West Virginia’s play in the Big 12 this season has been – sans a recent dip against the conference’s best teams – Even Steven https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9W_jW4e_uY.
The closing stretch gives West Virginia to go streaking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bXh9C5be9Hc.
With a 7-6 Big 12 record, the Mountaineers sit in the middle of the conference standings. One game behind third-place Texas Tech, one game ahead of fifth-place Oklahoma.
They won three in row early in conference play and snapped a three-game losing streak Tuesday night with a 65-47 win at home against Oklahoma State.
The win over OSU started a stretch where WVU has four games against teams in the bottom half of the league plus a home game against fifth-place Oklahoma. The schedule sets up for the Mountaineers to set up a cushion towards a third-place regular-season Big 12 finish. It’s also a chance to pad the NCAA Tournament resume with victories, even if none of those potential wins will wow the committee.
That’s the good news for what lies in the Mountaineers immediate future. The bad news is of the four remaining games against teams below them in the Big 12 standings (at TCU, at Texas, Oklahoma, at Iowa State), three are on the road. Road conference games have been kryptonite to this team.
West Virginia is 1-5 in Big 12 road games this season, including a 84-68 drubbing at Big 12 cellar dweller Kansas State. If the Mountaineers hope to secure at least a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament, they need to starting winning winnable road games – immediately.
Fortunately, all three remaining of West Virginia’s road games are imminently winnable. On Saturday, the Mountaineers travel to Fort Worth, Texas, to play a TCU team they beat by 32 points in Morgantown. They follow that up with a trip on Monday to Austin, Texas, against a Longhorns team that WVU beat by 38 in Morgantown in January and appears to have quit on the season and their embattled coach, Shaka Smart.
WVU has a chance for revenge Feb. 29 with a home game against fifth-place Oklahoma. It’s a game the Mountaineers can’t afford to give away.
Then the Mountaineers travel to Ames, Iowa, to face an Iowa State team (11-15, 4-9 big 12) that lost its best player, Tyrese Haliburton, for the season two weeks ago.
The Mountaineers haven’t been playing their best basketball over the past month. Part of that is likely attributable to a young group of players who are deep into the longest, toughest stretch of their basketball lives. Part is attributable to the quality of teams that presented this young Mountaineers team with a gauntlet (at Oklahoma, No. 3 Kansas at home, at No. 1 Baylor).
The Mountaineers obviously didn’t acquit themselves well during their toughest stretch of the season. It’s vitally important they use this soft stretch in the schedule to make their rebound.