-4 The Baylor loss was ugly, but not unexpected. Losing to Oklahoma at home for the first time in four years, though, has absolutely turned up the heat on Shaka Smart.
- Kansas State Wildcats, 7-7 Pros: not the worst team in the league. Cons: Probably eliminated from NIT or NCAA contention already.
- Iowa State Cyclones, 7-7 I always kind of wondered how long it would take for Hoiberg’s aura to wear off or if Prohm was legit. Think I am finally getting my answer.